Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Davy Jones, R.I.P.

From his obit in the Times (my emphasis): 

Perhaps Mr. Jones’s most enduring legacy takes the form of a name. The name belongs to another English musician, who burst on the scene some years after the Monkees. This man, too, had been born David Jones. But thanks to the Monkees’ renown, he knew he would have to adopt another name entirely if he was to have the hope of a career. 

So he called himself David Bowie.

Let's not forget...

...about the caucuses in Washington this Saturday.

Intrade currently has Rick Santorum in the lead over Mitt Romney. And Mike Huckabee will be hosting a forum that night in Ohio. If Santo can take the Evergreen State it could give him quite a boost going into Super Tuesday.

Looking ahead to...

...Super Tuesday (and I'm always looking ahead -- can't get enough of this stuff, can I?), the ten states, in order of delegates, are as follows:

Georgia, 76 (Gingrich had better win his home state.)

Ohio, 66 (If you thought Michigan was closely contested, just wait until the Buckeye State. If Romney wins this key swing state it may be all over but the shoutin'. However, if Santorum wins...)

Tennessee, 58 (If Santorum can beat Gingrich here he may knock the former speaker out of the race.)

Virginia, 49 (Only Romney and Paul are on the ballot; what percentage can the Texas Congressman garner?)

Oklahoma, 43 (Another Tennessee; can Santo beat Newt here?)

Massachusetts, 41 (Romney wins his home state easily. Who cares about the Bay State? Hey, 41 delegates is nothing to sneeze at; Arizona only gave Mitt 29.)

Idaho, 32 (Romney wins the Mormon-rich state in a walk; and the delegate count continues.)

North Dakota, 28 (Intrade has Santorum in the lead.)

Alaska, 27 (May be the most interesting -- and closely contested -- race of all. Will Palin endorse someone?)

Vermont, 17 (Romney -- yawn.)

If Romney wins Ohio, Virginia, Massachusetts, Idaho and Vermont he should emerge as the clear frontrunner. If Santo, or Gingrich, wins any combination of Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Dakota and/or Alaska the chance of a brokered convention increases.

Bottom line: watch Ohio.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:


"I've decided to start groaning every time I have to move my body a little bit."

Only two percent of the vote...

...in the Michigan primary yesterday was black (92 percent was white). In Arizona it was zero

According to Andrew Sullivan, "That's the GOP we have come to know these past few years."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I'll say Mitt Romney...

...takes Michigan tonight in a squeaker.

Andrew Sullivan is...

...right: the president is on fire here.

How is anybody going to beat this guy?

Recently I compared Rick Santorum...

 
...to Barry Goldwater. (Read it here.) 

But after listening to the former senator from Pennsylvania the last couple of weeks, I wonder if Francisco Franco might be a better comparison. From Wikipedia (all emphasis mine):

 

...Franco depicted himself as the defender of "Catholic Spain..." 

And: 

...the Catholic Church was upheld as the established church of the Spanish State, and regained many of the traditional privileges it had lost under the Republic. Civil servants had to be Catholic, and some official jobs even required a "good behavior" statement by a priest. Civil marriages which had taken place under Republican Spain were declared null and void unless confirmed by the Catholic Church ... Divorce was forbidden, and also contraceptives and abortion. 

And: 

Francoism professed a devotion to the traditional role of women in society, that is: loving child to her parents and brothers, faithful to her husband, residing with her family. Official propaganda confined her role to family care and motherhood. Immediately after the [civil] war, most progressive laws passed by the Republic aimed at equality between the sexes were made void. Women could not become judges, or testify in trial. They could not become university professors. Their affairs and economy had to be managed by their father or by their husbands. Even in the 1970s a woman fleeing from an abusive husband could be arrested and imprisoned for "abandoning the home."  Until the 1970s a woman could not have a bank account without a co-sign by her father or husband. 

And: 

The enforcement by public authorities of traditional Catholic values was a stated intent of the regime... 

And just to rub it in (for good measure): 

In September 1939, World War II broke out in Europe, and although Hitler met Franco once to discuss Spanish entry on the side of the Axis, Franco's demands (food, military equipment, GibraltarFrench North Africa etc.) proved too much and no agreement was reached. (An oft-cited remark attributed to Hitler is that the German leader would rather have some teeth extracted than to have to deal further with Franco).

