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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Doctors Against Prop 8

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is opposing Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that seeks to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. Here's their reasoning:
The physical growth, development, social and mental well-being of all children is supported by allowing parents a full range of parental legal rights, such as Social Security survivor benefits, health benefits for dependent children, and legally recognized consent for education and medical decisions. In order to protect and promote the best interests of the child, the AAP-CA supports equal access for all California children to the legal, financial and emotional protections of civil marriage for their parents, without discrimination based on family structure.
So much for the Yes on 8 campaign's "do it for the kids" argument.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:42 PM | link | 0 comments |

Eating Their Own Tail

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jeffrey Feldman said today that the scores of clips from McCain and Palin rallies in which supporters hurl racist epithets have become the dominant images of the campaign. While the post is given to some hyperbole, Feldman is hitting on what I think is the story as the race draws to a close: John McCain's campaign is dying a self-inflicted death, as the worst tendencies and instincts of white conservatives have taken center stage.

Beginning with the Palin pick, McCain ceded his message to the practitioners of divisive identity politics. It bore immediate fruit, as Republicans who had theretofore been cool on the Arizona Senator immediately got on board. You could feel it in Palin's early speeches, and especially during the convention: conservatives passionately embraced the McCain campaign as something that looked and sounded like them.

If it had stopped there, things might be different. But, beginning with Guiliani's and Palin's jabs at community organizers from the convention podium, the Republican campaign's message turned to the "difference" of his opponent, employing terminolgy about his "secrets" and asking "Who is Barack Obama?" In doing this, McCain began allowing unqualified and unaccountable people to say things on his behalf that made mainstream Americans a little sick to their stomachs. Thus, the people introducing him at rallies started referring regularly to Barack "Hussein" Obama. When McCain failed to put a stop to it, the wheels began to fall off.

Yes, Palin's interview with Katie Couric hurt. Yes, the financial crisis and McCain's faux campaign suspension amplified the problems. And no, SNL's parodies didn't do the camp any favors. But the legacy of McCain's failed campaign will be the scenes from these rallies. It will be supporters in Pennsylvania and Ohio making shooting gestures with their hands and disavowing the prospect of a black president. In the face of this ugliness, all McCain could do was double down on his bet with the devil and praise his supporters.

Joe the Plumber's campaign appearance today and the ignorance it put on display is merely postscript. Because from right wing shock jocks to an inexperienced and unknown VP pick and finally to an obscure right wing hothead, John McCain has repeatedly allowed the wrong people to do his talking for him. His wager has been that enough Americans will see themselves in such unrefined and unprofessional personalities. If the polls are to be believed, it's a wager he's about to lose in embarrasing fashion.

All Obama has to do is wait for the desperate and undisciplined mouths of McCain's surrogates to swallow the rest of the campaign's body.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:14 PM | link | 0 comments |

It's Over

Monday, October 27, 2008

I've voted, cast my absentee ballot in the largest voting district in the country, done all the research and filled in all the circles, sealed it, signed it, and sent it in.

I've only posted one item about this state's Proposition 8. I've known for some time how I would probably vote on it, but I remained open to wisdom and direction until Saturday, when I'd heard enough. The argument about the need for legal, social, and biological protections engendered in traditional marriage to be preserved hovered at the back of my mind for days.

On Saturday the wife was phoned by a Yes on 8 volunteer who warned that failure of the proposition would result in lawsuits against churches refusing to marry same-gender couples and in a mandate for public schools to promote those marriages. Neither of those claims are true (are synagogues sued that refuse to marry non-Jews? Catholic churches that won't marry divorced people? And the California Teachers' Association is forcefully opposing the measure), and yet this well-intentioned volunteer was spending her morning stating that they were, motivated largely, she professed, by her religious convictions.

After weeks of editorials, calls from Focus on the Family, yard signs, and newspaper ads, this call cemented what had been my pervasive leaning all along. What it made clear was that advocates of the measure are passionately concerned to defend an institution, marriage, that they believe has been instituted by God. The subject of Proposition 8 is, after all, marriage: who can participate in it and who cannot.

