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30 June 2005

This is why

I don’t have wonderfully fashioned arguments of logic and rhetoric to explain why I believe in the Resurrection.  But this demonstrates one of the reasons I believe.

James Tramel, an inmate at the California
State Prison-Solano, was ordained as a priest of the Episcopal Church
on June 18th. The service, the first of its kind in a California
prison, took place in a small courtyard off the prison’s visiting room
and was presided over by the Right Rev. William E. Swing, Bishop of the
Episcopal Diocese of California….

Tramel, 37, was convicted of second-degree
murder in 1986, after co-defendant David Kurtzman stabbed a man to
death in a Santa Barbara park. Tramel has served 19 years of a
15-to-life sentence, and was granted a March 2005 parole date by the
California Board of Prison Terms that was later reversed by California
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger….

Tramel’s ordination meant, Swing said, that
“a dark cloud floated away from the parents.  It meant the historic
connection between faith and prison is alive.  It meant a stole goes to
a new generation of priests.  It meant a witness of staggering hope to
prisoners who were onlookers.  It meant that Resurrection is not just
for the afterlife but here and now.”

Richard Dahl, an inmate and member of the Episcopal congregation in
the prison, said that Tramel’s ordination showed him “that even though
I’m down in this place, that there is hope. I’ve known James for three
years, and have watched him grow, and James has helped me know that
there is hope for me.”

After Tramel’s ordination, Swing relinquished his role as presider
and Tramel celebrated the Eucharist. Inmates from the prison
congregation presented grape juice and a croissant from the visiting
room’s vending machines to be used for communion. Referring to his role
as celebrant, Tramel said, “In that moment it felt like my whole life
was coming into focus. It felt like I was right where I was supposed to

…In the past when there was no priest available
to conduct services, the congregation would have Communion (also called
Eucharist) with bread that had been consecrated at a church outside the
prison. Now that Tramel is a priest, he will be consecrating the
Eucharist for the Episcopal worshipping community in Solano Prison.

I don’t think this necessarily happens often, but this sort of transformation defies expectation.

Posted in Rayleejun on 30 June 2005 at 12:09 pm by Nate
29 June 2005

A bit of the Gospel according to Messrs. Hewson, Evans, Clayton, and Mullen

For some reason, of late, I’ve been struck by a number of situations in
my life and in those of some of the people I know where they’ve had to
keep learning the message of surrendering in the face of Love. 
There’s a U2 lyric that has run through my head often as this has been
happening: “Love is not the easy thing/ The only baggage you can bring/
Is all that you can’t leave behind.”

Which of course resonates quite heavily in statements from the gospel
like “Those who wish to save their life will lose it, but those who
lose their life for my sake will find it.”  It’s profound and yet
obvious that real love — of family, friends, partner, God — can’t
happen until we drop all that we can of what we’re carrying.  And
we’ll find a way in that love to drop that which we think we
can’t.  One must stop holding tightly to things and people if one
wants to give and receive, because we only do those with open hands.

So it rang a little bell for me to find out that this continues to play out (glad for the pun) on the European leg of the Vertigo tour
While playing songs from Achtung Baby, the part of the show where
slogans have traditionally filled the huge video screens and flashed
through at high speed (“beLIEve” “Everything you know is wrong” “Watch
more TV”), that trend continues, but the message is vastly different.

There are dialogues in different colors:


As we learn how to fight “Them,” “They” go on telling lies, often
in red and black, and near the end the truth comes out, superimposed
over big white words like HOPE:
[and here I was expecting at last to get the ironic turn, the way “it’s
your world you can change it” used to shift to “charge it,” but, no,
the 90s are well and truly gone:]
gold and white. And then the thing reverses itself, and plays the
beginning backwards until “their” lies and “our” apathy/powerlessness
disappear into nothingness before your eyes.

That is how we overcome the power of the world we live
in–we live into love.  I was speaking with a friend a few days
ago, and he was talking about how the ultimate power is information,
how knowledge can defeat what one’s enemies throw at you, how
information is the ultimate tactical weapon, whether one is a state, a
person, an organization.  I remembered that love is stronger than
all that, because it removes us from needing or caring about the
tactics of advantage and dominion.  When we live into love, like
Oscar Romero or Aun San Suu Kyi, power and advantage and death cease to
have real meaning.

And you can learn this at a rock concert.

