The assorted musings of Hugo Schwyzer: a progressive Anabaptist/Episcopalian Democrat (but with a sense of humor), a community college history and gender studies professor, animal rights activist, ENFP Gemini, avid marathoner, aspiring ultra-runner, die-hard political junkie, and (still) the proud father of the most amazing chinchilla on God's green earth.
Okay, I admit it, I haven't read the Da Vinci Code, but I have become familiar with its basic thesis -- that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, that the church has been covering this up for a millenium and a half, and so forth. Since I teach western civilization classes, am more or less "out" as a Christian in a vigorously secular environment, and am also the official faculty adviser to the PCC chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ (hah, bet you wouldn't have guessed that!), I've been asked perhaps a dozen times by students about the truth of the Da Vinci Code. I am now cheerfully sending them to this Christianity Today webpage which contains a variety of excellent articles on the book. The best article is this one, which makes a fine case for the book as a tiresome updating of the Arian Heresy.
Am I willing to judge what I haven't read? Sure. In this age of pop culture overload, we have no choice but to rely on each other to reliably relay to us what we need to know about things we haven't got the time or the energy to engage, be they books or films.
Oregon Green Party activist Harry Lonsdale had this editorial yesterday, begging Ralph Nader (for whom he and I voted in 2000) not to run this year. Here are some excerpts:
It's too soon to tell whether the 2004 election will be close, but with the country so evenly divided about the Bush presidency, it could well be. And Nader is thinking of running again. Should those of us on the left encourage him to do so?
I'm a huge Nader supporter. I voted for him in 2000 and sent him money. Anyone who has examined his record of public service over the past 35 years would have to admit that he has done more -- or attempted to do more -- for the American people than virtually any other living American.
Whoa, Harry, easy on the hyperbole. But after pouring on this praise, Lonsdale comes to his thoughful conclusion:
Nader has sent out a letter to his major 2004 contributors, seeking their advice on his 2004 candidacy. (Knowing Nader's integrity, I believe he was honestly seeking input and not just campaign contributions.) My advice to Nader was to not run. There are many ways to promote his issues and the Green Party platform besides another run for president: Raise money for a regular radio or TV show or a nonstop speaking tour or start a grassroots democracy organization. Had he chosen to, he could have received a ton of free air time for many months by running in the Democratic primaries.
But I'm one of the ABB persuasion -- Anybody But Bush -- and so is just about every progressive I know. Maybe we're all overreacting by talking about leaving the country if Bush is re-elected. But the Bush imperial presidency has shaken us down to our heels. This is no longer the country we thought we knew and loved.
Well, I may not be shaken down to my heels. But I am happily in the ABB category, and share Harry's sentiments. Ralph, stay home.
We did a tough 19-mile trail run this morning in the San Gabriels, and my legs are tired, and I am happy..
I have learned to laugh when folks complain that Los Angeles is a concrete jungle; every weekend (and often during the week), a few friends and I can delight in wilderness, far from the "madding crowds" of the city below. I am so grateful to God for the beauty of His creation. I am grateful to have the strength of my legs and my heart to run so far. I am grateful to my country, too, that it has seen fit to preserve at least some of its open spaces. Hurrah for the Forest Service.
One of the pleasures of the National Review (and yes, like many good progressives in this country, I do read the right) is the regular column by Meghan Cox Curdon. Today, Mrs. Gurdon has a delightful piece about the coming of a "super mom" to her daughter's school,:
She is the Capable Mother, an impressive figure at our children's school who arrived last year and immediately set about massing an army of followers. In addition to trouncing other women in the giving of coffee mornings (ahem), the Capable Mother started an afterschool song-and-dance group that has the subversive feel of a cult. She distributes junk-food snacks and plays music that other parents abominate. She puts elementary-school girls in sexy stockings, and urges her charges to gasp with Bob-Fosse-esque satisfaction when they've completed a move. I am told that thong underwear plays a small role in an upcoming production.
Naturally, the children adore it: To be on stage, with a microphone, prancing around to thumping music? Bliss. As for their parents, some are positive enthusiasts. Many families, such as ours, do not participate. But I have had my lapels grabbed by a remarkable number of women who are deeply uneasy about the Capable Mother's influence, yet feel powerless to get their children out of there. Their hearts warn them it's a bad scene, but their with-it sensibilities say, aw, what's the harm?
Gurdon herself is delightfully firm:
Having bottled the genie of erotic jazz dance in our previous school, I am utterly unafraid of seeming ungroovy when it comes to putting children in fishnets. The Capable Mother is what happens when good people do nothing. She is the human equivalent of Nintendo.
