Thursday, April 29, 2004
Almost a week ago, the public information office of the Unitarian Universalist Association posted a clarification about the independent group "Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness." Somehow I managed to miss it:
A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle on polyamory conveyed several mistaken impressions about Unitarian Universalism. The following is to clarify the Unitarian Universalist Association's stance.
First, the UUA has never supported the legal recognition of polyamorous relationships, nor has this issue ever been considered by any official decision-making body of the Association.
Second, Unitarian Universalists are free to organize around any issue they consider significant. Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness (UUPA) is a “related organization”; unlike associate member organizations and independent affiliate organizations, related organizations are not endorsed by the UUA board of trustees.
Third, the Association has no official position on this issue because official positions are established by passage of resolutions at our General Assembly, and there is no resolution on this issue.
The Association's social justice work is focused on women's equality and reproductive choice, protection of civil liberties, marriage equality, and voter registration.
Meanwhile, according to a post on the Unitarian Universalists' LiveJournal site — a group blog that tilts rather more to the neopagan and anarcholibertarian end of liberal religion than I'm used to — the president of UUPA has also issued a clarification:
The work of Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness relates to promoting dialog among Unitarian Universalists about how UU congregations can minister to polyamorous families already in their midst, and how UUs with vastly varying opinions on polyamory can discuss this extremely controversial issue with candor, integrity, and respect.
UUPA is an independent organization. UUPA's relationship to the Unitarian Universalist Association is that of "related organization," which means that the UUA has no position on UUPA's work, while recognizing that fellow UUs make up the membership of UUPA.
But the more interesting clarification comes from Rebecca Parker, president of the Berkeley, Calif., Starr King School for the Ministry (one of two officially UUA-related seminaries), who takes a rather Berkeleyed position:
For the record: I support Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness and completely disagree with those who use their belief that monogamous heterosexual marriage is ordained by God as a basis for rejecting same sex couples and polyamorous relationships. I was sorry to see the Chronicle article give the inaccurate impression that I hold to the theological view that God ordained heterosexuality as the norm. My sense when I spoke to Don Lattin, the Chronicle's religion writer, was that he understood my theological affirmation that there are diverse ethical expressions of human sexuality. I'm guessing this was a copy-editing error.
I'm not sure what sort of support Parker means to extend to UUPA. (I suspect it has to do with making some of her students and faculty feel "affirmed.") As a religious and political liberal who has largely been convinced by the conservative case for same-sex marriage, it's quite a stretch for me to see any connection between the gay-marriage movement and polyamory. But if you treat gay marriage as just another option on the erotic salad bar — you know, some people get their kicks from monogamy — and if you see the church or state's role in giving marriage a protected status as morally illegitimate, then, sure, poly is the obvious next step.
But it's almost impossible to figure out what Parker's theological stance might be, since she mentions really conservative biblicist arguments that she doesn't accept but only alludes to a theological affirmation of "diverse ethical expressions of human sexuality." I'd like to know more, since I'd agree that there are diverse ethical expressions of human sexuality — but I wouldn't agree that the church or society or the state needs to treat them all the same. What is the theological basis for such a claim?
Here's a question that might cut to the heart of Unitarian Universalist identity: The UUPA's Web site says they want "Unitarian Universalism to become the first poly-welcoming mainstream religious denomination." How exactly would we be "poly-welcoming" and "mainstream" at the same time?
Our congregations do a marvelous job of embracing individuals who hold all manner of sublime and ridiculous views, and whose lives I sometimes admire but sometimes find deeply disturbing. But I'm even more fascinated by the eagerness of so many of the non-mainstream folks for the endorsement of a "mainstream" institution. The polyamorists seem to think they can find mainstream credibility by convincing soft-hearted, perenially nonjudgmental UUs to encourage their "self-discovery." My prediction: The vast majority of UUs won't buy it.
I complained earlier about the Article 8 Alliance's anonymous telephone rampage urging the recall of the four Supreme Judicial Court judges in the Goodridge same-sex marriage case, which didn't get much coverage. That call was clearly targeted to conservative religious voters, because its entire argument focused on how the court had gone "against the will of God."
A parallel telephone campaign — seemingly directed at African Americans — has also been making the rounds, and this time someone in the press seems to have been annoyed, too. (I got the call on Sunday afternoon — not a nice way to be awakened from my after-church nap.) The Globe's Adrian Walker writes:
"Dr. Martin Luther King's dream is being violated," the anonymous voice intoned. "The civil rights movement is being compared to the same-sex marriage movement. If Dr. King was alive today, would he permit this? We must be the voice. We must stand up for what millions have died and suffered for, the dream of equality. Same-sex marriages will hurt our dream. More importantly it will hurt our children." It ends by telling listeners to call their state representatives and "tell them to remember Dr. King's dream." Nowhere does it mention who sponsored it, though I suppose, to paraphrase the late Louise Day Hicks, we know where they stand. . . .
Without coming right out and saying so, [the recorded message] strongly suggests that King, were he alive, would oppose same-sex marriage. How on earth do they, whoever they are, know that? Nobody can say what someone who died 36 years ago would think about anything. Gay rights, let alone gay marriage, were barely a blip on the radar screen in King's lifetime. The King position on this issue simply does not exist.
Still, if anyone would have a valid guess about how this controversy fits into the King legacy, that person might be Coretta Scott King, the matriarch of the civil rights movement. This is what she had to say a few weeks ago.
"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union," she said. "A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay-bashing."
So, who wants to be the first to accuse her of violating Dr. King's dream? She has spent half her life as the preeminent guardian of his legacy.
("Misusing King's legacy," Adrian Walker, Boston Globe 4.29.04)
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Yesterday, I wrote:
To my knowledge, of the 30-some-odd Unitarian Universalist ministers whose consciences have led them to refuse to sign marriage licenses until same-sex couples can legally marry, only two live in places that are not poised to begin legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
I decided to update my knowledge. Of the 33 early boycotters, only 15 live in Massachusetts. There are also 3 ministers in New Hampshire, 2 in California, 2 in Colorado, 2 in Connecticut, and 1 each in Alabama, Arkansas, D.C., Georgia, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Tennessee, and Virginia who won't sign wedding licenses until same-sex couples are treated the same as male-female couples. I had initially only remembered the minister in Arkansas and one of the ministers in New Hampshire.
However, it's worth noting that of these 33 marriage-license abstainers, 8 do not serve congregations. (Five are UUA staff or district staff. Two are community ministers. One is retired.) One of the 33 appears still to be in seminary. And how widespread is this boycott? By my count only 22 congregations are involved — which comes to 2% of the 1,042 congregations in the UUA. These 22 congregations report 4,762 adult members, or 3% of the adult membership of the UUA's churches. Of the 15 Massachusetts ministers, 6 are community ministers, UUA staff, retired, or otherwise not currently serving congregations. The remaining seven represent not quite 5% of the 141 Unitarian Universalist congregations in Massachusetts.