I too believe that marriage is a God-given institution, and yet I lack the zeal for protecting or preserving or defending it evidenced by Proposition 8's supporters. I've made my peace with the competing claim in all of this, that who and who is not admitted into a people's institutions is a matter of civil rights and that to deny access to an institution's legal and social benefits and responsibilities to a group of people based on an inherent characteristic of those people is wrong. It's a moral problem. God doesn't like it. It's wrong when it pertains to race. It's wrong when it pertains to gender. It's wrong when it pertains to sexual orientation.

Ultimately, I'm not persuaded that an institution ordained by God needs such vehement human policing. For one, proponents of "traditional" marriage have a tendency to amplify the importance of family in the Biblical narratives, overlooking the ways in which the God of the Bible repeatedly sends people out, away from the family as a traditional institution (Jesus is a pretty good example). But more to the point, such frenzied patrolling of marriage as a tradition belies a lack of belief in that very tradition. To truly believe in something is to trust that it does not depend upon your effort for its survival.

Praising the no-frills naturalistic painting style employed by his father, Thomas Merton says, ". . . a religious man respects the power of God's creation to bear witness for itself." I read that sentence, tucked neatly into the opening paragraphs of Merton's memoir The Seven Storey Mountain, on Saturday afternoon.

Then I put down the book and voted.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:13 PM | link | 1 comments |

What's on Your Ballot II

Friday, October 24, 2008

Proposition 8 is the most notorious of the 12 ballot propositions Californians will vote on in just over a week. It's a measure to "eliminate the right" of same sex couples to marry, a right that was granted by the California Supreme Court on May 15th (this blogger's birthday).

You're for this or you're not; there's very little grey. Among those for are the LDS church, Focus on The Family, and the Knights of Columbus. The opposed include the California Teachers' Association, Pacific Gas & Energy, and Brad Pitt.

This week saw the release of threatening letters sent by the "Yes on 8" campaign to entities that have given money to defeat it. They are clear in their message: withdraw your support from the opposition, give us money, or else. Read one such letter here. Money quote:

"Were you to elect to donate comparably, it would be a clear indication that you are in opposition to traditional marriage. You would leave us no other reasonable assumption. The names of any companies or organizations that choose not to donate in like manner to Protectmarriage.com but have given to Equality California will be published. It is only fair for Proposition 8 supporters to know which companies and organizations oppose traditional marriage.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:36 AM | link | 0 comments |


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I received an email today from a member of the congregation that heard me preach last Sunday, expressing distress that I had "brought politics into" the sermon and that I did so "in a manner that was disparaging of others."

I promptly responded with thanks to the congregant (preachers really do appreciate negative feedback. Really). I told the person that I was going to look at my manuscript again to see exactly where that charge arises from, but that I don't like the notion that anything I might have said was disparaging. "I don't believe a sermon should ever do that," I said, "and if mine did on Sunday then I will chalk it up to less-than-careful thought about the subject beforehand and resolve to not make the same mistake again."

Here's what the manuscript says:
"The question about paying taxes [the text was Matthew 22's story where the Pharisees and Herodians plot to entrap Jesus with a question about paying taxes to the emperor] is a slippery political football having next-to-nothing to do with money. Witness our newest American everyman celebrity, Joe the Plumber. For Joe, the question is hardly about tax codes and income brackets and W-4's. Rather, if you've seen his exchange with the candidate caught on tape, you know that it's about him. 'I'm a hard working guy,' he says. 'I've worked hard all my life.' For Joe (and, I imagine, all of us), it becomes about our hard work, the things we've sweated and toiled to achieve for ourselves and our families. It becomes about us, who we perceive ourselves to be, who we aspire to be, and who we allow a say in those aspirations.

It is when we're dealing with those aspirations and high ideals, though, that we are most likely to contradict ourselves. It didn't take reporters very long to discover that Joe the Plumber hasn't paid his income taxes in quite some time. Our most lofty convictions are undermined by our most routine habits. We can be, I'm afraid, the worst enemy of our most cherished causes. Like the vocal supporter of 'tough on crime' legislation with his own criminal record or the 'protect marriage' advocate who hasn't said 'I love you' to her spouse in weeks, we can betray our aspirations without even knowing it. And it's never worse than when it has to do with money."
The verdict I have to reach when I read that back is that both charges (bringing politics into the sermon and disparaging people) are true. The latter bothers me. The former doesn't. That a preacher would bring politics into any given sermon is right and good, especially when it serves to put politics into conversation with the gospel. Preachers ought not be partisans in the pulpit, mind, but ought to afford congregants an opportunity to see the political in the routine and the petty in the political. Preaching itself is a political act.