Monday, February 27, 2012

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Your Andy Borowitz...

...tweet of the day:

If a black-and-white silent film wins Best Picture it will give hope to surveillance cameras everywhere.

Hendrik Hertzberg describes...

...the Republican Party base in the New Yorker today: 

...an excitable, overlapping assortment of Fox News friends, Limbaugh dittoheads, Tea Party animals, war whoopers, nativists, Christianist fundamentalists, à la carte Catholics (anti-abortion, yes; anti-torture, no), anti-Rooseveltians (Franklin and Theodore), global-warming denialists, post-Confederate white Southrons, creationists, birthers, market idolaters, Europe demonizers, and gun fetishists...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The tweet of the day...

...is from Jennifer Rubin, a Romney supporter from the Washington Post:

If Santo is planning on sending his kids to college is he a snob? Is he playing into Obama's master plot?

Dmitri Nabokov, the son of...

...the famous writer, Vladimir Nabokov, died at age 77. When I saw his obit in the Times I thought to myself, This will be really interesting! What will it say about his father? And then I read this paragraph:  

In contrast with his father, who was said to focus on literature and lepidoptery to the exclusion of all else, Dmitri Nabokov was a bon vivant, a professional opera singer, a race car driver and a mountain climber.

Now, forgetting for a moment that my obituary will never describe me as a "bon vivant" or a "race car driver" (much less a professional opera singer or a mountain climber), I was most intrigued by the word "lepidoptery." What on earth is that?, I wondered. Apparently, it's the "study of moths and butterflies." Huh. (They say you learn something new every day; I guess I can go back to bed now.)

Lepidoptery, huh? I was interested enough to look up Vladimir Nabokov's entry in Wikipedia. And I stumbled across this passage (my emphasis):

Nabokov wrote "Lolita" while traveling on butterfly-collection trips in the western United States that he undertook every summer. Nabokov never learned to drive, type, fold an umbrella, or answer the telephone.

Really? He never learned how to "fold an umbrella" or "answer the telephone?" How hard is it to figure those two things out? As far as answering the phone, don't you just pick up the receiver and say "hello" into it? Does that require "learning?" Can't any four year-old do it? And what if you came across a thirty or forty year-old man who confided in you that he "never learned how to answer the telephone?" Wouldn't you teach him? After all, how long could it possibly take you, thirty seconds?

"Okay, Vlad. Here's how it works: when you hear the bell ring you pick up this top part -- that's called the 'receiver' -- and you put it up to your ear and say 'hello.'  Think you can handle that?"

I'm a little surprised that Nabokov didn't tackle some of those more basic life skills before taking on lepidoptery.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ken Price, a sculptor, died...

...at age 77. While his career in art was mildly interesting, it was Price's family history that caught my attention (my emphasis): 

Kenneth Martin Price was born on Feb. 16, 1935, in West Hollywood in Los Angeles, the only child of Kenneth Albert Price and the former Joan Agnes Collins and the son and grandson of inventors. A grandfather had invented headlights, among other things, and his father had helped develop the Popsicle and double Popsicle for the Good Humor Ice Cream Company in the 1930s.

Billy Strange, a musician...

...who, among other things, arranged Nancy Sinatra's No. 1 hit "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," died at age 81.

Strange would be notable for that fact alone, but I'm also intrigued by his unusual surname. It reminds me of another famous person with a similar name, Robert Strange McNamara, below.


That had to be a little awkward sometimes, don't you think?

"What's yer middle name, kid?"

"Strange."

Your Andy Borowitz...

...tweet of the day:

Mitt Romney talking about how he saved the Olympics is as sad as someone bragging about an awesome bowling score.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Mitt Romney...

...cartoon of the day.

Karen Santorum told...

...Glenn Beck yesterday that "she initially had been against her husband running for president but finally concluded it was 'God's will.' "

(First of all, what is she doing on Glenn Beck's show?)

According to a piece in the Washington Post (my emphasis): 

"I did always feel in my heart that God had big plans for Rick. Eventually it was there, tugging at my heart," she said. "When Obamacare passed, that was it. That put the fire in my belly."