Do these numbers somehow belie the UUA's commitment to gay rights? Hardly. It just means that many ministers don't see how the boycott is supposed to change anything. Even in Massachusetts, I can't imagine that Tom Finneran read the news and said to himself, "My God! If UU ministers won't marry people, who on earth will? I guess under this kind of pressure we have no choice but to change the laws."
The boycott continues to raise a few basic questions for me: Why, if a marriage license is so morally compromised, would a couple ask a justice of the peace to compromise himself or herself by signing one? Why trouble oneself so much about the moral integrity of the minister, but not of the county clerk or city registrar? And if the unequal distribution of rights and responsibilities to straight couples is so grossly immoral as to require the abstention of the minister, why not demand that the couple abstain, too?
By contrast, I tend to agree with Ed Frost, who respectfully doesn't share the approach of his Georgia colleague Don Southworth:
Edward Frost, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, said that while he fully supports same-sex marriages, he doesn't think that withholding his signature from marriage licenses would accomplish anything. "I don't think this is a useful way to approach the problem, and I just personally don't want to penalize couples who want that marriage license," Frost said.
Frost said he believes that his church's officiating of same-sex ceremonies adds weight to the issue. . . .
Southworth acknowledges that the strategy's effectiveness is questionable.
"I am not doing it out of effectiveness," said Southworth, who is married and has two children. "I am doing it because I believe it is wrong to be part of a system that discriminates so blatantly against equal rights. . . . I can't imagine the loving behavior between two consenting adults could be wrong."
("Pastor's protest backs gay marriage," Helena Oliviero, Atlanta Journal Constitution 11.29.03, reg req'd)
What a convergence of Philocrites' interests! The cable network Showtime is developing American Candidate, a reality show in which really ambitious everyday citizens run for president. So far,
six nine Unitarian Universalists are among the contestants:
- Jocelyn Benson, Wellstone Democrat, Cambridge, Mass. — "Seeking a newer world of equality, community, and diversity"
- William Devoe, Polk-McCain Democrat (!) and software project manager, Arvada, Colo. — "Commitment to make America work for ALL Americans"
- Adam Doverspike, Wilsonian Republican and economic researcher, Washington, D.C. — "People solve problems, government makes them"
- Jeff Graham, Jeffersonian Independent, AIDS activist, Atlanta, Ga. — "Real change for real people"
- Felix Lloyd, conservative African American business-owner, St. Louis, Mo. — "The minority sector is increasingly sophisticated"
- Rick Osbourne, "Joe Lunchbucket Party," writer, Lombard, Ill. — "Let's democratize American capitalism and finally live up to our billing"
- Dwayne Schultz, Natural Law partisan and artist, Colorado Springs, Colo. — "Impossible dreams can come true"
- Jeff Seward, Bill Bradley Democrat, professor, Portland, Ore. — "Before we can really change our policies, we first have to reform our politics"
- Christopher Sullivan, Hillary Clinton Independent, motivational speaker, Newburgh, N.Y. — "We are the culture of the world"
- Noel Sutter, "Kuchinich" Independent, business owner, Portsmouth, N.H. — "America has a soft Revolution"
The contestants are blogging and trying to attract supporters. I'm very rarely inclined to vote for a Unitarian Universalist, not that I often have the chance, but this seems like a fun time to see if a UU can generate some political spark.
What I'd really love to do, though, is invite you to speculate on the varieties of political ideology among Unitarian Universalists. There's the college town NPR Democrats, the birkenstock 'n' batik Greens, the geeky Ayn Rand Libertarians, and the bourgeois moderates (Aren't you wearing Gap khakis this very moment? —Ed. Why, yes, I suppose I am), and . . . You fill in the rest.
Monday, April 26, 2004
An intriguing juxtaposition in yesterday's papers: The Boston Globe profiles Unitarian Universalist minister Vic Carpenter, who has decided not to perform any weddings, gay or straight, until the law gives the same rights to gay and straight couples. It's a fine article — and it's almost impossible not to like and admire Vic — but what kind of boycott is it if a minister who "usually performs about 10 to 15 marriage ceremonies a year" decides not to perform any between now and, oh, May 20? That's a boycott that won't even dent his yearly average.
To my knowledge, of the 30-some-odd Unitarian Universalist ministers whose consciences have led them to refuse to sign marriage licenses until same-sex couples can legally marry, only two live in places that are not poised to begin legal recognition of same-sex marriage. (Update 4.27.04: Please also see my followup post.)
Meanwhile, the New York Times Magazine's Ethicist takes up a related question:
My partner and I have discussed marriage — one of us wants to marry; the other has issues with the institution, specifically the fight over homosexual marriage (we are heterosexual). We believe that gays and lesbians should have the same rights as heterosexuals. Why should we be privileged with the rights and protections of marriage when others are being denied?
Is it ethical for us to walk down the aisle? C.K. and D.C., New York
I share your opinion of the marriage laws but not your conclusion that you must defer your wedding until utopia arrives. Many who sincerely denounce the inequities of our society inevitably profit from them. If you're a man who works at a job where the lack of flex time or on-site day care disadvantages women who do the bulk of child care, you benefit from sexism. If you're a middle-class white person who attended a decent high school and then applied to college, you had a huge advantage over a poor kid or an African-American from an inferior high school. It is impossible to lead an immaculate life in an imperfect world. The task is not merely to insulate yourself from being a beneficiary of injustice — even if that were possible — but to combat injustice.
Were there an organized boycott of marriage as a way to reform the law, you should observe it. But without that, I see no point in your becoming refuseniks. Doing so would not influence the marriage laws. You would do better to lobby your state and federal representatives and contribute money to freedomtomarry.org or similar organizations. You should seek ways to bring about change, not just to make self-comforting gestures.
There are many reasons not to get liquored up in Vegas and marry Britney Spears, or not to marry at all, but yours isn't one of them.
("Speaking in codes," Randy Cohen, New York Times Magazine 4.25.04, reg req'd)
Sunday, April 25, 2004
Peter DeMarco writes in the Boston Globe about the post-May 17 landscape for gay couples who marry in Massachusetts:
When ceremonies are over, gay couples will have to grapple with unresolved issues about how their marriages will affect issues such as taxes, wills, and adopted children, panel members told more than 125 gay men and lesbians at a free [Provincetown] seminar on the legal ramifications of gay marriage. The answers to many legal questions may take months or years to be resolved. . . .
