Sunday, July 27, 2008

“We get the level of justice we deserve…..”

I just saw the latest Batman installment, The Dark Knight, last night. I cannot say I liked it. Indeed, that's probably an understatement. It's bleak, way too long and far too graphically violent for me. increasingly I find that movies like that late at night give me nightmares. As my octogenarian friend Fr. Warren Thompson notes, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.”

But, I came away from the film with two thoughts gnawing away at me. First, in a scene where the Joker had wired two ferries full of people, one evacuees from a hospital and the other evacuees from the county jail, each with the trigger allowing them to blow the other ferry full of people up rather than be blown up, neither chose to detonate the other. What occurred to me is that while our lowest common denominator of humanity might well gravitate toward avoiding punishment (Kohlberg stage 1 - what must I do to avoid punishment), we are not slaves to our lowest levels of moral functioning. Our moral decisions are not foregone conclusions dictated by self-interest. We have choices. We know the right and we can choose it, even if we don't do so with any regularity or predictability.

The second thought has centered on the ending commentary in a film marked by wave after wave of destruction, death, betrayal and vengeance. The new police commissioner assesses the situation in Gotham and the now demonized Batman with the statement "We get the level of justice we deserve." That line sent chills down my spine.

What might that mean for a country like America which has chosen the dark side, as Jane Mayer so well documents in her new book by that same title? What kind of justice does a people deserve whose representative government has opted to torture human beings, presuming guilt contrary to our own jurisprudential principle as well as buying into the myth that torture by definition produces actionable intelligence? What kind of justice does a country, professing notions like due process of law, the loathsomeness of cruel and unusual punishment and the human rights its own countrywomen crafted for the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but practicing special rendition, waterboarding and psychological torture, deserve?

The implications here are troubling. There is a karmic element to this maxim - What goes around comes around. It's the notion at the heart of Warren Apel's assessment of the 9-11 attacks in his troubling essay “Why Do They Hate Us?” when he notes that they did not occur in a vacuum but rather a pattern of American intervention and economic exploitation around the world. Apel ably notes that there is a reason that the targets were symbols of American military power and global corporate domination. You can read his entire essay here:

It is hard to look at this picture. I love my country and I do not want to see it hurt. We are a good people. We have the ability to choose the right even when we don't do so with any regularity or predictability. Indeed, we have an enormous capacity for recognizing our own wrongdoing and seeking to right it, as we have had to do over and over in our nation's history.

But what kind of justice do we deserve in the light of our transition to the dark side? Perhaps more importantly, what kind of justice should we expect?

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bites.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lambeth: Two Visions from the Two/Thirds World

The bishops of the Anglican Communion continue their decennial Lambeth Conference this week at Canterbury. As the UK Guardian described the assemblage of bishops and hangers-on, “The Anglican communion has never been stranger…Itchy evangelicals, loyal liberals and holy hypocrisy – it's just another day at the Lambeth Conference” Increasingly it becomes clear to most observers not making the trip to see and be seen at Canterbury that what exists in fact today is not a single Communion in which everyone is an equal member sharing the same essential vision but a collection of Anglican churches with disparate visions of who we are, what we’re about and where we need to go.

Of course, the current conference is missing almost 200 bishops (of 800+ total) who boycotted Lambeth, most of them from Africa and other corners of the two/thirds world though a handful of wealthy American conservatives who have long funded this conservative cabal have also opted not to attend. It is from the two/thirds world bishops who did attend – and the majority are present – that two distinctly visions of Anglicanism were articulated this week.