(Really? The Affordable Care Act got you that worked up? Hasn't universal health care been a goal of the Catholic Church for decades?

No matter. Back to that first paragraph -- it was "God's will" that Rick Santorum run for president? How does she know? Couldn't I just as easily argue that it's "God's will" that he not?

Who do these people think they are, that they know the mind of God?

The Times has a story...

...today which reports that the Taliban leadership has been trying to "project a softer, more accepting image, to win the support of ordinary Afghans and convince the United States that it is a reasonable negotiating partner."

The headline of the article is "Beheadings Raise Doubts That Taliban Have Changed."

Ya think?

Anne-Marie Slaughter...

...has an opinion piece in the Times this morning, "How to Halt the Butchery in Syria."

Slaughter? Butchery? That's a little too much violent imagery -- first thing in the morning -- for me.

Andrew Sullivan has a regular feature...


...on his blog called "Ask Me Anything." 

On Monday Sullivan was asked about prostitution and he gave an answer much like the one I would have given. Case closed, right? Not exactly. 

On Wednesday he published a response from a reader that made perhaps the best case I've ever heard for keeping prostitution illegal. It got me thinking, so I've included it here, in its entirety: 

I really hope you will air a dissenting view on this topic that comes from actual firsthand public health experience in the context of legalized prostitution in Europe, rather than some inane moralizing or ideology. I don't often see this issue discussed in a way that reflects the reality I observed in a few locations in the EU. As someone who has worked as a volunteer with prostitutes in a loose medical capacity (alongside a wife working in a fully professional medical capacity), both in countries where it is legal, as well as in some with illegal brothels, I think that a rational appraisal of the evidence would make you rethink your unequivocal statement that you see "absolutely no reason it should not be legal." 

 First, let me say that I lean relatively libertarian regarding social issues, favor legalization of pot and other drugs on the less destructive end of the spectrum, and in pure theory can see the case for prostitution as a valid economic activity when good faith consent exists.  However, reality does not bear out the claim that it has been made (or maybe even can be made) much less of a hellish situation for the women involved

In short: In countries with both legalized and illegal prostitution, even in Europe, most of the women/girls are trafficked to begin with.  Period. 

I don't care if you're in the Netherlands, Greece, or Germany - talk to a bunch of prostitutes, where they're comfortable being honest, and get ready to be depressed.  The women in the legal brothels, even those currently there by choice, generally tell us that they were initially tricked or outright forced into the trade, and not uncommonly coerced into drug addiction (a method of control).  Many in the legal system confess to us that they are there under threat of physical violence to themselves or to their families back in their home countries.
Your oldest profession point: yes - but it's like your description of the drug war in its messed-up state: a massive, unquenchable demand exists that will be met somehow (the money in prostitution is insane - far more profitable than most drugs).  This demand though, is one that far outstrips any reasonable supply at the moment, even in "legalized" countries. How many women do you think, as a percentage of a society, are interested in prostitution as a career from the get go?
Conditions in legal brothels in Europe are not what one might imagine.  In several locations I worked at, the legal working women averaged approximately 40 clients a weekend night, and 20+/weekday. It's unimaginable to me that this can even be physically bearable over time.  Many exhibited physical destruction of their vaginal anatomy from overuse and rough treatment, especially after years of this. Our public health surveying and testing also indicated that STDs were crazy prevalent, despite relatively "strict" use of condoms. The women and their handlers all insisted they were fully compliant with state-mandated condom use. 
I've met a number of women who would keep doing this job, saying they don't have skills for anything else that would pay decently, paired with abysmally low estimations of their own worth, and generally feeling lost in the foreign country they now reside in after having been trafficked. However, I'm not sure I know anyone personally that I can believe would take an employer up on an advertised position that accurately described the working conditions of most *legal* prostitutes. And I'm told things are even worse in parts of SE Asia by acquaintances that have performed similar work to ours there.
I have met in my work a few of the sort of prostitute we'd all like to imagine exists - women working for themselves and who discreetly meets clients for very high pay, who at least finds her work tolerable, and has some control over her schedule.  Interestingly, most of those were here in the US.  But those were a few among hundreds or even thousands that my wife or I have worked with. Most people whose image of prostitution is as rosy and optimistic as yours is are imagining something entirely fictional.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mitt Romney says his new tax plan...