Unanswered questions include whether employers have policies in place that will extend health insurance coverage to same-sex spouses; whether same-sex marriages will be recognized in states that do not have a Defense of Marriage Act; and whether domestic agreements remain valid.
For out-of-state gay couples who had planned to marry in Massachusetts, the picture got even murkier yesterday. Governor Mitt Romney, who has said that a 1913 state law prohibits them from marrying in Massachusetts, said he planned to rewrite state marriage license application forms to require evidence of where gay couples live or plan to live. . . .
In some circumstances, being married will afford gay couples rights they do not have under domestic agreements.
For instance, panelists said, if a gay couple own a house today, and one partner goes into a nursing home, the federal government can put a lien on the property to pay for nursing home care, potentially leaving the healthy partner without a home. If legally married, the spouse is protected and the house can’t be seized.
However, panelists said, gay couples who are considering marriage also need to realize that, once married, either partner’s family members may be able to contest their will, meaning that a family member of a deceased spouse could sue for the couple’s joint assets. As of now, they cannot do that. . . .
Gay couples may have to declare they are single on federal tax forms because the US Defense of Marriage Act does not recognize same-sex state marriages.
When having children, gay couples may still need to legally adopt even if they are married. Spouses of employees of federal agencies, such as the post office, would not have the same beneﬁts as spouses of nonfederal employees. . . .
"The first place you should go if you want to get married is to the doctor for a blood test," said Maureen Monks, a lawyer with the Women's Law Collaborative.
"After that, go to your lawyer, your human resources administrator, your financial adviser, your accountant — and then maybe tell your family."
("After May 17, marriage is no cake walk, gays are told," Peter DeMarco, Boston Globe 4.25.04)
Saturday, April 24, 2004
Every minister I know goes through it as part of his or her training, and yet many parishioners have no idea what "clinical pastoral education" is. Here's a Boston Globe profile of my wife's CPE alma mater, St. Elizabeth's, "Hospital teaches healing of the soul," which features Unitarian Universalist Mary Margaret Earl.
Friday, April 23, 2004
Mmm, Punjabi Dhaba!
There's good stuff on quite a few Unitarian Universalist blogs this week. And, since I haven't offered a round-up in a while, I'm including a few slightly older posts well worth your time:
- Stentor Danielson has a great post today, "Liberalism Gone Haywire":
"Beyond the pale" can be framed as a form of conservatism or leftism, denying the freedom to take wrong positions. But I find it more interesting to see it as liberalism gone haywire. Liberalism demands that fair procedural framework under which communicative action can occur. "Beyond the pale" is an attempt to shift the grounds of the argument to the framework rather than the content. It's a charge that the view in question is inherently inimical to communicative discussion. We're left debating the legitimacy, rather than the content, of the view.
- Phil Lund, new to the UU blogging, posts once a week on Tuesday — and offers a thoughtful essay on multigenerational communities of faith, with followup essays on the meaning of community and faith.
- Don't miss Matthew Gatheringwater's reflection on a hospital visit, "He Hated Ministers." It's profoundly moving.
- Small-group ministry consultant Peter Bowden is getting married this weekend — and can't help but wonder about a small-group ministry wedding ceremony!
- Tom Schade notes a San Francisco Chronicle story about the outré UUs for Polyamory Awareness — who don't just want to turn the wedding into a small group — and poses some questions about poly. (In response to Question 5, Tom, I think liberal religious opposition to polyamory should be principled and not merely tactical, although I'll have to set aside some extended writing time to explain why.) He follows up with a refusal to call "multi-partnered relationships" anything other than what they are.
- Chutney offers the first three parts of a philosophical response to Bill Sinkford's call for a "vocabulary of reverence." I've started responding to Part One, but sheesh, after reading this sentence — "the process derives from Foucault’s notion of 'technologies of the self' and ethicist Alisdair MacIntyre’s understanding of virtue" — I realized I've been out of grad school a while. Give yourself a little time and read what he has to say about "self-subjection to a community of authority."
Thursday, April 22, 2004
Boston's Channel 5 offers the first news story I've found that mentions the automated telephone calls many Massachusetts residents received this week urging people to show up to a rally at noon today calling for the ouster of the four Supreme Judicial Court justices who formed the pro-gay marriage majority in the Goodridge case:
Linda Hossfeld was planning her son's June wedding when she received an unsolicited telephone call Wednesday night.
"Four judges in our state have acted against the will of God," the caller said.
"It's very difficult to listen to that kind of a message in my own home," said Hossfeld. "When my son said to me that he was gay, my first thought was, 'Oh my God, there will be people who will hate him just because of who he is.'"
The message invited her to a rally at the Statehouse Thursday asking the Legislature to approve a resolution calling for the removal of four Supreme Court justices who have ordered gay marriages legal beginning next month.
"The train of judicial activism that changes the laws without the people getting involved has to stop here," said Brian Camenker of the Article 8 Alliance.
Ah, the Article 8 Alliance! Nowhere in the phone call I received on Monday was the group that made the call identified — which strikes me as a potential violation of telecommunications law — and until today I couldn't find any on-line mention of the rally or its sponsors. But by 12:30, I counted almost three dozen people outside the State House, holding "Don't Tread on Me" flags — ain't it ironic? — and a variety of anti-gay banners. Many of the banners loudly proclaimed "www.article8.org". I think it's safe to assume, based on the absence of any other recognizable organization or even any significant turnout, that the Article 8 Alliance paid for those calls. It looked like Rep. Emile J. Goguen's flash mob didn't quite come together. (He introduced legislation today to remove the four justices in the Goodridge majority.)
Brian Camenker is also the guiding force behind the Parent's Rights Coalition, which set up the Article 8 Alliance Web site. Meanwhile, a handful of gay marriage supporters showed up for the rally, too, but the sparse turnout from gay marriage opponents seemed like a clear indicator that most of them have largely concluded that it's "a bad idea whose time has come."
The good people at Kinja, who have set up a marvelous service for tracking all the blogs you like to read, highlight the Unitarian Universalist blog digest I set up. Thanks! It's always nice to be noticed.
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Records of John Kerry's Vietnam War service released Wednesday show a highly praised naval officer with an Ivy League education who spoke fluent French and had raced sailboats — the fruits of a privileged upbringing that set him apart from the typical seaman.
Where in Kerry's military record does it explain how Kerry had an Ivy League education, raced sailboats, and had a privileged upbringing that set him apart from the typical seaman? Because, you know, I didn't think they kept track of things like that. Just imagine it: "Ensign Kerry's Brahmin accent is often unintelligable to his shipmates, and he keeps mentioning how the Gulf of Tonkin reminds him of the seas off Cape Cod."
