Looking for Alex?

Due to super-long project hours, none of my sites are getting updated regularly. Still, I haven’t given up. The best chance to read anything new is on (pronounced U-extraordinary, for all those non-user experience people out there).

At least it’s an interesting, fun project ;-)


Missing Clovis

We lost Clovis, our alpha tom cat, Friday night. He was terribly ill, and after much discussion with the vet and soul-searching, we had him put to sleep.

We keep missing little things. Clovis was large & in charge—a benign despot over the other kitties. He checked up on them and licked them regularly (except for Swann, who didn’t get along with him). His best friend was Ruffian, our 65 lb. dog. Clovis used to stalk, crouch, and jump on her, then roll around together play-fighting. Sometimes he would bring her string or ribbon to play tug-of-war. They also napped together regularly.

Anytime you were standing at a sink or counter, you were likely to feel a velveted paw on your hip, and discover a hip-level cat head ready for petting. Clovis was also incredibly relaxed. We could flip him over onto his back in a lap and skritch his belly, grab his paws and shake his leg gently without concern, pick him up under the arms and just look him in the eye without a whiff of tension. He’d just stretch out his nose to touch yours. Plus, being the founder of the Merovingian dynasty (yes, he was named for that Clovis), he was death on Aryan heretics (a.k.a. bugs). I’m guessing it was a spider Aryan that did him in.

Below is a slide show of Clovis photos, including his “lion cut” when he needed a shave; his fascination with Demetri Martin’s Important Things; his love of guitar playing; and of course, hanging out with Ruffian.


Dear Law & Order:UK composer,

Mr. Zimmer’s and Ms. Gerrard’s attorneys would like to speak to you regarding your use of the Gladiator theme.


Rand Paul, keeping the customer happy

Rand Paul, speaking to Wolf Blitzer (emphasis mine):

Well, the thing is, we’re all interconnected. There are no rich. There are no middle class. There are no poor. We all are interconnected in the economy. You remember a few years ago, when they tried to tax the yachts, that didn’t work. You know who lost their jobs? The people making the boats, the guys making 50,000 and 60,000 dollars a year lost their jobs. We all either work for rich people or we sell stuff to rich people. So just punishing rich people is as bad for the economy as punishing anyone. Let’s not punish anyone. Let’s keep taxes low and let’s cut spending.

What I’d like to know is, for which rich people does Rand Paul work, and to which ones is he selling? Personally, I like my Congressional representatives not to sell, but to legislate.

P.S. My husband offers the following:

  • Does Rand Paul seriously believe the entire economy should be in service of the rich?
  • Taxation is not punishment. It’s how we get things (like the military, police departments, and roads) done.

NYT asks Stewart, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”

The New York Times decided to take the bull by the horns, and tackle Jon Stewart’s accusations of poor reporting by the media. Unfortunately, David Carr’s Rally to Shift the Blame comes off as a poorly argued, disingenuous attempt to separate the media from the message.

Carr writes, “[Stewart’s] barrage against the news media Saturday stemmed from the fact that, on this day, attacking the message would have been bad manners, so he stuck with the messengers.” What Carr should know—and if he doesn’t, why is he writing for the New York Times?—is that the medium is the message. (Surely Carr has heard of Marshall McLuhan?) What the media sends out is the message we get, whether through the television, the internet, the radio, or paper.

Here’s Carr’s first attempt to make the distinction of message vs. messenger:

It was a beautiful day on the Mall, and who doesn’t like kicking the press around, but speaking of ants, media bias and hyperbole seem like pretty small targets when unemployment is near 10 percent, vast amounts of unregulated cash are being spent in the election’s closing days, and no American governing institution—not the Senate, not the House of Representatives, not even the Supreme Court —seems to be above petty partisan bickering. Mr. Stewart couldn’t really go there and instead suggested it was those guys over there in the press tent who had the blood of democracy on their hands.

The problem is that Stewart never said the press was responsible for unemployment, war, or hatred. What Stewart said is that the press makes it very difficult to effect change in any of these areas, because it’s driven by ratings. From the speech Carr complains about:

We can have animus and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour, politico-pundit, perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder.

Stewart is absolutely right. I don’t see Tea Party rallies in person, I see what the news channels share of them; I don’t see the administration’s press conferences in full, I see what the reporters and cameras share of them. When politicians make claims, I don’t see investigation into whether the claims are credible; I see “he said, she said” coverage of claims that, if true, must come from alternate universes, since they’re radically incompatible with a shared reality.

The heart of the Stewart/Colbert message

What many media commentators, Carr among them, seem to have forgotten is that the very structure and content of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is to provide satire and critique of the media. Sure, it’s comedy, but it’s the comedy of the court jester, mixing hard truth with silliness. Truth is relatively easy to say in comedy, and relatively hard to say in the 24/7 news cycle.  That’s probably why news coverage quality has devolved into its current state. (What does the media at large think inspired Colbert to coin “truthiness” as a word, and why do they think so many people immediately appropriated it?)