The bishops had just come out of a series of meetings Wednesday, some of them designed to provide a forum to talk about the divisive issue of LBGT people in the church. Not satisfied to simply talk about his concerns in meetings with other bishops, Daniel Deng Bul, the archbishop of the Church of the Sudan called a press conference in which he called for the resignation of his fellow Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, declaring in the statement released ahead of the press conference that he had come to the Lambeth Conference “to take the necessary steps to safeguard the precious unity of the Church.” The archbishop was asked about ministering to the gays and lesbians in his province. He declared that he did not think there were any homosexuals in the Sudan as “none had come forward.” And when queried about his position on the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate he said he “believed in women priests and bishops because they are human” – leaving listeners to wonder if the inference was that homosexuals are not. (from Lambeth Witness, Issue 2, July 22, 2008)

One of Einstein’s most famous quotes simply observed “You cannot simultaneously prepare for and prevent war.” The same problem of mutually exclusive goals is evident in Archbishop Bul’s statement: You cannot simultaneously defend unity of the church and seek to exclude some of its members. Unity means one. It means all. The archbishop cannot have it both ways. If he means “the elect who agree with my theology,” he should be honest enough with himself and others to say so.

Ironically, it is precisely this kind of sectarian thinking which most endangers any hopes of Anglican unity. If the archbishop is truly concerned about unity, he either needs to learn to live and let live with his fellow bishops who do not share his vision or perhaps it is he who should resign.

A contrasting vision of Anglicanism is offered by Martín Barahona Bishop of the Anglican Church of El Salvador. In a statement prepared for the Conference last month, Barahona began with the recognition of the very problem Einstein was noting: “We cannot contemplate Jesus if we exclude our neighbor.” A church which holds as its second Great Commandment that human beings should “love your neighbor as yourself” - a commandment that Anglican liturgies have long recognized as the basis upon which “all the law and the prophets” hangs – cannot simultaneously love its neighbors as itself and exclude them from their rightful place at the communion table.

Barahona knows only too well the truth of the destructive politics of marginality. His country, El Salvador, was the site of some of the worst human rights violations in human history at the hands of a Latin American style fascist regime supported by the Reagan Administration in its war on anyone who opposed its global corporatist regime. Under the rubric of fighting communism, fellow (Roman Catholic) Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot down at the altar in the middle of the eucharist, the most visible victim in a war on the poor that took thousands of victims. Many of their partially dismembered bodies were dumped on the highway to the airport as a warning, without respect even in death. Thousands more simply “disappeared.”

Speaking as “a Latin American bishop, knowledgeable of the huge social gaps which are true problems that kill…” Barahona recognized the root problem in the politics of death and dehumanization in his own country as present in the sectarian politics of Anglicanism:

I can see that marginality shines in this decision (to exclude Bishop Robinson from Lambeth); we should ask ourselves “How would Jesus see this?” From this region of the world we pray that these wounds may heal and we have hope that some day we shall be able to see Christ in our neighbor, regardless of race, sexual preference, financial or cultural situation. When we are able to do this, then we will really be inclusive and truly the Body of Christ.

At least two of the Anglican churches represented at Lambeth are evident in these two contrasting visions. Probably a much larger membership could be found in the Church of the Self-Satisfied, an amorphous middle disinclined toward anything remotely political, simply wanting to focus on liturgy, music, a sermon which doesn’t rock the boat much and getting out in time for lunch. And it is precisely the addiction to comfort and the aversion to conflict which many have seen as their own gospel that has brought the Anglican Communion to its current place.

I would like to believe that the vision of Barahona will be the winner at the end of the day in Anglicanism. As Giles Fraser, Vicar of Putney, UK, and President of Inclusive Church, says, “A Church in which all are welcome is a Church worth believing in and worth fighting for. This is the Church of traditional Anglicanism where the good news of Jesus Christ is offered as good news for everyone. At this time of tension and division, may we all be transformed by God's reconciling Spirit.” A spiritual big tent is indeed a good thing for liberals, even radicals like myself. And while it may well represent the latitudinarian history of Anglicanism’s via media, I wonder how accurately it represents the status quo of Anglicanism today.

The problem is that the looseness of doctrine, the lack of mechanisms of compulsion to force obedience to authority and the far too frequent disdain with which liberals tend to view their less evolved evangelical kin – myself included - probably does not bode well for the future of the status quo in Anglicanism. The tee shirt spotted at the Lambeth “fringe events” says much: “God is an equal opportunity employer. Pity about the Church.”