Good question! Why, it's almost as if a GOP talking point found its way right into the lede of a nationally syndicated news story. Thank goodness the president isn't from a cushy privileged background.
Update 4.22.04: Brian Montopoli at the Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk follows up on the Associated Press's distorted coverage:
Kerry's privileged upbringing isn't off limits, of course, but it seems bizarre to make it the focal point of an examination of the candidate's military records. We don't remember any pieces on President Bush's Air National Guard service that paused to point out that he was head cheerleader at Andover. [AP writer Nedra] Pickler's take is the kind of thing we're used to seeing in the Socialist Worker, not in what's supposed to be a straightforward wire service account.
Apparently, her editors agree — belatedly. By the time this morning's revised version of the story was posted, the Kerry-as-blueblood angle was gone — no sailboats at all — and the story focused on "[military] documents showing high praise from [Kerry's] supervisors." But that was not before The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Kansas City Star (registration required), and other papers had already picked up the earlier version of the story and ran with it.
The question to ask is this: Where did Nedra Pickler come across the idea that Kerry's glowing evaluations had something to do with his speaking French and racing sailboats? One must be willfully (or perhaps even authentically) naive to think that this connection just popped into her head as the obvious thing to say about Kerry's military service. Sure, maybe she too loved speaking French and racing sailboats in preparation for her illustrious Navy career, and so nothing could be simpler than finding the glories of aristocracy in Kerry's service.
Or maybe, just maybe, Nedra Pickler is one of the political reporters who receives countless e-mails, faxes, and phone messages every day from the political operatives — spin doctors — who try to stamp the candidates' own interpretation of events on the news. And if this is so, then it seems only fair to ask: Which of the candidates wants to portray Kerry as a French-speaking, sailboat-racing son of privilege? Perhaps the one featured in this Washington Post story from 2002:
Bush at one point forgot a reporter's question and said, "That's what happens when you're over 55." Turning to the 69-year-old Chirac, he added, "You know what I mean." After referring to the French leader as "Jacques," Bush paused and said, "I guess I should call you President Chirac." Moments later, Bush again referred to him as "Jacques."
Bush, who was out until midnight Saturday on a caviar-and-foie-gras boat cruise in St. Petersburg, had trouble understanding some questions and said at one point, "Whew, lot of questions here." When Chirac called on a U.S. reporter, Bush remarked sharply that "that's generally not the way it's done," adding later to Chirac: "I'll call on the Americans." And when a U.S. reporter addressed a question to Chirac in French, Bush teased the reporter, saying, "The guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental," adding, "Quebueno — now I'm literate in two languages."
Why, it's almost like you'd never think that both candidates in this race went to Yale. I wonder why that is.
Dan Kennedy writes in the Boston Phoenix:
Given the duplicity and high-handedness of Bush, Cheney, and their underlings, it is sometimes hard to remember that there were good reasons for going to war against Saddam Hussein — not unilaterally, not while giving the finger to the rest of the world, but good reasons nonetheless. Saddam was, along with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, perhaps the world’s most brutal dictator, a man who tortured, mutilated, and murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. He had used poison gas on two separate occasions, against Iran and against rebellious Kurds in his own country. If intervening in the former Yugoslavia was right, if failing to intervene in Rwanda was an appalling mistake, then surely the overthrow of Saddam was a worthwhile goal. That’s why moderates and liberals such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Harvard University human-rights expert and author Michael Ignatieff, Senator Joseph Lieberman, and others supported the war, despite their misgivings over Bush’s go-it-alone approach.
Which is why, even more than Dean’s, Blix’s, Clarke’s, and Suskind’s books, a 15,000-word article by James Fallows in the January issue of the Atlantic Monthly, "Blind into Baghdad," is such a horrifying read. Fallows won a National Magazine Award for an earlier article, in which he predicted that war would lead to Iraq’s becoming, in his description, "the 51st state." That would have been far preferable to the mistakes Fallows describes in his more recent article.
For instance, military leaders opposed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s plan to invade with a small force of 75,000 troops not because they thought they would lose — far from it — but, rather, because they specifically wanted 400,000 or more to keep order after the war ended. "The military’s fundamental argument for building up what Rumsfeld considered a wastefully large force is that it would be even more useful after Baghdad fell than during actual combat," Fallows writes. "The first few days or weeks after the fighting, in this view, were crucial in setting long-term expectations. Civilians would see that they could expect a rapid return to order, and would behave accordingly — or they would see the opposite. This was the ‘shock and awe’ that really mattered, in the Army’s view: the ability to make clear who was in charge." The failure to stop the widely predicted looting, along with American administrator Paul Bremer’s decision to disband the Iraqi army — a mistake warned against in advance by experts at the Army War College and elsewhere — only compounded the security crisis.
In Fallows’s view, "The missteps of the first half year in Iraq are as significant as other classic and carefully examined failures in foreign policy, including John Kennedy’s handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, and Lyndon Johnson’s decision to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam, in 1965." The consequences of those missteps have only become more apparent since Fallows’s article was published.
Kennedy adds at the end of his review:
Built on a foundation of lies and wishful thinking, carried out with arrogance and incompetence, the war in Iraq looms as our biggest foreign-policy disaster since the Vietnam War. George W. Bush may not be Richard Nixon; as John Dean suggests, he may be worse.
("Debacle in Iraq," Dan Kennedy, Boston Phoenix 4.22.04)
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Updated! If you are visiting Philocrites for the first time, welcome! If "blog" is a relatively new part of your vocabulary, or if the page you're looking at seems a bit mystifying, consider this a brief introduction.
This site's "front page" — which you see when you type "www.philocrites.com" into your Web browser, or when you click "Philocrites" or "Home" at the top of this page — features three columns. My writing appears in reverse chronological order in the wide column on the left, so the most recent material is always at the top of the page. Older posts drop off the bottom after a week or so, but can always be found through the archive.
Each "post" (or blog entry) also exists as an individual Web page on this site. Clicking the time of day at the bottom of an entry or the title at the top of the entry when you're reading the front page will take you to an entry's permanent home. On some blogs, you'll see "permalink": That's the link to the permanent home of the entry. When you want to tell other people about something you found interesting, copy the URL or Web address of that permanent home; that address will work even after the entry has vanished from the front page.
At the top of every page, you'll see a dark blue bar with yellow links. You'll find more information about me, a list of my most recent published work (primarily in UU World), my scrapbook (a companion blog of links to articles in magazines and newspapers), my photos, this site's archives, a search tool, even more links, information about advertising on this site through Google's AdWords program, and a link to my email.