Posted in Rayleejun on 29 June 2005 at 1:38 pm by Nate
27 June 2005

Information everywhere wants to be free but is in chains

A couple of Supreme Court cases dealing with very different aspects of
the freedom of information and ideas have come down, and they are blows
for those who want free inquiry and the growth of understanding to

First, the court refused to hear the appeal of the reporters in the
Valerie Plame case.  So, for doing their jobs, these two people
will go to jail.  What’s infuriating here is that the law, in its
majesty, has been applied and used unevenly.  The reporters from
the New York Times and Time Magazine may go to jail.  But the
leaker and the syndicated right-wing columnist Bob Novak (who
originally leaked the material on Valerie Plame) haven’t been pressured
at all.  The leaker can’t be punished because we don’t know who it
is.  But Bob Novak is quite obviously a good shill for the
administration, whereas real reporters aren’t easily controlled.

The Court also ruled that the software companies who create file
sharing programs can be held liable if their software is used to do
illegal things.  This seems rather odd.  If the principle
were applied evenly, then we’d hold auto companies liable when drivers
speed, computer companies responsible when users hack into private
sites and data, or phone companies liable when people conduct illegal
business over the phone.  And, lacking evidence that does not come
from a record company or some other “interested party” about how file
sharing networks are actually used, I won’t buy the argument that the
only or primary use of such software is for illegal purposes.

But hey, free, open, and honest inquiry and learning is hardly valued in our society.  Not when there is money to be made.

Posted in Politicks on 27 June 2005 at 1:01 pm by Nate
20 June 2005

Gay marriage virus?

Interesting article in the Times Magazine,
about the Christianist “real problem” with gay marriage. 
Unsurprisingly, they believe homosexuality to be a chosen, infectious
behavior that, like a disease, has to be eradicated. 

(Interestingly, Mark Jordan, a religious historian at Emory University, has written a history that shows , among other things, that this belief in the viral nature of homosexuality has existed for nearly 1000 years.)

What I found more interesting was the concluding bit of the
article.  If love is seen as hate, and hate is seen as love, then we’ve all lost already.

That means changing hearts. How difficult that will be was illustrated
by a single vignette. When I met Polyak, she told me how, when she
first testified before a legislative committee, an anti-gay-marriage
activist, a woman, confronted her with bitter language, asking her why
she was ”doing this” to the woman’s children and grandchildren.
Polyak said the encounter left her shaken. A few days later, as I sat
in Evalena Gray’s Christmas-lighted basement office, she told me a
story of how during the same testimony she approached a blond lesbian
and talked to her about the effect that gay marriage would have on her
grandchildren. ”Then I hugged her neck,” she said, ”and I said, ‘We
love you.’ I was kind of consoling her to some extent, out of

I realized I was hearing about the same encounter from both sides. What
was expressed as love was received as something close to hate. That’s a
hard gap to bridge.

Posted in Politicks on 20 June 2005 at 9:36 am by Nate
19 June 2005

If only you knew the power of the deep fried

Liberated from Target last night: Darth Tater.

Posted in Ev'rything But the Sink on 19 June 2005 at 11:43 am by Nate

Why the poor law students are poor

It’s the coffee that’s doing itDavid Adesnik (over at Oxblog) provides an appropriately shrill commentary.

Has no one taught these people about relative comparisons?  $4500
on a $115,000 debt is 3.9 percent of that debt.  Now, go to any
bar near a law school, such as we have here in Cambridge or back in
Berkeley, and see how many law students are there.  (There’s one
bar here, with a rep as “the law school bar,” which keeps me and many
friends away from it.)  But how much per week do these students
drop on beer and cocktails.  A lot more than $15.  And from
what I have seen, the atmosphere of law schools sort of officially
encourages this behavior, because it develops “social and networking
skills.”  Right.

What about laundry?  Perhaps students, instead of wasting money on
machines, could just get a washboard and do their clothes in the
kitchen sink.  That’d save more money.

I get the point about saving money, but it’s not the particular items
that are the problem.  It’s the approach, and I bet Kirsten
Daniels’ money problems are more related to her bad savings and
spedning habits than just to the purchase of coffee.

Posted in Ev'rything But the Sink on 19 June 2005 at 10:46 am by Nate
15 June 2005

Be careful what you post

You may end up like this poor lad….

Posted in OnTheWeb on 15 June 2005 at 12:49 am by Nate
14 June 2005

When Scott (and Daren and Kenneth) met Hayek

On the conservative movement’s subsidization of its next generation(s) of applied intellectuals.