The liberal big tent simply does not offer enough security to conservatives who perceive the need for well defined doctrine, uniformity of thought and the means of punishing those who do not conform. There aren’t a lot of corners in which to rest under a big tent. My guess is that this will become increasingly unbearable for conservatives. I’d also guess that as a result the days of an Anglican Communion with claims to worldwide status comparable to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are probably limited.

If unity of the church means an ongoing diet of the homophobia confused with religion fostered under the last Archbishop of Canterbury at the immedialy preceding Lambeth, then the tee-shirt probably has it right: "Pity about the Church." The question in my mind is simply what will evolve out of this paradigm shift and whether it will be, as Fraser so well puts it, “a Church worth believing in.”

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mindless Infotainment from Folks Who Ought to Know Better

Yesterday’s Sentinel brought this little jewel:

UF med students found with questionable Facebook pages

The Associated Press
7:02 AM EDT, July 22, 2008

JACKSONVILLE - Would you visit a doctor who wore a lab coat labeled ``Kevorkian Medical Clinic?'' Or dressed as a pimp? Or posted online photos of themselves cross-dressing?

But that's the kind of material University of Florida researchers found when they studied the Facebook pages of the school's medical students.

The study found that almost half the medical students had Facebook pages, but only 37 percent of those limited viewership to their friends. More than half provided lifestyle information, including sexual orientation, dating relationships and political opinions.

Researchers found pictures of students grabbing their breasts and crotches, posing with a dead raccoon and many photos of students heavily drinking.

Of course, this is pretty typical of the Sentinel these days as it slides further into the slime of infotainment while cutting its news staff. So, I suppose I should not be surprised. Nonetheless, I couldn’t restrain myself from sending this response at their blog:

Good job, Sentinel! Never pass up an opportunity to titillate us with pseudo-scandal. It’s a lot easier than finding, reporting and critically analyzing real news including the news your “story” here failed to report.

The headline tells the reader up front that we are supposed to be morally outraged: “UF med students found with questionable Facebook pages” Questionable? Questioned by whom? No one is identified as questioning these websites. Perhaps that’s because they’d then be required to answer the more important question: Who is presuming the right to draw into question the private lives of would-be professionals still in college and upon what basis?

Next the scandal raking lead – if it bleeds, it leads: “Would you visit a doctor who wore a lab coat labeled ``Kevorkian Medical Clinic?'' Or dressed as a pimp? Or posted online photos of themselves cross-dressing?”Of course, none of those things actually occurred. If a doctor actually came to work in such a manner, the public might have a right to question their professional judgment, if nothing more than their failure to adhere to the unofficial professional middle class dress code that we so readily confuse with professional competency.

The infotainment piece continues with this comment: “The study found that almost half the medical students had Facebook pages, but only 37 percent of those limited viewership to their friends. More than half provided lifestyle information, including sexual orientation, dating relationships and political opinions.” Perhaps this is an indication of poor judgment. There is certainly a virtue to keeping some aspects of one’s personal life private. But the aspects which follow – sexual orientation, dating relationships and political opinions – are commonly displayed in public. Turn on your television. Or just go to the entire section the Sentinel devotes to gossip each day under the rubric of “Entertainment,“ not to mention the Opinion section.

Of course, the reference to “lifestyle information” tips off the reader that we probably are dealing with a moralist writer here passing off information in code to the like minded. No doubt the pastors and congregants of conservative religious institutions are already atwitter. Great sermon material for Sunday. But what we don’t have is any justification for this information being passed off as news.

The real news story is the conduct of the University of Florida researchers. Why does a state university feel the need – much less the right - to check its students’ Facebook pages? In a day of strapped budgets requiring cutting of programs and instructors, how is this an appropriate use of limited taxpayer moneys? What other students might be under similar surveillance? Again, under what sense of need, much less of right to do so? Ironically, this is precisely the kinds of questions philosophy programs raise as the conscience of any university. Is it coincidence that the same university which spies on its med students’ webpages also just cut its doctorate in philosophy.