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are highly aware that the medium is the message, and equally aware of what drives media coverage. This rally was an attempt to expand coverage of their message by creating an event the news media could not ignore. That media might not understand their message or represent it as clearly as Stewart and Colbert would like. Still, those of us tired of seeing the media allow itself to be used by people, parties, and corporations they should be holding in check, were pleased to see that same media forced to cover an event calling them on it.

It’s all cable TV

Carr also argued against Stewart’s observation that, “We work together to get things done every damn day! The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV.” Somewhat disingenuously, Carr responded:

But here’s the problem: Most Americans don’t watch or pay attention to cable television. In even a good news night, about five million people take a seat on the cable wars, which is less than 2 percent of all Americans. People are scared of what they see in their pay envelopes and neighborhoods, not because of what Keith Olbermann said last night or how Bill O’Reilly came back at him.

I call this disingenuous because since everything went digital—since broadcast news ceased to be aired and had to be obtained via cable companies—it’s all cable TV. If it’s not, it’s online, (frequently obtained through cable companies as well), and is driven by either TV channels, stations, or online “newspapers.” And more people than ever are watching the news one way or another, according to the Pew Research Center.

There are many more ways to get the news these days, and as a consequence Americans are spending more time with the news than over much of the past decade. Digital platforms are playing a larger role in news consumption, and they seem to be more than making up for modest declines in the audience for traditional platforms. As a result, the average time Americans spend with the news on a given day is as high as it was in the mid-1990s, when audiences for traditional news sources were much larger.

…The net impact of digital platforms supplementing traditional sources is that Americans are spending more time with the news than was the case a decade ago. As was the case in 2000, people now say they spend 57 minutes on average getting the news from TV, radio or newspapers on a given day. But today, they also spend an additional 13 minutes getting news online, increasing the total time spent with the news to 70 minutes. This is one of the highest totals on this measure since the mid-1990s and it does not take into account time spent getting news on cell phones or other digital devices.*

I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

The media should take responsibility

That same Pew report noted that, “About eight-in-ten (82%) say they see at least some bias in news coverage; by a 43%-to-23% margin, more say it is a liberal than a conservative bias.” Jon Stewart isn’t the only one to see skewed coverage, he just had a larger platform to speak out about it. It’s not bias that’s the problem, though, it’s the choice of what’s covered, the style of presentation, the lack of critical evaluation of the data being presented.

Sure, we like seeing conflict and meltdowns. It’s sad but true that it’s more exciting to see someone rudely yell “You lie!” at the President, than to learn whether it was or was not a lie. Whatever side you’re on, you’re more easily engaged by the strong emotions of outrage or support. But shouldn’t at least as much coverage as the video clip be provided about the truth behind the furor? It shouldn’t be necessary to dig deeply online while watching the news to discover the truth behind the news. If it’s not informing us, it’s less news and more entertainment.

My personal plea to the news media: We are fully capable of being engaged and enlightened at the same time. Please, don’t turn a necessary critique into another conflict. Help us be the educated populace we need to be to defend ourselves against those with more power and bigger pockets.

* The increased attention to news is good for the New York Times web site. From the Pew Research Center: “This year, 17% of Americans say they read something on a newspaper’s website yesterday, up from 13% in 2008 and 9% in 2006.”


12 September 2010. Americans Spending More Time Following the News, Pew Research Center.

Carr, David, 31 October 2010. Rally to Shift the Blame, The New York Times.


Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the NYT

My husband and I watched the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on TV, curious and hopeful. Along the way, I checked in on different media coverage, including the New York Times’ live blogging of the event. The blogging was sarcastic and impatient, but I was less upset with snide remarks than with what wasn’t said.

The New York Times, along with NPR, ABC, and others, refused to allow reporters to attend the non-partisan rally for sanity, on the grounds they might appear partisan. Such is the sanity of the media. But when the media elides criticism of itself without showing the elision (via “…” or some-such), that’s pretty low. My respect for the paper of record has plummeted in just one day.

Here’s the bit I’m talking about:

2:50 P.M. | Now, a Moment of Sincerity

“What exactly was this?” Mr. Stewart asks. “This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith. Or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.”

“Not being able to be able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate.”

A sharp eye might catch the end quote marks on the first paragraph, but that’s the only clue that a significant rant against the media has just been left out. I commented with the missing words (below), and they posted the comment, which is good.

Under “now, a moment of sincerity” (which by the way, implies the rest was not sincere, an implication I don’t believe), you completely skip the rant against the press and media, without showing the elision. You leave in the bit that shows the importance of the press (“the press is our immune system”) – but below are the words that every news media outlet should take to heart, (with the end and beginning of the two paragraphs you provide above, for context).

“…And we can have animus and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour, politico-pundit, perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. [Applause.] The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen – or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire [Laughter] – and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected, dangerous flaming ant epidemic.

“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing. [Applause] There are terrorists, and racists, and Stalinists, and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to be able to distinguish…”


It’s not what you believe, it’s what you do with your belief

The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof put the fear of Islam into a historical context in his latest column, Is Islamophobia the new hysteria? He pointed out the many times U.S. citizens have rallied against various religious or national groups, using much of the same language used today when speaking about followers of Islam.