It’s no surprise that this is the case, if you work on a college
campus.  As I have noted before, the conservative students here
and at Berkeley were often the most thoughtful about why
held the political beliefs that they do.  (More than one of my
favorite students have been *gasp* Republicans, and I know that at
least one of them reads this blog [Hi, Liz!].) Yes, they are a definite
minority, but the refining fire of having to defend themselves over and
over again has sharpened them.  Probably a similar proportion of
the liberal students are as equally well equipped.  The vast
majority of our students seem to be center-left to left but aren’t sure
why that is.  Lest anyone think this is a trait peculiar to one
side of the political spectrum, I now plenty of conservatives (mostly
from my hometown and family) who know what they believe but not why
they believe it.  Conformity knows no party.

I think the conservative claim, implied in this article and stated in
other places, that there’s some sort of liberal orthodoxy enforced on
college campuses by a sort of doctoral gestapo is highly misleading, if
not a lie.  In our capacity as teachers, most of us work very hard
to obscure our own political beliefs and to teach our students to think
critically no matter whether they agree with the views presented or
not.  And since many of my students are unthinkingly toward the
left, I tend to present a conservative viewpoint at least as often as a
liberal one.  When my students ask me on paper what I want to see
(in not so many words), I end up repeating over and over (and grading
as such) that I don’t care if they write something that I might agree
with–if it is badly argued, I will pull it apart and their grade will
be less than the highest.  Some of them do actually learn to
question all received wisdom, and that can only be good in their
political, personal, and spiritual lives.

But for all the talk in this article, I don’t think that this is what
is happening in programs like Heritage’s.  Are these students,
when they read Hayek also reading Polanyi?  If they read Burke,
are they also getting doses of Tom Paine and J.S. Mill?  If they
read Nozick, will they also consider Rawls?  And do they read
(which I assume they will reject in the end) Foucault?  I’d put
money on the fact that they are not.  Even when you’re really
smart, there’s still a difference between indoctrination and
education.  In a program like Heritage’s (and the corresponding
liberal ones mentioned in the article), these students are not being
made into citizens.  Culture warriors, perhaps.  But in
education, I hope we aspire to a higher standard, to Plato’s
exhortation to do the right and love the good, no matter where that
takes us and our beliefs.

Posted in Politicks on 14 June 2005 at 10:02 am by Nate
13 June 2005

But I worked really hard

Alicia Shepard writes about being a teacher in an era of grade inflation.

John Watson, who teaches journalism ethics and communications law at
American, has noticed another phenomenon: Many students, he says,
believe that simply working hard — though not necessarily doing
excellent work — entitles them to an A. “I can’t tell you how many
times I’ve heard a student dispute a grade, not on the basis of
in-class performance,” says Watson, “but on the basis of how hard they
tried. I appreciate the effort, and it always produces positive
results, but not always the exact results the student wants. We all
have different levels of talent.”

It’s a concept that many
students (and their parents) have a hard time grasping. Working hard,
especially the night before a test or a paper due date, does not
necessarily produce good grades.

“At the age of 50, if I work
extremely hard, I can run a mile in eight minutes,” says Watson. “I
have students who can jog through a mile in seven minutes and barely
sweat. They will always finish before me and that’s not fair. Or is it?”

This resonates.  I can’t tell you how often students come to me
to express disappointment with a grade, saying that they worked really
hard.  I offer to find out the number of hours everyone in the
class worked and assign grades based on who spent the greatest number
of hours.  Generally, they look puzzled as to why we might do it
that way.  But it’s the same as if I give credit for “effort.”

I’m diappointed to say that I think my average grade works out to
being between a B+ and B, which I think is high.  But since the
mean grade at Harvard College is 3.4 (where a B+ is a 3.3), I’m still
somewhat tough for this milieu.  I’d like to be tougher, but I’m
not really in charge of the grading standard.

And then there’s consumerism, he says. Pure and simple, tuition at a
private college runs, on average, nearly $28,000 a year. If parents pay
that much, they expect nothing less than A’s in return. “Therefore, if
the teacher gives you a B, that’s not acceptable,” says Levine,
“because the teacher works for you. I expect A’s, and if I’m getting
B’s, I’m not getting my money’s worth.”

Rojstaczer agrees: “We’ve
made a transition where attending college is no longer a privilege and
an honor; instead college is a consumer product. One of the negative
aspects of this transition is that the role of a college-level teacher
has been transformed into that of a service employee.”

argues that we “service employees” are doing students a disservice if
we cave in to the demand for top grades. “One of the things an
education should do is let you know what you do well in and what you
don’t,” he says. “If everybody gets high grades, you don’t learn that.”