This reminds me of the time when I was first working as a volunteer youth leader at the Episcopal Church in 2000. At the farewell party following a week-long service trip to a small village in southern Sinaloa, several of our ninth and tenth-grade girls, under the direction of another adult leader, put together a very sexy dance routine to Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did It Again". They performed it (complete with rubbing up against one another in something that I believe is called "freaking") in front of our stunned Mexican host families and the local priest. Of course, the girls were terribly pleased with themselves. It wasn't their fault, as they were only doing what so many teenagers want to do, which is to participate in and reflect back the hyper-sexualized culture in which they are immersed. The dance routine was the fault of our adult leadership team, myself included. We allowed it to happen because, unlike Gurdon, we were very afraid of seeming "ungroovy"!
The older I get, the more willing I am to be a "party-poopin' puritan" when it comes to the eroticization of American adolescents.
Luke, the son of Allen at The Right Christians blog, attended last night's South Carolina Democratic debate; his insights are here. I liked his summary of the fellas on their issues:
1. Wesley Clark-Very good on foreign policy, except for a deal about what could have been done by the Clinton administration to stop Al Qaeda; Otherwise pretty straightforward.
2. Joe Lieberman-Very moderate and very hard to listen to; seems like he dances in the middle to try and please everybody; weakest Democrat up there.
3. Dennis Kucinich-Very strong in what he says; he knows what he believes in and sticks by it; doesnt like NAFTA.
4. Howard Dean-Very weak, only real position was that he stood against the war in Iraq; only one to attack anybody (attacked Kerry two times); Seemed beaten.
5. John Kerry-Nothing particularly different; defending attacks made by Dean; had the same old usual politician answers it seemed; horrible smile.
6. Al Sharpton-Not much on policy; just gets the short-liners across, but they are good ones and brings the crowd to applause; definitely the coolest up there; believes in single-payer coverage in health care, along with Kucinich.
7. John Edwards-Said some stuff on the how the legal system needs to be improved; doesn't stand for gay marriage.
Luke seems to be leaning towards the good general from Arkansas; 32 days from the California primary, Kucinich still has my vote.
The Right Christians is also trying to organize a "meetup" for Left-Leaning Christians, to be held on Febraury 19. Check it out here.
My favorite member of the Clinton Administration, Robert Reich, has this op-ed in today's New York Times. It's a brief but impassioned call for a genuine progressive movement at the base of the Democratic party, a movement to rival the Republican's growing grassroots power:
It (the Republican Party) has a system for recruiting and electing officials nationwide who share the same world view and who will vote accordingly. And it has a coherent ideology uniting evangelical Christians, blue-collar whites in the South and West, and big business — an ideology in which foreign enemies, domestic poverty and crime, and homosexuality all must be met with strict punishment and religious orthodoxy.
In contrast, the Democratic Party has had no analogous movement to animate it. Instead, every four years party loyalists throw themselves behind a presidential candidate who they believe will deliver them from the rising conservative tide. After the election, they go back to whatever they were doing before. Other Democrats have involved themselves in single-issue politics — the environment, campaign finance, the war in Iraq and so on — but these battles have failed to build a political movement. Issues rise and fall, depending on which interests are threatened and when. They can even divide Democrats, as each advocacy group scrambles after the same set of liberal donors and competes for the limited attention of the news media.
As a result, Democrats have been undisciplined, intimidated or just plain silent. They have few dedicated sources of money, and almost no ground troops. The religious left is disconnected from the political struggle. One hears few liberal Democratic phrases that are repeated with any regularity. In addition, there is no consistent Democratic world view or ideology. Most Congressional Democrats raise their own money, do their own polls and vote every which way. Democrats have little or no clear identity except by reference to what conservatives say about them.
The bold emphasis is mine. I agree in part, and disagree in part. I want a vigorous social-democratic party committed to economic justice and sustainability. But I think Democrats are already rigid enough on the subject of abortion -- far more so, ironically, than the Republicans. (It is easier to name pro-choice Republicans in power -- think Colin Powell, Christie Whitman, Arnold Schwarzenegger -- than it is to name an equally prominent pro-life Democrat). If Reich is calling for a vigorous leftist platform, I am with him. But I think that on some issues, we already have more rigidity than our Republican friends. The religious left, when it is seriously Christian, is the object of mistrust and suspicion by our secular brethren. (Hence our invisibility in the discourse).
When we Democrats allow a real diversity of views on the life issues, we will have become a far more inclusive party with a broadened base of support.
The Times this morning reports that half of the California State University system's incoming freshmen can't write at a basic college level.
Top administrators for the 23-campus system expressed frustration about the weak skills of arriving students. They noted that only 42% of the freshmen who started last fall were proficient in math and English, as measured by placement exams.
Traditionally, places in the Cal State system are reserved for the top third of high school graduates. If only 42% of the top third of high school graduates have basic math and English skills, then this is a damning indictment indeed.
In most of my classes here at Pasadena City College, I make my students write term papers. (Which they frequently plagiarize, for which I frequently fail them). Many are shocked that I deduct points for poor grammar and spelling, and one or two have accused me of being culturally insensitive for insisting that A grades are only given to those whose English language skills are flawless.