Sadly, many of the comments seem oblivious to his point, and actually repeat the very mistake he’s pointing out. So I had to comment myself:

Religions go in cycles. There was a time not too many centuries ago when Islam was a more tolerant religion than Christianity – when Jews sought refuge in places like Turkey to escape the Inquisition.

I keep reading comments that argue Islam is different from Christianity and Judaism because it is “political” and seeks to harm us. Clearly these people have forgotten that Christianity and Judaism have extremely active political elements in the U.S., and that there are many countries who presently have some flavor of Christianity as a state religion. Clearly they’ve forgotten the Christian element in Ireland’s decades of terrorism, or abortion clinic attacks, or the mostly Protestant KKK (mind, most Protestants do not support the KKK – but most KKK members believe a Christian God is on their side).

While the United States may pride itself on constitutional separation of church and state, the reality is very different, as we can see from the constant efforts by a vocal minority of U.S. Christians to inject their version of Christian concepts and language into law, government buildings, and schools.

I’m also a little disheartened by those claiming that religion as a whole is dangerous. People can be broken and dangerous with or without religion (e.g., Stalin was an atheist, KKK members are primarily Christian), and outstandingly good with or without religion (Desmond Tutu and Clarence Darrow). Danger occurs when people use any institution, be it church or state, to rationalize and cloak sloppy thinking and fear-driven bigotry.

It’s not what you believe, it’s what you do with your belief.

Kristof, N. Is Islamophobia the new hysteria? The New York Times, 7 Sep. 2010.


I’m so embarrassed Joe Barton is from Texas

The New York Times covered Congressman Joe Barton’s apology to BP for our asking them to pay for their damages, and then his retraction. I commented, and so far 114 readers have recommended – a new record (previously it was 14). To put that in perspective, though, the most-recommended comment is sitting on 332 recommendations.

I know, it’s not all about me, but I like the illusion of validation.

As a native Texan, I am sadly more and more embarrassed by certain factions in the state I love. Let’s hope that this makes all politicians think twice before favoring a rapacious foreign company over the people of the U.S., and the environment of which we are all stewards.


Grappling with the hour-glass ceiling

Off site comment capture:

Schott’s Vocab , The New York Times, discussed the “hour-glass ceiling” imposed on women unable to meet the time demand required by their employers to move forward in their career. Someone wrote a response I found ignorant and potentially misleading to others, so I had to respond.

  1. Social roles are a mix of nature and nurture, and while they are negotiated to some extent between two people, they are also imposed on people by society around them. It is not easy for a man and a woman to “negotiate” an equal amount of time for their children, as both are judged by society. This further hurts opportunities for career advancement.
  2. Time is a limited resource. Companies who regularly require significantly more time than the regular work week of their employees are stealing not just hours, but opportunities and quality of life. They make it harder for employees to not only live their lives, but find alternative employment with reasonable hours. When such time is required for career advancement, they are basically requiring the employee to agree to be a victim, in order to contribute the most they can to society and the workplace.
  3. While mates may be chosen, they can also die, develop diseases, or simply prove to have lied about their willingness to lend support prior to marriage. Or two healthy, mutually supportive mates may choose to throw their weight behind one person to advance in their career, with the other person restricting their hours to the normal work week to care for the young. In a world where their employers take shameless advantage of them and in which men traditionally are more successful, whom do you think they will choose to support?
  4. You can’t have everything, but you should have a chance to succeed. Yes, if you have children you have fewer resources for other things. But if someone attempts to steal from the minimal resources you have, including time, that’s still wrong.
  5. It’s not necessarily so that family trumps career morally. A doctor, for example, may save lives on a regular basis. Even if it were morally correct to choose family over career, basking in the superiority of that choice is neither virtuous nor useful, and doesn’t increase your ability to contribute to society.
  6. For many, the desire to excel at work is a strong drive not because they want the marks of success, but because people feel good when they are able to use their skills and talents to their fullest capacity. This is neither materialistic nor immoral, and in fact it can be argued it’s immoral *not* to make the best use of your gifts possible.

If smart, talented women must continue to choose between passing on their talents genetically (quite a lottery, there!) or in the workplace, then society is losing out.


Alex O’Neal, as heard on the BBC

After the longest break in the 10+ year history of the alexfiles, I’m back. Today’s post is atypically personal, but I think the event is unusual enough to warrant it. I was on the BBC! (for about 60 seconds or so).

The back story: The Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr Rowan Williams) recently stated that perhaps a small dose of Muslim arbitration, following Sharia law in a limited manner, might help Muslims integrate into British society.

There was a huge cry of outrage from many online, who immediately envisioned hands getting chopped off and the introduction of religious law into the UK. This was my comment:

Something that would offer both acknowledgment of different cultures and remove divisiveness might be offering all options for dispute resolution to all people. So you could have a limited Sharia law “court,” and a state court, and a Christian court, and whatever else seemed appropriate. All of these options could be made available to anyone, so long as they agreed to abide by it and not switch on the same dispute if they were unhappy (the exception being the state, which could be an ultimate appeal system).