...isn't designed to help the top one percent. 

According to Chris Cillizza's blog in the Washington Post (my emphasis): 

“I’m going to limit the deductions and exemptions particularly for the higher-income folks,” the GOP presidential candidate said at a campaign stop in Mesa, Ariz. “For high-income folks, we’re going to cut back on that, so that we ensure that the top 1 percent keeps paying the current share they’re paying and more.” 

Uh huh. 

Under Romney’s proposal, the top personal income tax rate would fall from 35 percent to 28 percent, and the corporate tax rate would drop from 35 percent to 25 percent. As in previous proposals, Romney would eliminate the estate tax. 

According to the Tax Policy Center, the new plan would give the average American in the top 1 percent an $86,535 tax cut.

Which Republican candidate...

...for president would do the most to reduce the national debt?

According to Ezra Klein's blog, assuming a baseline of debt-to-GDP ratio of 86 percent by 2021, Mitt Romney would actually increase that number to 96 percent. Rick Santorum would increase it to 105 percent, and Newt Gingrich to 114 percent.

Does the Tea Party know that?

Remember when "wimp..."

...was a derogatory term? 

Kay Davis, a singer who performed with Duke Ellington, died at age 91:  

Her death was confirmed by her son, Edward Lawson Wimp.

The '80s must have been a hard decade for that guy.

Marie Colvin, a veteran correspondent...

...for The Sunday Times of London, died on Wednesday at age 56. She and a French photographer, Rémi Ochlik, were killed in a makeshift media center: 

The two journalists killed in the ravaged Syrian city of Homs approached a deadly world through different frames. But what drew them together -- in life and in death on Wednesday -- was their common drive to reach some of the world's most dangerous places and, once there, to bear witness.

You gotta admit, that eye patch was awesome! I wonder if she had as much trouble getting used to it as Kramer?


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Note to readers:

Internet Explorer is no longer supporting blogger.com. Chrome, which is owned by Google, is a little funky to use. Right now I'm trying Firefox, but it's taking a little getting used to. Bear with me.

Franklin Graham, the son of...

...the famous evangelist Billy Graham, and a modern-day Elmer Gantry in his own right, said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" yesterday: 

...that he was not sure if President Obama was a true Christian and that he could not definitively say that the president was not a Muslim. 

You can read the rest of it here; it's too discouraging to spend a lot of time on. 

But the question I have is, why on earth would Joe Scarborough have a crackpot like Graham on his show? Does he think that Graham adds to the national dialogue?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The cartoon of the day:

I saw four basketball games...

...over the weekend that featured the top four teams in the state of Illinois, according to the Tribune, Sun-Times and MaxPreps: Simeon, Proviso East, Curie and Warren.

The first game was the Public League City Championship, played on Friday night at Chicago State University on the South Side. (What a nice venue for a game!) No. 1 Simeon defeated No. 3 Curie, 53-49, in a contest that really wasn't as close as the final score would indicate. Simeon's star player, Jabari Parker (number 22, above) got into foul trouble early and sat out most of the first half. Also, the Wolverines seemed to go into a bit of a stall with about two and a half minutes remaining, allowing the Condors the chance to make it closer than necessary. Parker ended up with 11 points and five rebounds, Kendrick Nunn led the game with 15 points, and my choice for player of the game, Steve Taylor (number 15, above), added 11 points and 11 rebounds. Devin Foster scored 19 points for Curie.

On Saturday, New Trier defeated St. Rita, 59-42, in the opener of the City-Suburban Showdown at Proviso West High School in Hillside. (It was my first experience traveling through a metal detector to see a game.) Connor Boehm had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Trevians; Dominique Matthews led the Mustangs with 12 points.

In the best game of the day, Proviso East outlasted Warren, 73-66. (The guys around me were Proviso East fans and they got a bit of a scare going down the stretch.) Keith Carter and Paris Burns each scored 17 points for the Pirates, while Darius Paul led the Blue Devils with 19. (Expect to see Warren go deep in the postseason.)

And in the day's finale, Simeon held off a young De La Salle team, 59-51. Parker, whom many are calling the most sought after junior in the nation, put on a show, with 23 points and 14 rebounds. (Watch for the Meteors next year.)