On the right hand side of the front page is a sidebar with two columns of regularly updated content, links to other interesting sites, and advertising from Google AdSense and Amazon.com. A few special features:
"Unitarian Universalism" offers several handy links, including my annotated guide to Unitarian Universalist blogs, Kinja.com's UU blog digest, and the UUpdates aggregator of UU blogs and other sites with RSS.
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"Scrapbook" pulls the latest posts from my companion blog, which features brief quotes from news stories, blogs, and magazines. I feature the two most recent Scrapbook entries (and a handful of even shorter Miscellany headlines) on the front page of Philocrites.
Disclosure: I link to sites that I don't necessarily agree with. Further disclosure: I am not trying to be comprehensive, especially regarding Unitarian Universalism. I welcome news about groups and Web sites related to Unitarian Universalism and liberal religion, but I offer no guarantees that I'll feature them here. I am not an apologist for Unitarian Universalism, and even though it's my religious tradition, I often take a critical attitude toward developments within the UU movement. Final disclosure: This site in no way should be taken to represent or reflect the views of the Unitarian Universalist Association, its officers, employees, board, member congregations, General Assembly, ministers, or anyone else. The opinions I express are my own; the opinions I quote belong to the people I quote.
My motto is a statement by Alfred North Whitehead: "A clash of doctrines is not a disaster, it is an opportunity."
That's a lot of introduction. Please feel free to wander around. I'm glad you're here, I welcome your feedback, I hope you find something worth your time. I hope you'll be back.
Last updated 6.27.07.
Hooray! A new season, a new opportunity to follow quasi-theological commentary on the official baseball team of Philocrites. Here's Dan Shaughnessy, the Globe's resident Red Sox theologian:
When it's the Red Sox and Yankees, even in April, it always goes back to the Bible.
During the ninth inning, said Sox general manager Theo Epstein, "I turned to the guy next to me and said, 'The apocalypse is upon us. The tying run is coming to the plate in the form of A-Rod, who hasn't had a hit all series. Foulke's facing him. Right field's on fire. Apparently, we're all going to die. This is the end of the world.' "
In spite of yesterday's heat wave — and the fire by the river — it wasn't the end of the world, and the Red Sox emerged victorious.
Monday, April 19, 2004
The Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom, author of Teacher, Guide, Companion: Rediscovering Jesus in a Secular World, joins the Unitarian Universalist blogging community at The Edge. Wikstrom takes his inspiration from Kenneth Patton:
In the 1950s and 1960s the Rev. Kenneth L. Patton and the members of the Charles Street Meeting House in Boston, MA started a journal called "The Edge" as a forum for disseminating ideas related to their vision of a universalized Universalism or, as they called it, "a religion for one world." This blog is an attempt to pick up that torch.
I believe Wikstrom is the first UU blogger to pick AOL's Journal software, which limits comments to people with AOL or Netscape identities. Welcome!
How invigorating, on this Massachusetts state holiday celebrating revolutionary patriots, to receive a morning phone call from a clearly upset guy with a classic local accent imploring me not to let "four judges" go against "the will of God." I didn't have my wits about me enough to notice whether the caller identified the political organization that paid for the autodial call, but I sure caught the substance of the message:
The anti-gay-marriage crowd is planning a rally outside the State House this Thursday at noon. I can't find a link to a public announcement of the rally, but I'll keep looking.
Wouldn't it be grand to see a contingent of MassEquality signs and an even bigger turnout of straight and gay Massachusetts residents committed to marriage equality?
A frustrated reader pointed out that this site had started loading awfully slowly the last few days — a situation I discovered this morning, too. I think the problem was a tiny image loading from Nedstat Basic, a site-statistics service I was trying out. I didn't find the service especially helpful, and since I'm quite happy with AddFreeStats for tracking visits to my blog's main page — and since my host offers really sophisticated traffic statistics for the whole site — I've axed Ned. If that doesn't speed things up, please drop me a line.
Update 1.3.06: I long ago abandoned AddFreeStats.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer, who will be talking with other religion bloggers at BloggerCon — which I will sadly have to miss, even though it's right here in Cambridge — asks some questions I'll be pondering. Among them:
What makes a good religion blog? What is the craft of religion blogging? Are there certain elements common to religion blogs across faiths? What do journalists have to learn from religion bloggers? What do other bloggers — particularly those concerned with culture and politics — have to learn from religion blogs?
My simple answer is, take religion seriously. Take it seriously intellectually, politically, interpersonally, spiritually. That's different than believing in it in many cases. I don't have to believe everything you say to take you seriously, but if I don't take you seriously, how could I ever hope to understand you?
The best example I've seen of a journalist who took religion seriously without abandoning his questions is Yossi Klein Halevi's 2001 book, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden. Here's my brief review.
Jaroslav Pelikan on a vital distinction: "Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." (Quoted by Pereginatio.) A much more useful contrast than the benighted past vs. enlightened future that some Unitarian Universalists and other post-traditionalists seem fixed on seeing.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Last night I attended a great evening of readings from Michael Kelly's posthumous book, Things Worth Fighting For: Collected Writings. Kelly, who was editor of the Atlantic Monthly when he died last year in an accident while embedded as a reporter in Iraq, was an extraordinary writer and editor — and so the writers who read from his book were each extraordinary, too. I admired Kelly greatly, partly because his columns provoked me out of my liberalism's occasional drift into sentimentality, but especially because he brought out greatness in the writers he cultivated. I went to the reading to admire real masters of the craft I try to practice as well as to honor their colleague and mentor.
Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, talked about Kelly's larger-than-life personality and his simultaneous interest in what a writer was most keen to say. P.J. O'Rourke described the day he and Kelly spent walking through Kuwait City, considering buying ugly furniture to ship home to their wives out of guilt for heading off to cover the war. (He said Kelly had lured him away from Rolling Stone by saying, "I can pay you less!" O'Rourke acknowledged that Rolling Stone didn't really need or want a resident Republican.) O'Rourke also described interviewing the soldiers with whom Kelly had been embedded after Kelly's death, and reported their unanimous sense that Kelly showed more genuine interest in them than anyone else had. His gregariousness was legendary.
Samantha Power, author of "A Problem from Hell": America in the Age of Genocide, described Kelly's advocacy of her work when other editors were telling her, "Yeah, Rwanda was seven years ago. The President has apologized. What more is there to say?" The Atlantic published her long indictment of American indifference, for which she won the National Magazine Award. Her subsequent book won the Pulitzer Prize. She read a harrowing passage from Kelly's reporting from Bosnia.
Tom Ashbrook (now of NPR's On Point) talked about Kelly's reporting from Iraq during the first Gulf War. Robert Vare, a senior editor at the Atlantic, read from one of Kelly's cover stories for the New York Times Magazine, which Vare edited at the time. The article, which began as a profile of David Gergen, grew into a profile of the unreality show that is modern Washington politics. I really want to look that article up.