Knowing that options were available would encourage people to better understand other denominations, and those occasions (probably a small minority) when people chose to be tried outside their denomination would help the courts maintain an open-minded perspective.

You could limit such options to religions taking up a minimum of 10% or more of the population, so there aren’t too many to deal with.

Wish we had that here.

I was unable to find my comment online later, and thought perhaps it got missed in the updates. Then, today, the BBC Have Your Say people called me and invited me onto the show! They said my comment reflected an unusual viewpoint, and they thought it would be useful in this “worldwide discussion.” (Flattery will get you everywhere, BBC :–) They interviewed me briefly, then called me two hours later when they were airing. I didn’t get to say much, but Bart says I repahsented appropriately (“clear, succint, and insightful”). It was brief, but fun.

At some point the podcast should appear on the BBC, but I don’t know when.


The Oliviers, the anchor riders, and the pier people

Years ago I heard an anecdote about Laurence Olivier: A journalist came to interview Olivier in his home, and was met at the door by Olivier’s friend. The friend gave the journalist a warning: to be sure he held the image he had of Olivier clearly in mind. “Whomever you expect to find,” he said. “that is who he will be.”

This story struck me as sad, and the problem as peculiarly apt to a great actor. (Of course, Meryl Streep—that other great actor of the twentieth century, and possibly the twenty-first—is the exact opposite, balanced and deeply self-aware, so obviously this loss of self is not required to act well.) Another theater soul, Nobel prize winner Luigi Pirandello, used his plays to demonstrate the interactive nature of human existence. Olivier probably related. For Pirandello, there was no “I” at the center of existence, only a series of masks worn in response to the behavior and opinions of others.

I’ve written before about the self being at the intersection of how others treat us and the choices we make, but now I’m thinking about how some people tend to fall more to one side or the other. Bart and I were talking about this, and I wanted to share his thoughts on the matter:

Some people (the Oliviers) only recognize their existence in others’ eyes and get washed out to sea and lost. Some people cling to the pier of the “I” and when the waves come, they are swamped. But the people who realize this interaction is going on face the storm. They know that the center moves, but remains the center. “They know you have to ride it out, at anchor.”

Note: credit for the title goes to Bart as well :–)


Rationalizing inequity and harassment

Comment to Salon’s Military rape a result of “feminist pressures”?:

Yes, it’s fascinating how people rationalize their prejudice. My father served in WWII, Korea, and VietNam; he saw the pre- and post-Executive Order 9981 U.S. Army learn to deal with integrating African Americans into the armed forces. (EO 9981 was Truman’s desegregation of the U.S. military, eliminating all black units and boot camps and requiring equality of opportunity, etc., without regard to “race, color, religion or national origin.”) LtC. O’Neal brought me up to believe what he said he saw time and time again—that bigotry was not only wrong but stupid, that much more was gained through mutual respect and giving everyone the opportunity to contribute.

Nonetheless, people argued back then that it was wrong to expect whites to put up with blacks, and wrong to ask blacks to try to do what supposedly only whites were capable of doing.

Parker’s column is the same kind of self-blind rationalization as that. Women and men both share and differ in our strengths; there are different kinds of adaptation going on than that between white and black. But to say we should deny half the population the chance to contribute, and deny ourselves the benefit of that contribution, is not only wrong, but stupid.

African Americans & Women in the U.S. Army:

Article about female reservists in Desert Storm:

P.S. Funny quote from the third URL. Maj. Gena Bonini talking about supply raids:

“We were able to get every soldier in the battalion brand new hunting-type knives. I personally didn’t understand the popularity of the item, but all the guys thought they were the end-all and be-all of being a tough guy. They just had to have these big — we’re talking 12-inch-long — knives that strapped to their legs.”

Methinks Freud might have had a comment or two on that ;–)


Old school feminism

I love it when I encounter feminist thought from previous generations. Much of my lunchtime reading material comes from Project Gutenberg, where I discovered Arthur Conan Doyle’s Beyond the City. In it I found the following. The first is from a middle-aged feminist:

“I am sorry that I have no tea to offer you. I look upon the subserviency of woman as largely due to her abandoning nutritious drinks and invigorating exercises to the male. I do neither….”

[Another character suggests that “woman has a mission of her own.”]

The lady of the house dropped her dumb-bells with a crash upon the floor. “The old cant!” she cried. “The old shibboleth! What is this mission which is reserved for woman? All that is humble, that is mean, that is soul-killing, that is so contemptible and so ill-paid that none other will touch it. All that is woman’s mission. And who imposed these limitations upon her? Who cooped her up within this narrow sphere? Was it Providence? Was it nature? No, it was the arch enemy. It was man.”

“Oh, I say, auntie!” drawled her nephew.

