Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On Getting Kicked Out

This item was picked up by several sources today; I happened to see it at VOA News:

Pope Supports Excommunication for Lawmakers Who Legalize Abortion
By VOA News
09 May 2007

Pope Benedict XVI says he supports the excommunication of politicians who legalize abortion.

He spoke to reporters aboard his plane Wednesday on his way to Brazil for his first South American visit.

The pope was discussing a recent vote by lawmakers to legalize abortion in Mexico City. Pope Benedict said the local Catholic leaders' response, that lawmakers who approved the measure should be excommunicated, is supported by church doctrine.

And so on.

Those who know me know that I joke frequently--morbidly, even--about "when the boys in Rome get around to kicking me out." For, truth be told, though I identify myself as a Catholic and, I suspect, always will, there are plenty of points of departure between me and the One True Faith.

Abortion--more correctly, abortion rights--is one of them.

I suppose there will be those who think my position is untenable, even contraditory; certainly there will be the inevitable chorus of "Youcants" ("You can't be a Catholic and think/vote/speak/feel that way"). But I think it's pretty straightforward: I'm against abortion, but I support a woman's right to seek one, in keeping with her own conscience, health, and economic circumstances.

Whenever I'm at Mass and we're supposed to pray for all the aborted fetuses (or "babies," as they insist), I pray instead for a world in which no woman would feel so cornered that abortion is her only, or least-worst, option. Somehow, I can't make myself believe that the draconian under-no-circumstances approach favored by the right-wingnuts (especially those dark forces that have overthrown the South Dakota legislature in recent times) is going to "fix" this problem. Certainly cramming "abstinence only" programs down schools' throats isn't going to take care of it (and hasn't been). And the strange idea that NOT teaching kids about sex will prevent them from engaging in same (and making babies, and possibly pursuing abortions) is just so outre' that it's barely possible to comment on in any intelligent fashion.

No, the "solution," if there is one, is undoubtedly a combination of education and a cultural and religious acceptance of, even approval of, birth control. (Not just "natural family planning" but the whole nine yards.)

Anyhow, the above is one of the reasons I fully expect the aforementioned boys in Rome to eventually punch my ticket; others include my insisting on being a Democrat, and voting for Democratic candidates including those who--gasp!--sometimes disagree with Rome; and because I believe that conscience trumps the guy in the pulpit every time ("Man has the right to act according to his conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1782). I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting right now.

But that does bring me back to the question of excommunication.

This is a saber that too many bishops--and now the pope himself--seem happy to rattle whenever they're confronted with someone who won't toe the line. I suppose they're within their rights to do so (indeed, one of my cornerstones is respecting the right of churches to make their own rules and policies). But I have to wonder how effective a weapon it really is.

No doubt I would feel bad if I were to be kicked out of my church; despite my having the temerity to think my own thoughts about things, the fact is that I do love my church and hold its leaders' pronouncements in high regard. Note that that does not mean I always or even frequently agree; it means that what priests, bishops, and popes have to say is definitely worth listening to and considering.

But beyond having my feelings hurt, what would excommunication in the 21st century mean--to me or to anybody else?

My reference above to the One True Faith is, of course, comical--although I have a prejudice toward Christianity, and toward Catholicism, I don't believe there is one true faith. I certainly don't believe that only Catholics have a passkey for the pearly gates, and indeed I know a number of people who consider themselves "good Catholics" but whom I think are definitely south-bound in the Hereafter. The idea that priests, bishops, and popes hold "the keys to Heaven" and that you go against them at peril of your immortal soul is pretty quaint. I'm pretty sure--indeed, I'm counting on--those decisions being made by God and not any of his human emissaries, no matter how well-meaning or well-placed they may be.

So kicking me out is not tantamount to sending me to hell. What does it do?

I guess there would be certain social avenues that would close to me. I couldn't, for instance, join the Knights of Columbus. But I've never so much as looked into membership, so I don't consider that much of a punishment. I also couldn't buy financial services from their insurance agents, but, again, that's something I've never considered. Probably some "good" Catholics would cease to associate with me, but if that's their attitude I don't imagine I would consider it an insurmountable loss.

Come right down to it, the worst part would probably be having to find a new church. Of course, I already hang out at my wife's Lutheran church, so as far as the "weekly dose" is concerned, no problem. But the fact is, even after 25 years, Lutheran churches to me still feel like the in-laws' house: I am welcomed there, and it is a home but not my home. Catholic church--specifically, the Mass--feels like home.

(There are also some significant theological issues for me, but that's another subject.)