William Langewiesche — wow — said very little about Kelly, but read a 1997 column in which Kelly excoriated baby-boomer journalists, politicians, and himself for being perpetually shocked at the cruelty of war. Here's the concluding passage from that op-ed, in which Kelly reflects on the horror he felt seeing the bodies along the road to Baghdad at the end of Desert Storm (via this lapsed link):
It seems obvious to me now [in Bosnia] that what seemed obvious to me then [in Desert Storm] was the usual result of a little knowledge intruding suddenly on total ignorance. I had never seen the results of war, and the results horrified me out of my wits. In this, I was of course typical of my generation of reporters. The result is, in matters military, a press corps that is forever suffering a collective case of the vapors. At the least exposure to the most unremarkable facts of military life—soldiers can be brutes and pigs, generals can be stupid, bullets can be fatal—we are forever shocked, forever reaching for the sal volatile. Fortunately, not many people pay much attention to us anymore. But the media’s generational horror at war’s truths reflects the larger society’s views, and this larger society includes the military itself. Not since Vietnam has America faced a serious war, involving a serious level of death (and Vietnam’s 58,000 American coffins were a fraction of the butchers’ bills paid in the great wars), and that conflict ended a quarter of a century ago. We are a nation in which there are fewer and fewer people, and they are older and older people, who accept what every 12-year-old in Bihac knows: there are things worth dying for, and killing for.
And then, most movingly, Kelly's son Tom — who turns eight today — read one of his father's last e-mail messages from Iraq. It was a list of things in his pack, including a bunch of improbable objects (a bathtub, a telephone pole, lady's dancing shoes, size extra-large) for him and his younger brother to identify. The two little boys stood completely obscured behind the podium and giggled over the silly things their dad had in his pack. Robert Vare noted that Tom is a reporter for his second-grade class newspaper, and will be interviewing President Bush when the surviving Kellys present a copy of the book to the president later this month.
Monday, April 12, 2004
Thanks to the good folks at Kinja, you can now visit one site for a digest of the latest posts from across the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere. I've added 16 blogs from my annotated guide to the Interdependent Web so far, and will be adding more. (If you haven't looked at the guide in a while, there are now 36 blogs in the list. If your Unitarian Universalist-related blog isn't on my list, that simply means that I don't know about it yet. Feel free to announce your blog in the comments.)
You can also set up your own digest list at Kinja to keep track of all your favorite sites.
Not every Transcendentalist was a "go alone" individualist like Thoreau — or like the fiercely idiosyncratic people you can find in most Unitarian Universalist congregations where Emerson and Thoreau especially still have lots of fans. I often think of the more individualistic Transcendentalists as special cases of a more general 19th-century phenomenon: perfectionism. Perfectionism took lots of forms — including abolitionism and the more evangelical reform movements — and it took explicitly communal forms, too. Among the religious liberals who took the communal route rather than setting off to find their own Walden Ponds, it would be hard to find a more famous example than Brook Farm.
Michael Kenney writes about a new history of Brook Farm (and about a new collection of letters from a Northampton, Mass., utopian community from the same period):
Brook Farm was a utopian community, one of dozens that sprang up in New England and across the Northern states in the 1840s. It is the best known of them (not including the Shaker communities), having been immortalized in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, "The Blithedale Romance."
The reality — the "dark side" — of its past is found in the distinguished and often entertaining history "Brook Farm[: The Dark Side of Utopia]," by Sterling F. Delano, a professor of English at Villanova University. Curiously, for all its renown, and for all the notables — Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, Amos Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller, as well as Hawthorne — associated with Brook Farm, Delano's is the first comprehensive study to appear in more than a century.
Brook Farm was the creation of George Ripley, who resigned as minister of a Unitarian church in what is now Boston's Financial District to establish "a social worship . . . to redeem society as well as the individual from all sin." Ripley and those who moved with him to Brook Farm in the spring of 1841 had been associated with the idealistic Transcendental movement.
After barely two years of the farm as a back-to-the-land enterprise by day and an intellectual beehive by night, Ripley proposed a turn toward industry, following the utopian socialist principles of the French social scientist Charles Fourier.
Brook Farm survived another few years, until economic obstacles and a devastating fire brought Ripley's dream to an end.
("Reform minded: Two new works focus on the rise and fall of a pair of utopian communities in Massachusetts in the 1800s," Michael Kenney, Boston Globe 4.11.04)
I wrote a brief article about another of the well-known Massachusetts utopian communities, Hopedale, in UU World last year. Hopedale was founded by the incomprehensibly perfectionist Adin Ballou (a Universalist and Unitarian minister) in 1841 — and unlike Brook Farm and many of the other utopian communities, it actually struggled along for decades until it too collapsed around the time of the Civil War.
("Adin Ballou: Practical utopian," Christopher L. Walton, UU World Jul/Aug 2003)
The Economist reviews Avishai Margalit and Ian Buruma's new book, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies:
Their thesis refers to “Orientalism”, a book published in 1978 by Edward Said, a Palestinian writer who died last year. Said's argument was that western scholarship disdains and distorts the Islamic world in subtle ways that provided an intellectual backdrop to colonialism and post-colonial domination. In the authors' summary: “Some Orientalist prejudices made non-western people seem less than fully adult human beings; they had the minds of children, and could thus be treated as lesser breeds.”
Occidentalism is the mirror image of this: the dehumanising view of the West held by many of its enemies. It reduces the West, and especially America, to a symbol of evil, “a mass of soulless, decadent, money-grubbing, rootless, faithless, unfeeling parasites”. For Occidentalist fanatics such as Osama bin Laden, this legitimises mass murder. . . .
But the authors do not interpret the world's present predicament as a clash between the West and Islam. They see instead a lengthy battle of ideas in defence of the open, the tolerant and the free against totalitarian ideologies both religious and secular. They warn against the utter refusal to try to understand fanaticism and the cringe of colonial guilt that appears to justify it. However much damage the West did and does to the East, that does not excuse barbarism. To argue that it does is Orientalist condescension.
("Anti-western fanatics," Economist 3.18.04)
Friday, April 9, 2004
Chris Suellentrop names the American religious conundrum: "How many Jesuses can dance on the head of a pin?" Among the dancers these days is Manly Jesus ("a macho savior unbowed by pain or torment"), Warrior Jesus (ala LaHaye & Jenkins), Rocky Jesus ("displays his manliness by enduring unimaginable pain"), Blue-State Jesus ("an antiauthoritarian hippie who judges not lest he be judged"), Party Jesus ("turns water into wine just to keep the night rockin'"), Historical Jesus, and Living Jesus.