“It was man, Charles. It was you and your fellows. I say that woman is a colossal monument to the selfishness of man. What is all this boasted chivalry—these fine words and vague phrases? Where is it when we wish to put it to the test? Man in the abstract will do anything to help a woman. Of course. How does it work when his pocket is touched? Where is his chivalry then? Will the doctors help her to qualify? will the lawyers help her to be called to the bar? will the clergy tolerate her in the Church? Oh, it is close your ranks then and refer poor woman to her mission! Her mission! To be thankful for coppers and not to interfere with the men while they grabble for gold, like swine round a trough, that is man’s reading of the mission of women. You may sit there and sneer, Charles, while you look upon your victim, but you know that it is truth, every word of it.”

And this is from a respected male character in the book, a retired doctor, in another scene:

“She is quite right. The professions are not sufficiently open to women. They are still far too much circumscribed in their employments. They are a feeble folk, the women who have to work for their bread—poor, unorganized, timid, taking as a favor what they might demand as a right. That is why their case is not more constantly before the public, for if their cry for redress was as great as their grievance it would fill the world to the exclusion of all others. It is all very well for us to be courteous to the rich, the refined, those to whom life is already made easy. It is a mere form, a trick of manner. If we are truly courteous, we shall stoop to lift up struggling womanhood when she really needs our help—when it is life and death to her whether she has it or not. And then to cant about it being unwomanly to work in the higher professions. It is womanly enough to starve, but unwomanly to use the brains which God has given them. Is it not a monstrous contention?”

And of course, the best and my ever-favorite, from Tolkien. Eowyn is ranting at Aragorn:

“All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more.”

A small aside: I do wish they’d left that exchange in the movie. It’s the heart of the Aragorn/Eowyn relationship; and I notice Aragorn says his heart is where Arwen dwells…


A respectful dissent

Comment left in response to Salon article “The Jesus Symbol, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

I’m not particularly invested in the Christianity of Narnia—I enjoyed them while an atheist as well as a Christian—but I know the books and Lewis deeply and the arguments used here to make them non-Christian are somewhat misleading. Comments come not just from myself, but my husband, Bart Odom, who holds a PhD in religious studies from the University of Virginia, so we’re writing to straighten out some theological/Narnia issues. The mistakes are basic ones, common to people who speak from their personal understanding, and not from rigorous theological study.

I will list my husband’s comments first, with my bracketed Lewis/Narnia notes where appropriate.

“Whenever a professed Christian feels he must create some wholly other world to explore the meaning of his religion, he is flirting with bad faith.”

A wholly other world is the perfect place to explore, with a tabula rasa, the meaning of one’s religion, a way to try to avoid entanglements with one’s own life and the actual events of the world we live in. In short, it is a good faith way to avoid invidious associations and roman a clefcharacters, to minimize one’s own prejudices about the world. Bad faith would only enter if the nature of the other world were contrived to facilitate proseletyzing or apologetics.

Including “the make-believes of other religions” is polytheism.

Not polytheism but inclusivism or pluralism. What it excludes is the odor of Christian exclusivism. [Personally, I find the phrase “make-believes” shows that same unpleasant exclusivity.]

Werewolves, the White Witch, etc., display Manichaean dualism.

It is not obvious that werewolves etc are evil per se. They are what they are. The assumption that they are evil is itself a Manichaean one, grounded in the belief that one is on “God’s side” and can make such a judgment. The White Witch is not necessarily Satan and Satan is not an independent entity. If Christians believe these things, they are in heresy, but most Christians have a proper understanding of the situation. [Those who believe in Satan believe in an ultimate fallen entity. Satan is not placed on a level with God or Jesus except by Satanists; to Christians, he is better equated with the Archangel Michael.

Re: Narnia in this context. The White Witch is a created being, perhaps the character Jadis from another book in the series, who has set herself in opposition to God’s will through pride. Lewis never portrays evil on a level with Aslan. Like Christ on the cross, Aslan is always ahead of the game, even when the most powerful fallen creature, the White Witch, seems to have won.]

Belief in Satan is heretical.

Satan tempts Christ, is rebuked by him; demons possess people. This is in the canonical Christian scriptures, and can therefore hardly be said to be heresy.

Exercising free will in opposition to God is the cause of evil.

This is by no means the only, or even an adequate account of why evil arises, and what God’s responsibility in the existence of evil is. The entire vexed field of theodicy deals with this issue. Moreover, the “free will” argument ignores the Luther’s insight of the bondage of the will, as well as the doctrine of original sin.

Creating a Secondary World…is in effect a declaration that God’s creation is deficient.

No, it is a technique of fantasy fiction, and a way of communicating a message indirectly that cannot be communicated directly, as Kierkegaard believed was true of the Christian kerygma….What do preachers do each Sunday but convey the gospels in a different way?

Relocating the Christian story in a different place is wrong and Lewis thought so.

The point is that the Christian story is universal and can be visualized in many ways without losing its identity. After all, it has escaped first century Judea and is still going after 2000 years, in a vastly different setting. The Christian story is sui generis, unlike Fenimore Cooper or any other literature.