So maybe the logical step would the the Episcopal Church--the middle way. And I must say, I find much to admire there--their nice, open, liberal point of least, in some dioceses, and I'm not sure if the local one is one of them. The seismic activity within that denomination gives me pause--specifically, since I live in such a conservative part of the world. I can't shake the notion that I would decide to sign up with the Episcopalians...and then immediately the local diocese would cut ties with the US church--because of all the things I find admirable in Episcopalianism--and hook up with some uber-conservative bishop in Africa or someplace. No thanks. If I want hidebound, I can stick with Rome.

Of the three Episcopal churches in my current locale, one was until fairly recently affiliated with the American Catholic Church. I had always meant to pop over there one Sunday to see what was what, but I never did. And I noticed three or four years ago that the sign now indicated they were a church of the Episcopal Church. From what I've read of the American Catholic Church, however, it seems like it might be up my street--think Roman Catholic Church without Rome, if you can imagine that. Same sacraments, same traditions, same liturgy (I think)...but a different hierarchy. I especially like the ACC's expressed commitment to the ideals of Vatican II, ideals that I feel my church has been turning its back on these past 20 or 25 years. But this is an extremely small denomination--I count only 13 parishes listed on their web page, and I suspect that might be part of the reason the local parish gave up and threw in with the ECUSA--the nearest of which to me is in Wisconsin. So, not a practical choice.

The careful reader will have noted in all of the above that I never allude to my packing my kit and striking out, but only to my getting the bum's rush. I can envision a couple of scenarios that might impel me toward the exits, but to date I have not encountered that "last straw" where the OTF is concerned. Naturally, there are things about my church that annoy me, disappoint me, anger me. I have no reason to suspect I would feel any different anyplace else. (Quite the contrary, in fact: I have experienced these same emotions at the Lutheran churches to which my wife has belonged, and so I conclude that there is no Perfect Place until such time as I decide to build my own...which sounds like more work than it's worth!) I have often made this analogy: There are times when our families disappoint us, anger us, hurt us. Do we abandon them? Generally not. Well, I consider my church as much a part of my family as my "real" relatives by blood or marriage. (I think that's why anti-Catholic slurs bother me so much. I may be mad at my brother, but your slandering him is likely to earn you a poke in the eye.)

And so, for the foreseeable future, I anticipate staying more or less put. (I do tend to bound from parish to parish, which is also frowned upon in Catholic circles. Whatever. Add it to the list.)

But I do wonder still, what precisely is the weapon these ecclesiastic types think they're wielding when they call for the excommunication of those who disagree with them?

Mostly, to me, it seems to come down to a big inconvenience and not much more.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Free Speech Isn't Dead in South Dakota!

...but it's certainly on the critical list.

One of my Far-Flung Correspondents, Jerry, sent me a copy of an article by Kevin Woster of the Rapid City Journal, "State looks to pull anti-Bush license plate." I've pasted the article below, in case the link disappears after a few days (as is newspapers' wont), but the gist is this:

A woman out on the western edge of the state has a vanity plate that reads MPEACHW. Impeach W...get it? Okay, someone, naturally, took offense at the idea of someone expressing an opinion contrary to his or her own, and whined about it to the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Naturally, the folks at the DMV told the anonymous whiner to grow up and...oh. Sorry. I must have dozed off for a second there and had a dream, for of course the DMV did nothing so sensible but rather is now wasting my tax dollars in a hard-hitting attempt to get this woman to surrender the offensive license plates. Yep, that's right--a single anonymous complaint is all it takes for the guts-free bureaucrats of the state I currently call home to jump into action and wrestle that hunk of sheet metal--which, incidentally, they sold her in the first place--off the the bumper of her Prius before anyone else can be offended!

Good to know these intrepid souls are on the case.

Only a cynic would wonder if there would be all the fuss if this were happening 10 years ago and the license plate in question read MPEACHBILL. (Too many letters for a South Dakota vanity plate--it would have to be something like MPCHBIL--but you get the drift.) Being a cynic, I certainly do so wonder. No, actually, I don't wonder at all.

If there is a comedic angle to the brouhaha, it is this: Conservatives often enjoy portraying progressives as crybabies who rush to the government whenever they're "offended" by something. Political correctness, they call this, sneeringly. The bloke behind the resolutely unfunny comic strip "Mallard Fillmore" frequently references the "perpetually offended" or "permanently offended" or whatever term he might use to belittle people who think that a degree of civility, even kindness is not uncalled for.

And yet what do we have here? Someone presumably on the right end of the political spectrum who is deeply offended because someone else thinks we should impeach Dubya, and has the temerity to actually express her thoughts, where people can read them, or have them read to them, and everything! (On her tree-hugging Japanese hybrid car, no less; could this be any more perfect?)