To disparage, though, seems somehow un-Godly. The mistake in the text quoted above lies not in the mentioning of political situations like campaigns, crime legislation, and the fight over marriage, bur rather a one-sided use of those situations to illustrate a larger point. Surely an illustration could have been drawn from, say, and environmental advocate who contradicts his lofty cause in his routine habits. Taken separately, the illustrations about the tough on crime proponent and the defend marriage advocate are not disparaging; collectively they are.

And the point about Joe the Plumber's income taxes kind of fails, in retrospect, to illustrate the point it's supposed to illustrate. That's sloppiness, which, to my mind, is a less pardonable homiletical offense.

Talking money and politics in church is dangerous business. The good news here, I believe, is that when we make a misstep the worst thing that comes is an email. And the chance to reexamine your work, which never hurts.

I plead guilty.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 2:33 PM | link | 0 comments |

What the Wasilla?!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thank goodness for Comedy Central:

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 1:54 PM | link | 0 comments |

McCain's New Speechwriter: Studs Terkel

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Arizona Senator seems to have channeled the spirit of that great American essayist and chronicler of working people from Detroit to Duluth. In college I had a bit part in the musical "Working," an adaptation of Terkel's book with the same name. The musical features songs with titles like, "Millwork," "Just a Housewife," "The Mason," "Brother Trucker," and "Cleanin' Women." Check out this video of Patti LaBelle in the film adaptation:

I make this comparison after reading a story on The LA Times' website about McCain's efforts to win Missouri. After exposing Joe the Plumber to the country in last week's debate, he's now throwing out references to workers of every stripe at a Terkel-esque speed:
McCain portrays Joe Wurzelbacher as a symbol for all Americans struggling to get by. Among them, to hear McCain tell it, are Phil the Bricklayer, Wendy the Waitress and Rose the Teacher. On Monday, he added Ed the Dairyman.

Seriously. Who writes this stuff?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:04 PM | link | 2 comments |


Friday, October 17, 2008

I'm sitting down with a glass of Montevina Pinot Grigio and getting ready to dive into the fourth season of The X-Files, thanks to Netflix. After that I'll try to read a Cynthia Ozick essay before bed. Tomorrow has a sermon that needs written.

Two really nice things happened today. One, Meredith and I took Baby Girl to the park for half an hour or so. We stopped and got ice cream on the way. After fussing and crying intermittently throughout the day, the park was just the thing. She calmed right down and took in the swings, the trees, the other children. The world sighed a collective sigh of relief.

The other nice thing happened on the way to the park as I sat in the car and waited for Meredith to get through the very long ice cream line. It was a brief phone conversation with my friend The Producer, the kind of conversation that serves no effective purpose but which lifts your spirits and gives you an occasion to laugh after a draining day. He reminded me of this video, written by and starring Ben Schwartz, a really funny up-and-coming comic. Much love.

Now, to Mulder and Scully . . .


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:45 PM | link | 0 comments |

Wednesday is Thursday is Wednesday

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Late last week someone sent me an email about an upcoming meeting, saying that the time conflicted with the third Presidential debate on Wednesday night so they weren't coming. No worries, that meeting was actually scheduled for Thursday.

Yesterday someone called to confirm a Thursday appointment and said, "I'm just confirming that I'll see you on Wednesday." I called back and clarified: the appointment is on Thursday.

This morning I drove 30 minutes to an 8:00 appointment, only to discover that it was scheduled for, you guessed it, Thursday.

What kind of day-swap vortex have I entered?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:29 AM | link | 0 comments |


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims the world over are praying for an Obama win, and if their prayers are heard they will believe that their god is bigger than John McCain's.

What serious leader allows this kind of religious peeing contest language at his events? Seriously.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 11:59 AM | link | 3 comments |

The Things You Learn

Monday, October 13, 2008

If you own a Honda Civic made prior to 2001, the car doesn't have an immobilizer system installed. So if you should lose your key, and then lose your backup key, inexplicably misplacing it between the switching off of the ignition, the closing of the door, and the supposed depositing of the key into your pocket, then any Honda dealer can cut you a new key with only your registration to prove ownership.