I hate having to tell students that their $28,000 buys them a right
to sit in a class and be taught by the people who know the most about
what they are teaching of anyone in the world.  But nothing more
than that.

Finally, I haven’t been able to find an effective way to tell
students that failing to get an A does not mean they did anything
“wrong.”  They want to know what they lack, and now that I think
about it, my grading comments have often focused on what their papers
lacked.  But a non-A grade does not mean one has done wrong, but
rather that one’s work was not of the highest quality.  Any grade
is like a movie review, in a sense.  It’s (or should be) an
indicator of how a particular paper measures up to a standard of
ideals, and if the student comes close to those standards, s/he should
get an A.  Few students get to this standard.  Which is all
right.  Some students are Mozarts, but many, many more are

And lest one think that our standards are capricious whim, they are
not.  Most of the grad students and professors I know work very
hard, talking with colleagues and teaching staffs and thinking on the
matter, to establish some sort of grading standard.  I’ve spent a
lot of time in teaching staff meetings talking about what should get
what grades.  We take this seriously, and many of us want to be
rigorous, because we want the best for our students.  We want them
to work hard at thinking and writing, even if the grade doesn’t account
for that, because we want them to learn habits that will allow them to
do the best they can do.

Posted in IvoryTower on 13 June 2005 at 9:56 am by Nate
12 June 2005

Who elected these people?

Philocrites continues to comment on the archdiocesan closure of a school two days before elementary school graduations.

(Advance apologies to BF.)

Archbp. Sean and the hierarchy have a historical problem.  They
run an essentially feudal institution that does not sit well with
notions of democratic governance.  And in late democracy, people
have more and more unwilling to retain the feudal elements in their
lives in any more than a ceremonial, quaint, and castrated sense. 

So in the developed world, the Roman church has found its influence
more and more on the wane, while Protestant sects (which are
fundamentally more comfortable with democracy, on some level)
flourish.  I’d predict that as democracy becomes a more inculcated
value in the areas of the world where the Roman church is strongest
now, the church will look more and more the fool that it plays right
now.  Can anyone say that this latest escapade isn’t worthy of a
sick episode of Laurel and Hardy (except that L&H didn’t hurt
people)?  How can absolutism compete when it’s surrounded by individual empowerment?

I’m willing to go along with the (whole) Church’s notion that simply
something is popular does not mean that the Spirit works within
that.  But I think the Roman hierarchy have missed the
counter-notion that simply
because an idea, course of action, or doctrine becomes “evident” in the
mind of a fairly miniscule group of clergy that it has any more
validity.  The time has come, especially with the
professionalization of the Catholic laity (many of whom have
exceedingly more organizational and theological training than their
leaders), to drop the notion that discipline and doctine may only
derive authority from the top of the hierarchy.  If there’d been a
role that laity were allowed to play, these b****** bishops wouldn’t be
office.  And spitefully executed closings would be the least of
the evils probably eliminated–two generations of children wouldn’t
have the scars of sexual abuse.

I’m not the only one angry about this.  Among others, Mayor Menino said,

”We were making progress, and where’s the credibility now? Where’s the
credibility in the decision-making process? Why don’t we have a say in
what’s going on? It’s our church.”

And Allston-Brighton city councillor Jerry McDermott said

”We own those schoolhouses, and we own those churches,” he said. ”Our
parents and grandparents have paid over and over again to fix the
boilers and replace the roofs and repair the windows and to pay for the
priests and the nuns, and how dare they tell us now that it’s not our
building and change the locks and deny our kids their diplomas?

”They had four pedophile priests assigned over the years to Our Lady
of the Presentation, and now they want to protect the children? Isn’t
that refreshing? I’m not the best Catholic out there, but these are the
supposed elders of the Catholic faith, and they’ve made a mockery of

No, Tom and Jerry, they are not your
churches.  Not technically, not organizationally, and not in the
eyes of the hierarchy.  This just shows that for all the talk that
the church is its people, the leaders think that they are the church and that the people are either accessories to the ordained or too much like children to really matter.

I like to think that I have become more of a Catholic since I became an
Anglican, but this reminds me how infintely Protestant I still
am.  And wish to be.  And, while I hope we Protestants (and via media semi-Protestants) can
learn from and someday come back into unity with the Roman church, there’s still a lot
of reform and witness that the Roman church has to learn from us.

Posted in Rayleejun on 12 June 2005 at 11:36 am by Nate