And so this person anonymously complains to the government to make sure that this and similar instances of free-speech-that-I-don't-agree-with are nipped in the bud.

And the government of this Republican stronghold gleefully complies.

My friend Jerry writes, "This reminds me of the imbroglio when a gay rights group wanted to clean up a section of the one of the interstates. At the time, such organizations were entitled to a sign informing passers-by who was responsible. The governor canceled the program."

The governor in office back then was a Republican too, of course.

Interestingly, the DMV is hiding behind a section of state law which gives it, according to the Journal article, "the right to refuse to issue 'any letter combination which carries connotations offensive to good taste and decency.'"

But the DMV already issued the plates! Where were these watchdogs of public safety at the time?

In defending the department's stand, the DMV director is quoted thus: “I’m following the letter of the law. It’s offensive to someone and not in good taste and decency."

Really? How so? Offensive, obviously...but "not in good taste and decency"? An interesting statement, coming from the top dog of a department that approved the vanity plates I saw on a car on my street a couple of years ago: GO TOPLS--Go Topless.

That, apparently, met the DMV's high standards for "good taste and decency"...whatever they may be!

State looks to pull anti-Bush license plate
By Kevin Woster,

Rapid City Journal
4 May 2007

RAPID CITY -- Heather Moriah loves the personalized license plates on her silver Prius encouraging the impeachment of President George W. Bush.

But somebody doesn’t agree. And that somebody complained to the state. Now, the South Dakota Division of Motor Vehicles is trying to recall the plates -- which read MPEACHW. And if Moriah doesn’t turn them in voluntarily, the state might send law-enforcement officers to pick them up.

Even so, she’s not immediately inclined to cooperate.

“I don’t think I’m going to play,” Moriah said Thursday afternoon. “The plate isn’t in poor taste. It‘s not sexual in nature or pornographic. To me, a political message should not be considered offensive.”

But Division of Motor Vehicles director Deb Hillmer said Thursday that the law clearly gives the state authority to recall the plates and have them forcibly removed if necessary. And although only one person complained about Moriah’s political statement, that’s all it takes to recall a set of vanity plates, Hillmer said.

“I’m following the letter of the law,” she said. “It’s offensive to someone and not in good taste and decency. And the plates are the property of the state of South Dakota.”

State law declares motor vehicle licenses plates to be the property of the state as long as the plates are valid. The law also allows personalized plates with as many as seven letters for an extra $25 fee. But it gives DMV officials the right to refuse to issue “any letter combination which carries connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”

Hillmer said MPEACHW meets that criterion. The plates never would have been issued if DMV officials had caught their meaning at the time Moriah applied, Hillmer said.

“This was one that we apparently missed when it came through originally, and we received a complaint from an individual that found it offensive,” she said, declining to identify the individual or provide the contents of the complaint. “I don’t think we ever would have issued it if we’d have picked up on what it was inferring.”

Moriah said she bought the 2005 Prius late last summer and fitted it with personalized plates similar to those her partner, Curt Finnegan, had on his blue 2004 Prius. His plates actually read: IMPCH-W.

Moriah said has received plenty of positive reactions in public to her plates and that negative responses have been rare. So she was surprised to receive the April 18 letter from the DMV announcing the recall and giving her 10 days to turn in the plates at the Pennington County Treasurer’s Office or the DMV office in Pierre.

The letter said DMV would issue a refund on the months remaining on Moriah’s license.

She is hesitant to give up the plates, however, because she believes her free-speech rights are being unnecessarily limited.

“It’s kind of sad to me,” she said. “For one person to be able to say they’re offended because it’s different from their political beliefs seems really arbitrary. And I don’t think the law is very clear about what ‘offensive’ means.”

Hillmer said the law gives the state great latitude in making that determination. Moriah is free to exercise her free-speech rights in ways that don’t involve state property or implied state sanction of a given message, Hillemr said.

“They have every right to use that free speech, but they need to do it with a bumper sticker,” she said. “That plate is property of South Dakota. And that (message) is not something the state should advocate.”

It wouldn’t matter if the political message or the president were different, it would be inappropriate on a state plate, Hillmer said.

Moriah has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which intends to protest the recall in a letter to the state. Moriah said it’s unlikely the ACLU will pursue legal action, in part because she is planning a move to Pennsylvanian in the next couple of months.

Finnegan already has moved there and replaced his South Dakota plates for Pennsylvania plates, Moriah said. Moriah hopes to leave in June or July, with her plates still intact. Hillmer said it might not work out that way.