Lewis challenges our level of responsibility, and this is the real problem Goldthwaite and others have, I think. Lewis felt Christianity to be a very demanding religion, and his work reflects that. These are not simplistic, good vs. evil stories unless you’re not paying attention. There is an us vs. them quality, but “them” is a concept that changes as people gain and lose faith for a variety of reasons. God asks more and more of Lewis’s characters, and one of the more difficult questions Lewis asks is how to answer that need.

A major theme is Lewis’s awareness of our responsibility for creatures other than our species. The children come into the world because to Lewis, humans are made to be stewards of the world, and as “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve,” these children must take stewardship of Narnia. The White Witch is a daughter of Lilith, and not the “true” steward. Whether God put us in charge or not, our own power over the environment makes us de facto responsible for our world. So soon after the introduction of the atomic bomb, in a world where industry’s rape of the planet was beginning to show, Lewis’s non-humans teach children that they have responsibilities beyond people. As a lion, Aslan was also making a point about Christ being over all of creation, not just humans. This is not the work of a man withdrawing from the world, but a man using his best skills to exhort people to act responsibly for a world worth saving.

And here I will write as a Christian: if to write Christianly is to write solely about the world we know, then we must ignore one of the greatest gifts we have: imagination. I do not think such a gift would be given lightly. I would think Goldthwaite, as a Christian, might consider that.


Why anti-gay, anti-ECUSA sentiment is misplaced

Note: This blog (and a few others along similar lines) resulted in my losing my position as network administrator for Christ Church Episcopal in Plano, Texas. So you have a picture of the place, Christ Church is the most-attended Episcopal parish in the US, with a commensurately large staff and campus, and from what I’ve seen is already run differently from traditional Episcopal practices; the sermons don’t follow liturgical readings, and it’s pretty evangelical. Also, the Cardinal Rector established the parish himself, rather than being hired by church members to serve at an existing parish. It’s therefore formed very close to his personal beliefs, and is almost a “cult of personality,” in the words of a local priest. In other words, this is not “Catholic Lite,” but closer to its Protestant brethren.But I’m better off. Any “Christian” group that promotes exclusion is nothing of the kind.

This is a response to the conservatives outraged by the election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson to Bishop Coadjutor in the Episcopal Church. The ratification of Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire has provided an opportunity for exclusivity and self-aggrandizement in many conservative parishes. Mind, I think most of those involved are sincere in their beliefs, however mistaken; it’s the people leading the movement whose motives I distrust. For a succinct explanation for this mistrust, see this quote from philosopher Richard Rorty:

The Protestant and Catholic churches of Western Europe did not exactly make war on the Jews during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. But they did keep up a steady barrage of contempt, combined with support for politicians running on anti-Semitic platforms, and with silence concerning the sadistic pogroms-cum-gang-rapes which provided weekend amusement for the devoutly religious peasants of Central and Eastern Europe. After the Holocaust, these churches fell all over themselves expounding the difference between their own religiously based anti-Semitism and the Nazis’ racially based anti-Semitism. But the Jews have had difficulty appreciating this distinction. They think, correctly in my opinion, that if the Christian clergy had, in the century or so before Hitler, simply ceased to mention the Jews in their sermons, the Holocaust could not have happened.

There is, after all, not much basis for anti-Semitism in the Christian Scriptures. Its prominent role in the history of Christianity is the contribution of Christian ecclesiastical organizations. Those organizations would not have been unfaithful to Scripture if they had abstained from incitement to contempt and to sadistic brutality against Jews, but they would have lacked a way of bolstering the bigoted exclusivism that was one of their chief sources of money and power….

…Many gays and lesbians who are themselves religious believers might well agree…that the homophobes have the right to bring religious reasons into the public square in order to urge the passage of laws to ensure that homosexuals cannot get married, can be discriminated against in employment and housing, and can be arrested for having sex. But they find it strange that such a large proportion of time, money and energy of the Christian churches in the U.S. is devoted to this purpose. They are struck by the fact that religious reasons are now pretty much the only reasons brought forward in favor of treating them with contempt. Except for the mindless gay-bashing thugs, their fellow-churchgoers are the only people who still think that sodomy is a big deal. So gays and lesbians might reasonably conclude that the reason Christian pulpits have becomne the principal source of homophobia is the same as the reason that they were the principal source of European anti-Semitism—namely, that encouraging exclusivist bigotry brings money and power to ecclesiastical organizations.

From Religion in the Public Square: A Reconsideration, by Richard Rorty. Spring 2003, Journal of Religious Ethics 31.1:141-149.

Click on a topic to see the response:

  1. It’s against the teachings of the Episcopal Church.
  2. It’s against the teachings of the Bible.
  3. A gay bishop will not be able to teach the value of a traditional (heterosexual) marriage. Also, some dioceses are already refusing to ordain priests who believe only a traditional union is a valid one.
  4. A gay priest taints the priesthood, and seriously undermines or outright invalidates any sacraments or other priestly work he performs.
  5. While the quiet ordination of homosexual priests is tolerable, the open confirmation of a bishop will hurt the Church spiritually and in the eyes of the public.
  6. The majority of church members are anti-homosexual and will leave. Also, if we accept the majority are anti-homosexual, shouldn’t the bishops obey the masses?
  7. Even without Biblical support, homosexuality is just unnatural and therefore wrong.
  8. It will make the work of the clergy more difficult.
  9. We do not want to appear aligned with other groups supporting homosexual rights.