("Choose your own savior," Chris Suellentrop, Slate 4.9.04)
Thursday, April 8, 2004
Which of these two TV ads introducing Unitarian Universalism do you like better: The ad the UUA paid for? Or the public service announcement produced and paid for by the Faith & Values Network? (Both require RealPlayer.)
At the new, improved, and very in-character MyIrony.com, Chutney proposes the creation of "Unitarian Universalists for Spiritual Interest Group Feudalism," a liberal religious magesterium charged with affirming and promoting "the inherent worth and dignity of all Interest Groups, their pretensions of being a movement, and their aspirations to become bureaucracies."
Scott Wells says he used to cry foul about the marginalization of Christian Unitarians and Universalists in the UUA, but now he says he just calls it as he sees it — proclaiming the good news. He urges folks in "other theological cohorts" to "stop whining about how they're underappreciated and start doing serious public theology because I'll not slow down for them to catch up."
If we view the internal conflicts of the UUA culture as an example of mimetic rivalry, the point is that what we fight over does not really matter. We fight over what others seem to want and/or have. Why? Because human beings are more concerned about social relationships, social standing and status etc. than any physical or material objects. . . .
The self-definition of the UUA is that is an evolving movement, not an institution. We view our history as being one in which new avant-gardes emerge, often in contradiction to the institutional leaders and traditions, and that the movement ends up following these vanguards. Where we are going is not being set by our officers or by the traditional leaders, but is being set at the edges, by new vanguards, by our growing edge. Something that is now considered to be unimportant, marginal, or radical will someday be the mainstream, and everyone will be judged by history by how soon they caught the emerging new wave.
So what we really fight over is the mantle of the new and emerging "new thing." What we fight over is to position ourselves as the vanguard and our rivals as the defender of the old guard. What each element fights over is how others in the UUA movement perceive them.
I can't help but think about Harold Bloom's term, "the anxiety of influence," which describes the way one generation represses the shaping role of its mentors in order to assert its own originality. The new generation creatively misreads its predecessors in the process. Examples in our religious history include: the Unitarian James Freeman Clarke, who radically recast the five points of Calvinism as the "Five Points of the New Theology"; early Humanist minister John Dietrich, who appropriated the legacy of William Ellery Channing for the humanist cause; or James Luther Adams, who can be seen to have recast Clarke's "five points" as the "Five Smooth Stones of Religious Liberalism." (Ironically, Adams's editor came up with the five smooth stones by cobbling Adams's essays together — another creative misreading!)
The example I'm most fascinated by in contemporary Unitarian Universalism is the way people have latched onto Universalism as the suppressed warm-and-cozy populist version of liberal religion, a nice contrast with the "corpse-cold rationalism" some see in Unitarianism. It's fascinating because, as far as I can tell, most contemporary UUs are just making it up, picking and choosing aspects of a dimly-remembered and barely-studied past and wishing it into existence as a foil to the religious culture they know. They don't want to be Universalists, and certainly haven't been converted to its doctrines, but they sure like its cachet as the un-Unitarianism. Perhaps we have some mimetic rivalry right there in our name.
Sometimes I have to work really hard to find something for this much-neglected Philocrites feature. The Boston Globe reported recently, however, that designers were musing about the extinction of the ampersand — "creative doodle amongst measured letterforms."(You may wonder: Is this really a font in the news? It's not like I've established much of a precedent, of course, but since every reputable font has an ampersand, this story has implications for every font there is. And then there's the fact that this is really a news story about a blog post.)
The biggest threat to the ampersand in my view is the atrocious new AT&T ad campaign. This ad (pdf; 126k) isn't just disturbingly ugly. (Argh! the colors! the halved faces!) It also took me much longer to interpret than it should. After all, why would a phone company want to splice our heads together? That's not my model of communication.
("The evolution of the ampersand," Joshua Glenn, Boston Globe 3.28.04)
Update 6.7.04: Slate piles on AT&T for its awful ad campaign. It's a really important part of the company's name, that ampersand: "Thank goodness they've reminded us it's American Telephone AND Telegraph. Mustn't forget the highly profitable telegraph division." But Seth Stevenson also adds value to our "Fonts in the News" focus:
First the "at" sign's career was reinvented by e-mail. Now the ampersand gets a national ad campaign. Even the asterisk has *69. These are heady, heady days for punctuation. (Of course, the stickler will note that these are not in fact punctuation marks, but rather typographical symbols, or "glyphs." Nerd.)
Who will be next? Octothorp (#)? Tilde (~)? Or, dare I hope, the interrobang?!
("Castles made of ampersands," Seth Stevenson, Slate 6.7.04)
Wednesday, April 7, 2004
Tom Schade asks:
Have you heard sentiments like these?
"We could really moving into the mainstream of the culture, except that we are always pulled toward marginal, fringe movements, like polyamory."
"We could be a terrific social reform movement, if we were not burdened by the huge number of middle class, affluent folks who don't want to move."
"We could be gathering up all the despairing, disheartened mainline Christians, if some people would let us talk once in a while about God and Jesus."
"We could be breaking new ground into a third Axial age of human spiritual interconnection, if people would just let us leave this liberal Protestantism behind."
It just seems that for many, the presence of our internal rivals prevents us from fulfilling the mission.
He finds in Rene Girard's work a useful term for this blame-your-neighbor impulse among Unitarian Universalists: "mimetic rivalry." I saw it rather baldly on display recently when Roger Brewin, editor of Religious Humanism, suggested to readers of the HUUmanists e-mail list (no, that's not a typo) that "humanists who stay UU should make common cause with Pagans — our best hope of fending off the rechristianization of UU." Oh, boy! Triangulation! As a way for humanists to fend off their own institutional decline, this strikes me as a fruitless path. I have tried more than once to suggest that religious humanists might want to learn from the ways the UU Christians have revived themselves against long odds rather than simply spite them for their success. Then again, I'm not over 50, so what do I know?
But Tom asks a much more interesting question: What, really, are we all fighting over?
So the Roman Catholic bishop of Atlanta doesn't just think that Jesus' masculinity makes it impossible for women to stand in Christ's place at the altar. He also apparently believes that the masculinity of the Twelve makes it impossible for women to take the disciples' place in the Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual. Has he bothered to read John 13:1-11? Did he completely miss the point?
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Do as I do — but not to women? That's a good pastoral model. Or perhaps he's such a literalist that this year, in honor of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who first arrived at the empty tomb, no men will be allowed to attend sunrise Easter services.
The best response to the bishop's decision is from Kathleen Pruit: "A shepherd who cares only for the rams won't have a flock for very long."