It was a fun weekend and I'm looking forward to the playoffs.

And now for the negative news. Although I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the most sophisticated basketball fan in the world (I'm not even all that knowledgeable about football), I have to say that I wasn't all that impressed with the quality of play. Simeon's Jabari Parker is the best player in the nation? Really? I'd be surprised if he was the best player in Chicago. (I'd say his teammate, Steve Taylor, is the best player on the Wolverines.) If this guy is only two years or so from playing in the NBA, shouldn't he be just dominating his opponents? I'm sorry, but I didn't see it.

When I go to a high school football game, on the other hand (and I went to over twenty this past season), and I see someone like Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey (who's only a junior) or Nebraska-bound Jordan Westerkamp or Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac (who has an offer from USC), I come home and tell my brother or my son, "You gotta see this guy! He's amazing!"

So why don't I do that with kids like Jabari Parker? Is it because I just don't understand basketball that well? Probably. Or, maybe the quality of high school basketball just isn't as good as football. Is that possible?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Another Republican says something...

...sensible. From an article in the Times this morning, "After Bailout of Auto Industry, Detroit Fallout Trails Romney" (my emphasis):

“I fully support an entrepreneurial, free-enterprise capitalist system that must include failure and the consequences of failure,” said Mike Jackson, chief executive and chairman of AutoNation, the largest auto retailer in the country. “I think the American people in principle agree with Mitt Romney. Unfortunately, we were in the midst of a historic, catastrophic, financial meltdown. And it was one of those moments where the reality trumped your principles. You had to hold your nose.”

Reality. That's a difficult concept for many of today's Republicans.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Your Andy Borowitz...

...tweet of the day:

Palin says that if one of the GOP candidates doesn't work out she could step in, which I guess would make her Shemp.

I came across this sentence...

...in Charles Blow's column in the Times this morning:

Last week, [Rick Santorum] said that the president was arguing that Catholics would have to "hire women priests to comply with employment discrimination issues."

And my thought for the day isn't about Rick Santorum -- he's free to believe whatever he wants, as far as I'm concerned -- or even about the Catholic Church -- they're free to set up whatever rules they want. And it's not even about whether or not the government should require the Catholic Church to comply with employment discrimination issues. (I don't think they should.)

No, my question for the day is: Why don't Catholics demand that the Church open the priesthood to women? Why are they so passive in this regard? (And others.)

I looked up the reason for why the Church doesn't ordain women and was surprised to find out that it's exactly as I had always thought: because Jesus was a man. Really? Are they sticking with that? Sounds like more of a dodge, than an answer, to me. Couldn't you just as easily say that because Jesus was a Jew, only Jews can be priests? Or, because Jesus wore sandals, only those who wear sandals can be priests? Is that the best they can do?

(My suspicion is that the real reason has more to do with power. Duh! Catholic priests are just not willing to abdicate their positions of privilege within the Church. It's human nature. Power, historically, has almost never been given up without a fight.)

But my problem, here, isn't so much with the Catholic Church as it is with Catholics themselves. Because, as far as I'm concerned, if you wanted to start a golf club, say, where all the members were required to play while standing on their heads, I would say: Go for it! (Just don't expect me to join.)

And that's how I feel about the Church and its policy in regard to women priests. It makes no sense to me -- and probably very few other people -- so why don't Catholics insist on change? Or, at the very least, insist on an answer to the question, not a dodge.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Even the president's mother...

...was baptized posthumously by the Mormon Church. 

According to an article in the Washington Post, Anne Frank, Joan of Arc, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe have all received proxy baptisms.

According to Timothy Egan, writing...

...in the Times today:

...the small fraction of Americans who are trying to pick the Republican nominee are old, white, uniformly Christian and unrepresentative of the nation at large.
___

Whites are 63.7 percent of the total population of the United States; in 1900, they were 88 percent — still more diverse than Republican primary voters today.

Your Jim Gaffigan...

...tweet of the day:

Hey, when is the media going to cover this Jeremy Lin guy? Come on guys!

"Take a breather..."

...was my friend Kevin's advice yesterday; "there's spittle on the monitor."