  1. It’s against the teachings of the Episcopal Church.

    Slowly but surely, the Episcopal church has been reforming its views and treatment of homosexual church members. The process has been remarkably similar to the change of policy for the ordination of female priests, which also threatened a split in the church in the 1970’s.

    From the 1976 General Convention:

    Resolution A-69: It is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and
    pastoral concern and care of the Church.

    Resolution A-71: This General Convention expresses its conviction that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens, and calls upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality.

    In 1990 Bishop Righter ordained a priest in an openly gay committed relationship, and a hearing was called to determine if this was heresy. The charges were dismissed, and more openly homosexual priests were allowed to be ordained.

    In 1993 Bishop Otis Charles of Utah came out after his retirement, and spoke movingly of feeling “diminished” by the Church, particularly during the debates on the issue. In accordance with accepted theology dating back to St. Augustine, that Charles had hidden his homosexuality could not invalidate his work as a bishop; the personal lifestyle or sanctity of clergy cannot invalidate the sacraments they perform.

    In 1994 88 bishops signed a statement that gay men, living in committed relationships “marked by faithfulness and life-giving holiness” should be allowed ordination.

    So it seems that the Episcopal Church has been accepting gay men into the priesthood for some time; what’s changed now?

  2. It’s against the teachings of the Bible.

    This is the argument of “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Many scriptural references used in this argument do not even mention homosexuality. Instead, they exhort the reader against impurity, idolatry, obscenity, and so forth. The classification of homosexuality as part of the impure behavior is recent, and begs the question. There is a passage in Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:9, specifically mentioning “homosexual offenders”; but this is the same letter in which Paul says that women should cover their heads when praying, but men should not, because man “is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.” Paul’s attitude on gender and homosexuality was an uncritical acceptance of the culture of his time and place. How can we uncritically accept such cultural relics? Why is it okay to leave behind some, and retain others?

    You will hear people offering the following quote from Jesus:

    Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. (Matthew 5:17-18)

    However, the quotes from Paul are not part of the law of which Jesus speaks. As well, cultural change has been accepted in changing the law. What Episcopalian—or any Christian—do you know that walks 30 paces outside the community to bury their feces, or quarantines women during menstruation? Yet these are “jots” of the law. We choose what to retain and what to discard in the spirit of the law.

  3. A gay bishop will not be able to teach the value of a traditional (heterosexual) marriage. Also, some dioceses are already refusing to ordain priests who believe only a traditional union is a valid one.

    This is another instance of begging the question, so let’s take it from two possible answering views:

    • Only heterosexual marriage is acceptable and right. In this instance, a gay bishop is no less capable of teaching about traditional marriage than a celibate bishop.
    • The important aspect of marriage is faithful and loving commitment in the eyes of God, not the gender of those involved. Using this, we describe a nun as “marrying” Christ. And this is a telling description, because marriage is very similar to faith, and teaches a great deal about faith to the participants. It is an act of free will, dedicating yourself to something more than yourself, allowing you to demonstrate faith in almost every aspect of your life. (I do not speak solely of religious faith here. Faith is an act applied to ourselves, others, God, science, nations, ideologies, art, and much more.) To refuse the opportunity to partake and learn from marriage to people who could not choose their sexuality is not only exclusive and narrow, but cruel.
  4. A gay priest taints the priesthood, and seriously undermines or outright invalidates any sacraments or other priestly work he performs.

    Some time ago this question was addressed by the early Christians. Some believed that sacraments performed by sinful priests were not valid. The “founding fathers,” who realized that there were no perfect priests (or anyone else, for that matter), decided that the office was sacred even if the person was not. In other words, not the priest but God made the sacrament valid.

    A priest wrote a letter to the editor of BBC News addressing just this, and explained it very well indeed:

    To oppose Canon Robinson’s consecration is one thing; but to declare his ministry invalid is, quite technically, schismatic if not heretical. Ever since the Donatist movement in the 4th century, the main body of the church has held, that the moral character of a minister has no effect on the validity of his sacramental ministry. Some conservatives seem to be willing to jettison any article of the faith rather than their negative view of homosexuality.

    From Have Your Say: Can Anglicans resolve the gay clergy row?, letter from the Rev. Tobias Haller, U.S.A. BBC News UK edition,

  5. While the quiet ordination of homosexual priests is tolerable, the open confirmation of a bishop will hurt the Church spiritually and in the eyes of the public.

    The question is not what is perceived by the public, but what is right. If it is right to include homosexual men and women in the priesthood and to bless their unions, then it would be a deep spiritual wound to resist that. If it’s wrong, but done in the belief it is right, then the Church’s spirituality is still intact because they are doing the best they can. The community of leaders in the Church are not making this decision because it’s a popular one.