But I am happy to report that in every class, I do have students who write very well. They are usually in a very small and elite minority. But they are not all white, or male, or from affluent high schools. The common denominator among my best students is that at some point, often without parental help or assistance, they made an individual decision to do well and to be successful. I have seen too many bright students from underprivileged backgrounds write brilliantly to believe that failure is merely a reflection of flaws in the system. At some point, academic under-performance ceases to be the fault of teachers, or parents, or poorly-funded schools, and it becomes the responsibility of the student.
I believe strongly in the values of community, in the need to strengthen our public and private institutions. In my heart, I am still a passionate Christian socialist. I am a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the teacher's union. But sometimes, just sometimes, it is very hard not to succumb to a libertarian world view which emphasizes "individual responsibility" and "choice" above all else! Somehow, I still feel compelled to associate my students' triumphs and failures more with their own decision-making than with the culture and the class in which they were raised. Maybe it is just easier for me that way?
I admire Watergate villain turned evangelical Christian Chuck Colson, founder of the fine Prison Fellowship Ministries, though I agree with his conservative politics only a fraction of the time. He has an editorial online today with which I wholeheartedly agree: Is Being a Christian Enough? Referring to the debate over Howard Dean's clumsy efforts to establish his credentials as a believer, Colson says:
Now, Dean’s church attendance, or lack thereof, is the least of my problems with him. Still, his efforts to establish his religious credentials remind me of a similar mistake made by some Christians I know. They tell me that “things would really be different in this country if we could just get more Christians elected to office.” They believe that if we could fill the Congress and the courts and the White House with born-again believers, we’d straighten out this country in a hurry—all problems solved.
Thinking that electing Christians to high public office answers all of our problems ignores a reality that (Martin) Luther knew: In every society, “the wicked always outnumber the good.”
It’s a sinful world. Therefore, government’s prime job is to restrain sin and to preserve order. That is its ordained role from God. Our leaders, therefore, have to be those who are best-suited for carrying out these tasks, the most confident and responsible. Or, as Luther is supposed to have said, it is better to be “ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian.”
I like that. Indeed, I agree wholeheartedly, which is why I may end up voting for a very secular Democrat (a "wise Turk") than the man whom I (respectfully) regard as a "foolish Christian" in the Oval Office.
Peter Schrag has an article in this morning's Bee about the fascinating details of Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed K-12 budget for California. It looks like my union (to which I pay almost $1000 a year in voluntary dues) did very, very nicely in negotiations with Arnold. Yes, we community college profs are mostly represented by the same union that takes care of the primary and secondary teachers -- and this is one of the those cases where it is decidedly to our benefit. Here's how Schrag's piece starts:
Barbara Kerr is proving that you can be president of the CTA, the muscular California Teachers Association, and a nice person at the same time.
But in her press conference earlier this month with the equally muscular Arnold Schwarzenegger, she looked less like the primary schoolteacher she used to be and a lot more like the cat that swallowed the canary.
Her description of the deal her union made with the governor as "fair" immediately became a candidate for understatement of the year.
Today's primary is underway, and I predict the following order of finish (largely consistent with the polls):
But I think that Dean's win over Clark and Edwards will be more substantial than some people may expect, close enough for him to declare himself this week's "comeback kid". I think it will be a bad showing for Clark and Lieberman, and that the latter will drop out of the race.
The Nation had an interesting piece on John Edwards today. The article assesses the remarkable interest that Senator Edwards is attracting from anti-war folks, despite his votes in favor of the attack on Iraq. It suggests that Edwards is the most effective "angry about the war" candidate, particularly because in recent days, he has neatly tied together his "two nations" speech on domestic poverty with a condemnation of sweetheart deals for the likes of Halliburton in Iraq.
While Edwards does not echo the pure anti-war rhetoric of a Dean, a Clark or, particularly, a Kucinich or an Al Sharpton, the North Carolinian does toss red meat to anti-war Democrats -- highlighting the corruptions of empire that infuriate grassroots Democrats. It is easy, and quite possibly appropriate, to be cynical about the way in which Edwards now highlights criticism of a war that he has supported more consistently even than Kerry. But voters seem to be willing to forgive Edwards, a fresh-faced and energetic contender who exudes aw-shucks optimism on the trail, more than they do the other candidates.
I think that analysis is right on. More importantly, for us on the left who still regard the Nation as the leading American political opinion journal, this might mean that we now have permission to support John Edwards while retaining our progressive credentials. Besides, the right is now starting to worry about Edwards -- the proof of their anxiety is Rich Lowry's nasty little attack in today's National Review.
Besides, I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Supporting Edwards seems like a particularly dramatic (and perhaps effective) way to atone for that error. If Edwards is out of it come March 2, I will vote for Kucinich. But if it is still a near thing, the vote will go to this good-natured North Carolinian.