I've often thought (half-jokingly) that a good subtitle for this blog could be, "The rantings of a madman." Perhaps I went a little overboard yesterday with my posts on Mitt Romney and the Catholic Church. (It's been a stressful week and I think my writing reflects that.) So I'll try to tone it down a little.

There. I'm over it.

Another reader, Ed, writes in (his emphasis):

So you are saying that obedience is what makes you a Catholic? I am guessing that being a Catholic is more "tribal" and less about obedience, church attendance, or even belief.

And he's right, of course. Most Catholics are Catholic by birth. You're born into a Catholic family (like I was) and you're baptized before you can even speak. Then you receive your First Communion in about second grade and are confirmed by eighth grade (like my kids). Chances are, you'll marry another Catholic and repeat the cycle. (That's how it's happened in my family for about a thousand years now.)

Most Catholics don't give two seconds of thought to the teachings of their inherited Church. Original sin? Sure; why not? The Trinity? It's a mystery. Mass on Sunday? As long as we're home in time to watch the Bears. Eat meat on Fridays in Lent? No way; let's get fish sandwiches from Brokers' Inn! 

So it's true: Most Catholics are culturally Catholic first.

And, yet ... that can't be all that it means to be a Catholic, can it? What about the unique teachings and beliefs of Mother Church?

Take birth control, for example. (Aw, Jeez; here he goes again!) Most Americans would say that you could still be a good Catholic and ignore the Church's teachings on the subject. Okay; fair enough.

But what about transubstantiation? You know, when the priest changes bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Could you have doubts about that and still be considered a Catholic? Wouldn't that make you an Episcopalian?

What if you decided to let your conscience be your guide, instead of following the Pope and his bishops? Wouldn't that make you a Lutheran?

And what about the Trinity? That's a tough one, isn't it? Especially since the early Christians didn't even decide on the divinity of Jesus until the early fourth century. What if you had problems with that? Could you still consider yourself a Catholic? Wouldn't you be a Unitarian?

What if you went off to Harvard and studied evolutionary biology and your instructor said that evolution implied "no designer." Then what? Could you still be a good Catholic and not even believe in God?

Isn't there a line somewhere? Where is it? And who gets to determine that? Is Catholicism strictly cultural, or does it require some adherence to a set of beliefs?

Chicago State is the alma mater...

...of Dennis DeYoung, John Panozzo, Chuck Panozzo and John Curulewski, the founding members of the band Styx.

It's also the setting for tonight's Public League championship game. Jabari Parker will lead the top-ranked Simeon Wolverines against the No. 3-ranked Curie Condors. (MaxPreps has Simeon No. 13 nationally and Curie No. 56.)

Tomorrow is the City-Suburban Showdown at Proviso West in Hillside. St. Rita faces New Trier, Warren will square off against Proviso East, and De La Salle will take on Simeon. Those should all be good match-ups.

Three games in one day? Why not?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Apparently, Mitt Romney...

...has also engaged in the strange Mormon practice of baptizing dead people. From a 2007 piece in Newsweek about the former governor of Massachusetts (my emphasis):

It makes sense that a candidate seeking to be the first Mormon president would be hesitant to talk about his faith. More than 100 years after it outlawed polygamy, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remains an object of mystery and ridicule for many in the country. In the new Newsweek Poll, only 45 percent of registered Iowa Republicans say America is ready for a Mormon president—in spite of the fact that he's the front runner in the state. Romney's candidacy will be many voters' first glimpse into the world of Mormonism, a world that embraces American ideals of hard work, frugality, self-reliance and optimism, as well as more off-putting aspects—such as a zeal for evangelism, an image that some see as overly wholesome and plastic, and secret temple rituals like baptisms for the dead. Romney's biography is fully Mormon. When asked by Newsweek if he has done baptisms for the dead—in which Mormons find the names of dead people of all faiths and baptize them, as an LDS spokesperson says, to "open the door" to the highest heaven—he looked slightly startled and answered, "I have in my life, but I haven't recently." The awareness of how odd this will sound to many Americans is what makes Romney hesitant to elaborate on the Mormon question.

Now how would that work, exactly? Don't you need a body for a baptism, or at the very least, a head? I'm sure the Mormons don't dig up dead bodies, so how do they go about baptizing dead people? Is it as simple as finding someone's obituary in the newspaper, lighting a few candles and saying some prayers? That doesn't sound so hard. (Almost sounds like cheating.) 