  6. The majority of church members are anti-homosexual and will leave. Also, if we accept the majority are anti-homosexual, shouldn’t the bishops obey the masses?

    The Church is not a democracy and never has been. At no point has the majority opinion been recommended as the best way to decide the ethics of an issue.

    Some people will leave. Some people will stay and learn. Some will join. None of these actions should determine the moral decision made by the bishops.

  7. Even without Biblical support, homosexuality is just unnatural and therefore wrong.

    Let’s examine the word “unnatural,” which has several meanings. The first, against natural law, would seem to imply this is a result of environment over genetic tendencies. Yet there are animal species displaying bisexual and homosexual behavior, measurable neurological differences between homosexual and heterosexual men, and twin studies which show identical twins are more likely to have the same sexual orientation than fraternal twins.

    The next, inconsistent or deviating from accepted customs or social norms, is applicable in some cultures but not others. Previous societies did not define “gay” and “straight” as we do, and in fact many societies took homosexuality and bisexuality as a matter of course. The behavior was used as a bond between military men, as a means for younger men/women to gain access to levels of society older men/women controlled, and promoted a society less likely to have internal conflict and more interested in supporting each other.

    Since sexual orientation is innate, it’s clearly not unnatural in the sense of contrived or artificial. Likewise, the last definition of unnatural, inhuman, or violating natural human emotion, has no application to a widespread, innate tendency with social value in those societies accepting it.

  8. It will make the work of the clergy more difficult.

    The Episcopal clergy should already have been dealing with these issues. In 1985 the 68th General Convention urged “each diocese of this Church to find an effective way to foster a better understanding of homosexual persons, to dispel myths and prejudices about homosexuality….” In 1988 the General Convention asked the clergy to speak out against violence against gays, and also to bear witness against the concept that AIDS is a punishment from God.

    In 1994 the Standing Commission on Human Affairs reported to the General Convention that “…In this Decade of Evangelism, we seem intent on alienating and keeping out one of the few identifiable groups of people who want to be welcomed in.” Going a step further, they asked that the church promote understanding of homosexuality, actively fight against local attempts to marginalize homosexuals, openly deplore “gay-bashing,” and call to task members promoting an anti-tolerant view.

    Apart from all of the above, when was it ever thought the work of the clergy was, or should be, made easier? Being Christ-like does not mean taking the comfortable way out on ethical issues….

  9. We do not want to appear aligned with other groups supporting homosexual rights.

    Appearances, like the opinions of the majority, should not be a deciding factor in determining the “rightness” of an issue.


Billie Page Odom

Billie Page Odom was born Billie June Page on April 16, 1926, in Italy, Texas. Italy is a tiny town about an hour south of Dallas, full of green fields and trees. The eighth of nine children born to Rufa Emma (née Adair) and Collintine Page, Billie was old enough to remember the Depression and worked hard to provide for herself Billie Page Odomand her family all her life.

Billie began her career in the radio and film business in Houston, Texas, working for Gordon Barton McLendon (my husband’s namesake). Gordon is known for his pioneering work, and is credited with being the inventor of format radio (all news, easy listening, top forty, and so forth). Billie did everything from editing films and working as Gordon’s executive secretary to hosting her own radio spot. Her work eventually brought her into frequent contact with celebrities (including George Carlin, whom she and Gordon discovered), and migrated her to Hollywood, San Francisco, and eventually back to Dallas, Texas.

Billie married WWII Marine veteran Homer Hugh Odom sometime in 1958, and their son (my husband) Barton Page Odom was born March 23, 1960. After a few years Billie realized that life with Homer was not the best situation for her and a small child. In the early ‘60s she divorced him, and became a single mother, which was unfashionable at the time but which she managed wonderfully.

Billie was generous to friends, family, and charity, and despite working full time was closely involved in Bart’s youth and education. She loved word games (she was unequalled at Scrabble) and cards, particularly bridge. She had fabulous taste and a ready, sharp wit, tempered by innate kindness.

Perhaps because of his portrayal of strong, fabulous female forms, as well as his Art Deco sensibilities, Billie collected Erté serigraphs. And perhaps to keep her personal focus on her motherhood, she collected Madonnas in various forms.

I first knew Billie through my friend Cynthia, who had been close friends with her since the early 80s. I met her in the early 90s. In 1994, when I was considering joining the Episcopal Church (being interested in the priesthood and being female do not work in the Roman Catholic Church), Billie kindly went with me to the Foundations of Faith classes at the local parish, and gave me a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. She had inscribed it herself, a difficult thing for her at this point, since she had grappled with crippling rheumatoid arthritis since her early 40s.

Billie passed away of hospital pneumonia on May 16, 2002. We miss her keenly, but are grateful to have known her. I am particularly grateful to her for giving me a husband that respects and loves strong women.

*Mildred, Jewel, Juana, Marguerite, Vivian, Mary, Carl, Billie, and Ray