Let's hear it for old cars.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 1:36 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Genie

Friday, October 10, 2008

"I don't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's an Arab."

That's the kind of opinion being voiced at John McCain's town hall meetings these days. That such a view can find voice at this late stage in a national presidential campaign is the result of months of disinformation spread by groups at the conservative fringe and "reported" by Fox News and company.

But now that the McCain campaign has unleashed the hounds, as it were, and spent the last seven days spinning out ad after ad trafficking in suspicion of Obama's past and introducing the phrase "palling around with terrorists" into our discourse, we're getting a good look at what, exactly, this tack is dredging up amongst the electorate: rage.

It's obvious that McCain is taken aback by it (observe the look on his face here when the shout "kill him!" issues from one of his supporters). He's not this kind of guy. But it seems to me he's made a deal with the devil and taken some very desperate advice from the wrong people. Or, to use a different metaphor, he's let the genie out of the bottle, and now that genie is going to do with genies do, namely wreak havoc and make McCain wish he could stop it.

When this election is over, I don't think McCain wants to be remembered as the guy who's run for the White House set American race relations back 50 years. But that's what people are describing at McCain/Palin events, an environment of anger and suspicion that feels, at times, like it might burst the dam of civility.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:17 PM | link | 2 comments |

Rage Against The Machine

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The well-documented McCain/Palin offensive of the last week has shown me one thing clearly: one candidate in this race is tapping into peoples' hopes and aspirations, and the other is drudging up their fear and anger.

Surely, they're talking to different people. Obama is appealing to liberally inclined Americans, many of them young and many of them ambivalent to electoral politics. In doing so he's utilizing soaring rhetoric about "hope" and "change." There's not much novel about it. It's actually quite conventional for a candidate running from the party that has been on the outside of the executive for the last two terms.

But McCain and Palin are not speaking to the politically ambivalent. They're appealing to men and women who would sooner eat glass than vote for a Democrat. And they're marshaling that body's sense of victim-hood, of anger and indignation, in order to push them to the polls. More than one observer has described the atmosphere at McCain's campaign stops as "angry." It's a phenomenon unique to McCain's supporters, and one that they're happy to indulge (allowing their surrogates to warm up the crowd with multiple mentions of Barack Hussein Obama), even if they deny whipping it up. Would anyone at an Obama rally cry, "Kill him!"?

I decided who I was voting for long ago. But if I hadn't, I think the last seven days would have been more than enough to send me running from the frothy-mouthed mobs backing the other guy.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:33 AM | link | 0 comments |

You Learn Something New Every Day

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I'm preparing a session with the youth at the church about politics, rights, and decision making. Part of that preparation has been researching laws that apply specifically to young people. Here's some of what I discovered:
  • In the city where most of these young people live, it is illegal to operate a tattoo parlor (that one doesn't apply specifically to youth, but it doesn't not apply either).
  • In the same city, "It is unlawful for any minor under the age of eighteen years to loiter, idle, wander, stroll, or aimlessly drive or ride about in or upon any public street, avenue, highway, road, curb area, alley, park, playground, or other public ground, public place, or public building, place of amusement or eating place, vacant lot or unsupervised place between the hours of ten p.m. on any day and sunrise of the immediately following day.
  • The minimum age requirement to run for Governor in the state of California is 18.
  • It is illegal in the state of California to perform a body piercing on a minor without the parent or guardian's actual presence or notarized written authority.
  • It is a misdemeanor to tattoo or offer to tattoo a young person under the age of 18 in California.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:29 PM | link | 0 comments |

"Let Me Say It Again"

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Biden rocked it. He was back on his heels for nearly the first 45 minutes of the debate as Palin exhausted herself with winks and linguistic gimmicks, all of which worked beautifully on television. But you can only keep that up for so long. Biden was steady and consistent, not overagressive and yet not deferential. People will say that Palin exceeded Biden's expectations, and I don't think that's true. Biden has expressed nothing but esteem and high regard for the Governor since the day she was announced. Tonight he showed up her utter lack of substance by the abundance of his own. This exchange on Afghanistan is perhaps the best example.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:52 PM | link | 0 comments |