“We may have law enforcement go pick them up if we receive more complaints about it,” she said. “If she returns them, we’ll make her new plates. If we have to go pick them up, we probably won’t.”

Hillmer has been with DMV for more than 20 years. She remembers five or six instances when so-called vanity plates were recalled. One of them said “SNIPER” and another “OLDFART.”

Moriah is the only person to complain about a recall, Hillmer said.

Rapid City lawyer Patrick Duffy said there’s plenty of reason to complain. Duffy, who has worked on key civil rights cases involving American Indian voting issues, said action by the state means that any personalized plate must be recalled because of a single complaint, no matter what the message.

“What this means is that every atheist can now wipe out anything that seems to refer to God,” Duffy said. “Will vanity plates for members of the armed forces suddenly be declared offensive if they offend a single pacifist? It’s absolutely preposterous.”

Even obscenity must be judged by the mores and standards of a community, not just one offended individual, Duffy said.

“Here, all we need is one lone citizen who is apparently invested with the complete authority to determine what is good taste and decency for all the rest of us,” he said. “It seems a little tyrannical to me.”


Speaking of A Word a Day (as I was below), it's worth mentioning that the newsletter usually focuses on a week-long theme to which the daily words relate. Last week, the theme was words about words, and here's a swell one that I had never come across before: haplography.

haplography (hap-LOG-ruh-fee) noun

Accidental omission of a letter or letter group that should
be repeated in writing, for example, "mispell" for "misspell".

[From Greek haplo- (single) + -graphy (writing).]

The description, by AWAD proprietor Anu Garg, says this:

Search the Web for 'Missippi' and you'd find thousands of hits showing pages where the authors clearly meant Mississippi. With the advent of modern computers and spell-checkers you'd think this illustration of haplography would not occur so often.

If you feel this is bad, imagine the time before the printing press came along, when the only way to make copies of a book was with a quill and parchment. There were no photocopying machines to crank out double-sided copies.

Biblical translations and copies of other books from olden times are replete with haplography and its cousins. Many scholars spend their lifetime identifying these 'bugs' in ancient books and other scripts.

A counterpart of haplography is haplology. Haplology occurs when one 'eats' a few letters while pronouncing a word. Latin nutrix (nurse) came from an earlier word, nutritrix. Chancery, a contraction of chancellery, is now an acceptable part of the English language. Perhaps some day 'probly' will be considered standard and 'probably' obsolete!

If there are some words that economize on letters, there are others which splurge. The word for this phenomenon is called dittography.

Okay, make that two words I had never heard before, since dittography was a new one on me, too.

I shared haplography with the students in the Writing for Magazines class I have been teaching this almost-ended semester at Augustana College. They were not too impressed, nor did I observe any of them jotting down the URL for A Word a Day. Oh well...all I can do is lead 'em to the water.

You Know What They Say

Yep, time again for some more quotations that have been collecting dust around here. I'm pretty sure that all of them come from the wonderful A Word a Day, which you ought to be subscribing to if you're not already, even though that means you will have already seen most of the quotations I post here. But that's your problem, not mine.

It is easier to lead men to combat, stirring up their passion, than to restrain them and direct them toward the patient labors of peace. -Andre Gide, author, Nobel laureate (1869-1951)

Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right. -Carl Schurz, revolutionary, statesman and reformer (1829-1906)

Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. -Eric Hoffer, philosopher and author (1902-1983)

The automobile has not merely taken over the street, it has dissolved the living tissue of the city. Its appetite for space is absolutely insatiable; moving and parked, it devours urban land, leaving the buildings as mere islands of habitable space in a sea of dangerous and ugly traffic. -James Marston Fitch, historic preservationist (1909-2000)

History is a vast early warning system. -Norman Cousins, editor and author (1915-1990)

A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business. -Henry Ford, industrialist (1863-1947)

Time is a dressmaker specializing in alterations. -Faith Baldwin, novelist (1893-1978)

Almost all our faults are more pardonable than the methods we resort to to hide them. -Francois de La Rochefoucauld, writer (1613-1680)

Patriotism is a kind of religion; it is the egg from which wars are hatched. -Guy de Maupassant, short story writer and novelist (1850-1893)

Lots of times you have to pretend to join a parade in which you're not really interested in order to get where you're going. -Christopher Morley, writer (1890-1957)

War will never cease until babies begin to come into the world with larger cerebrums and smaller adrenal glands. -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

God made everything out of nothing, but the nothingness shows through. -Paul Valery, poet and philosopher (1871-1945)

What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy? -Ursula K. Le Guin, author (1929- )