Aren't there enough Mormon babies to baptize?

If I ever get my shot in the Bigs...

...I think I'll insist on -- for me -- only three balls for a walk and four strikes for a strikeout. And the four strikes, of course, would be subject to change. (If, for example, the fourth strike took place before the third ball, then I would be allowed five strikes. This, of course, would also be subject to change.) And, while I'm at it, if I came within five feet of any ball hit in the field, it would be considered a putout on my part. (Again, subject to change.)

Now, I know what you're probably thinking right about now (besides the fact that I bear no resemblance whatsoever to Robert Redford): my version of baseball sounds suspiciously like "Calvinball."


And you'd be right. But so what.

After reading "Birth Control, Bishops and Religious Authority" in the Times this morning, I've decided that, like my definition of baseball, the definition of a Catholic is anything that a Catholic says it is.

Now the author of the piece, Gary Gutting (whoever he is), is only speaking for himself, but I find his views to be pretty typical of American Catholics. Gutting writes (all emphasis mine):

As critics repeatedly point out, 98 percent of sexually active American Catholic women practice birth control, and 78 percent of Catholics think a “good Catholic” can reject the bishops’ teaching on birth control.  The response from the church, however, has been that, regardless of what the majority of Catholics do and think, the church’s teaching is that birth control is morally wrong.  The church, in the inevitable phrase, “is not a democracy.”   What the church teaches is what the bishops (and, ultimately, the pope, as head of the bishops) say it does.

But is this true?  The answer requires some thought about the nature and basis of religious authority.  Ultimately the claim is that this authority derives from God.  But since we live in a human world in which God does not directly speak to us, we need to ask, Who decides that God has given, say, the Catholic bishops his authority?

I'll tell you who decides that God has given the Catholic bishops his authority: Catholics. That's practically the definition of "Catholic." They are followers of the Pope and his bishops. If they weren't, they would be called something else.

A long time ago -- about two thousand years ago, to be exact -- a group of followers of the teachings of Jesus founded a new religion and called it "Christianity." And, like any organization, they established some rules. (One of the first of which, after much debate, was that one didn't have to be a Jew to be a member -- it was open to Gentiles. Several other rules followed.)

Major League Baseball, like Christianity, also established some rules when it was founded. (One of them was that a batter would be considered "out" if he accumulated three "strikes" before he was thrown four "balls.")

As Christianity evolved and was headquartered in Rome, those who disagreed with the Church's teachings were compelled to leave and form their own religions. They were called "Protestants."

Is everybody with me so far?

Gutting goes on to say:

In our democratic society the ultimate arbiter of religious authority is the conscience of the individual believer.

That may be true in "our democratic society," but it isn't true in the Catholic Church.

But, even so, haven’t the members of the Catholic Church recognized their bishops as having full and sole authority to determine the teachings of the Church?  By no means.  There was, perhaps, a time when the vast majority of Catholics accepted the bishops as having an absolute right to define theological and ethical doctrines.  Those days, if they ever existed, are long gone.  Most Catholics — meaning, to be more precise, people who were raised Catholic or converted as adults and continue to take church teachings and practices seriously — now reserve the right to reject doctrines insisted on by their bishops and to interpret in their own way the doctrines that they do accept.  This is above all true in matters of sexual morality, especially birth control, where the majority of Catholics have concluded that the teachings of the bishops do not apply to them.  Such “reservations” are an essential constraint on the authority of the bishops.

Those Catholics that "have concluded that the teachings of the bishops do not apply to them" remind me of my baseball example. I could just as easily "conclude that the rules of Major League Baseball do not apply to me." But, just as Catholics who do not accept the authority of the Church are not "Catholics," I wouldn't be playing "baseball"; I'd be playing "Calvinball" instead.

So if I ever do make it to the Bigs (and stop laughing out there!) I guess I'll have to abide by the rules of Major League Baseball. And for all you Catholics out there, I'm afraid you'll have to abide by the rules of your chosen faith. Otherwise, you'll be practicing something else.

Let me know what you call it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Your Andy Borowitz...

...tweet of the day:

Romney to Michigan auto workers: "The only reason I wanted you all to be poor was so I wouldn't worry about you."