I was on a plane on April 1, and missed Beliefnet's religion news headlines for the day. My favorite:
Christians worldwide are reeling from the news that Jesus, in instructing his apostle Peter to "feed my sheep," was not referring to humans but simply wanted his profitable Merino ewes taken care of.
Tuesday, April 6, 2004
Allen Brill's The Right Christians was probably the best-known liberal-Democratic Christian blog on the Web. He's been dreaming of new ways to retire the old idea that liberal Christianity is our culture's best-kept secret, and his latest project is worth some serious attention. He has now replaced The Right Christians with a Daily Kos-like Web site — group blog, community forum, news aggregator, and more — for "religious progressives" called The Village Gate. (To be clear, Brill's interest is not in religious liberalism, but in political progressivism within a religious context.) Do check it out.
The liveliness of group blogs is something to behold. Crooked Timber, for example, is something like Daily Kos for academics. Among religion blogs, I'm personally fascinated by the conservative-to-liberal brainy Mormon group blog Times & Seasons, and am pleased to see the emergence of the first, fledgling Unitarian Universalist group blog, Step by Step. In time, blogs that present a variety of voices seem most likely to draw traffic: they take the burden off solo writers to have something new to say every day, and they embody dialogue. I think of them as informal magazines. It makes me wish that the blogs that first learned to fly at Fish Bowl had stayed together; sometimes, there's strength in numbers.
(The first paragraph has been modified to reflect the disappearance of The Right Christians, 4.8.04.)
Sunday, April 4, 2004
Here's a newspaper columnist interviewing theologian Thandeka, the Unitarian Universalist Meadville Lombard Theological School professor: "Color-coding: A fresh look at race," by James Ragland, Dallas Morning News 3.25.04. (Thanks to Joyce Dowling for the tip!)
Saturday, April 3, 2004
I'm totally hooked on Rufus Wainwright's new album, Want One, which doesn't sound like any pop album I've heard before. Call me a sucker for operatic rock: "Go or Go Ahead" sounds like a Radiohead song scored by Maurice Ravel (whose "Bolero" theme is woven through "Oh What a World"). AMG says it isn't even his best work. I had never heard of him until Mrs Philocrites came home with the CD two weeks ago, and ever since then we've both been humming along madly. Consider it recommended.
For almost two years I've been receiving annoying e-mail appeals from the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation asking for donations to help re-open the Statue of Liberty to the public. I never quite fathomed why the government seemed uninterested in one of our best-loved national monuments — compassionate conservatism, I guess, or maybe it was vengeance on the dastardly French. The Foundation raised more than $7 million, but the statue remains closed. (I had registered with the Foundation to use Ellis Island's fascinating on-line ship registry database when I was doing some genealogical research on Mrs Philocrites' family.) But the New York Times discovers that the Foundation is more interested in using Liberty to raise money than it is in re-opening the statue:
Millions of dollars held by the nonprofit Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation have long been available for the monument's emergency needs but went unspent. The National Park Service, which is responsible for the landmark, never asked Congress to provide the $2.3 million that they initially estimated was needed to do the work.
The Park Service wavered for at least a year on whether it even wanted to reopen the statue, then decided to turn the task over to the foundation. And once the foundation decided not to dig into its $30 million endowment and instead mount a separate fund-raising campaign, its goal steadily rose to $7 million as still more months went by.
Even now, more than two and a half years after the attacks that shut the statue, visitors will still not be able to go up to the crown, as they did in the past, because of the Park Service's continuing security concerns. As for the $7 million in public donations, it is unclear how much will be spent on safety improvements to open the base, as opposed to optional projects added later, such as a glass portal for viewing the inside of the statue.
The foundation, while choosing not to provide enough endowment money for the emergency exits and upgraded fire system necessary for the statue's reopening, at the same time paid $345,000 to its president, far more than is paid to chief executives at nonprofit foundations that support other parks. At the same time, risky investments contributed to a nearly $10 million drop in the value of its assets in the last two fiscal years.
Meanwhile, no other high-risk national landmark remains closed, including the Washington Monument and Empire State Building, leaving the statue alone as a shuttered symbol of the country's vulnerability to terrorists.
The reasons lie with the two main entities charged with protecting the statue, according to documents and interviews. The Park Service showed a pattern of inertia and disengagement from the task at hand. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, which some believe should have been dissolved years ago after fulfilling its intended mission to restore the landmark, showed more interest in preserving its considerable assets than in supporting the statue, even in the midst of a crisis.
("Extra fund-raising put off Statue of Liberty reopening," Mike McIntire, New York Times 4.4.04, reg req'd)
Shame on them. Oh, and shame on the skittish (or self-interested) owner of Boston's Hancock Tower, which has "permanently" closed its marvelous 60th floor observatory, invoking 9/11. Brian McGrory wrote a few weeks ago:
After the September 11 attacks, David D'Alessandro, the chief executive of John Hancock, ordered the observatory shut to the public and has refused to open it since.
"It is closed permanently," said Steve Burgay, Hancock's spokesman. "It is being converted into Hancock office space."
Let's think about that for a moment. In many ways, the Hancock Tower is like an aging, petulant actress. From a distance, she looks terrific, tall and shimmering and even glamorous. But up close, she makes only demands. The building has no grand lobby, no welcoming streetscape, nothing so much as a coffee cart outside its front doors.
Unless you happen to like wind, and then there's plenty of it. The Hancock has created the most ferocious wind tunnel most Bostonians will ever know. There are days when medium-sized dogs soar off Copley Square like kites, tails and all.
But for all its shortcomings, there was a tradeoff, and that came in the form of the observatory, the pinnacle of Boston, a grand public place where some people used to do nothing more than sit and think for hours at a time. Little did they realize that D'Alessandro was doing the same thing, wondering how to get these people out of his building.
Sept. 11 gave him just the excuse. A new reality, Hancock officials said. No express elevators. Security issues too cumbersome. Tenants gripped by fear.
And suddenly, the most coveted space in Boston was turned into offices. I see.
In contrast, the 86th floor Observatory at the Empire State Building has reopened to the public. The White House is again giving tours. The Skydeck on the 103d story of Chicago's Sears Tower, the nation's tallest building, is open and newly renovated, and so too the Hancock Observatory in Chicago.
But not here, not in Boston, not with D'Alessandro running the show. It doesn't matter that city officials believed the top floor of the tower was to remain an observatory into perpetuity. D'Alessandro simply took it away.
"I don't think the world's a safer place yet," Burgay announced yesterday. Thank you, Steve, for your take on international affairs. D'Alessandro didn't return a call.
("Towering insensitivity," Brian McGrory, Boston Globe 3.19.04)