In short, the Sentinel missed the real story here because it was too willing to leap at the opportunity to engage in cheap scandal raking. No doubt it will find shallow consumers more than willing to accept this from their “hometown newspaper.” Frankly, I think the Sentinel can do better. And as a resident of this hometown, I’m sure we deserve better. Never estimate the critical role of the media in creating and accelerating false moral panics.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Citizen of the World?

I am a participant in the Zogby online surveys. Once every couple of weeks I get a survey asking me everything from whether I am a member of the investor class (way too funny – I’m a teacher - one must *make* money to invest it) to who I will vote for in the presidential race (Obama, with resignation) to whether I am a NASC AR fan (pardon my classism, but when donkeys fly).

But one question Zogby asks every time has always puzzled me: Do you consider yourself more a citizen of a) your community, b) your state, c) your nation, or d) the world. And strangely enough, without hesitation each time, I have always answered d – I consider myself more a citizen of the world.

I’ve wrestled with the implications of that choice. At some level I scold myself over what could readily be seen as a self-aggrandizing statement – My level of moral and spiritual development is far too great to be confined to a mere artificial political construct. And I could see how that charge might be leveled.

I’ve also consoled myself with the recognition that my Franciscan vocation has always called me to value the entire creation and not just humanity. My goal of trying to see the image of G-d on all human faces and recognizing the divine presence in all of creation has long been the substance of my pre-eucharist private prayers. I find that photos of the earth and the Hubble Telescope images from space inevitably invoke simultaneous feelings of my own insignificance in the larger scheme of things (just like the liver donation salesman said in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life) as well as a sense of belonging to something wonderful, something much larger than myself.

But it was a program on the LGBT oriented LOGO channel last night that put this citizen of the world thing into perspective for me. The program was called Living Dangerously, Coming Out in the Third World. The stories of the hardships faced by LBGT people in places ranging from the virulently homophobic heart of Africa to the fundamentalist Islamic nations to the testosterone poisoned machista societies of Latin America were enough to break my heart. My own struggles in homophobic North America seem minor in comparison.

Near the very end of the program, a clip from the International Olympic Gay Games was used to talk about the solidarity third world LBGT people feel with each other and with those of us in the first world. As the representatives from the nations marched into the stadium to the sounds of a capella African choral singing - which never fails to touch me at a very deep place - one delegation carried a red banner which took my breath away: Free Rainbow. No Border. No Nation.

In that split second, I realized why I tell Zogby pollsters that I am a citizen of the world. First, I feel a deep sense of identification with all LBGT people around the world who have had to endure worlds of unmerited dehumanization and demonization just to live our daily lives. I identify with their pain even as I thank G-d I have not had to endure the depth of depravity and destructiveness that pathological homophobias legitimized by religion and packing the power of the state often evoke.

But perhaps more importantly, I suddenly realized why I don’t see my social identity primarily in terms of my community, my state or my nation. What loyalties can anyone have to political entities which do not treat them as first class citizens? What identification with social institutions can the targets of their discrimination hold in good conscience? Do such human targets really have the luxury of enduring second class citizenship at best while nursing hopes that the more powerful within those institutions will some day simply grow up and live into the ideals they assert – ideals such as “liberty and justice for all” and “love thy neighbor as thyself?”

One of the things I realized in my recent trip to Guatemala is that respect for human dignity is the bottom line for any nondestructive human society. It is also one of the most fragile and unreliable aspects of human existence. Contrary to popular political philosophies wishing to legitimize socially constructed privilege, respect for human dignity can never be seen as anything less than a right which, if it is not available to everyone all the time, can never be depended upon by anyone any of the time. In catholic religious terms, it is the image of G-d which every living being bears that must be respected. To do anything less is, as the crusty old pastor in the provocative Disney film Priest said, to spit in the face of the G-d who created them.

Seeing oneself as a citizen of the world recognizes that borders and nations with all their smaller socially constructed subdivisions are inferior concerns to the larger, fundamental right of the rainbow that is humanity to live lives of dignity. Those who would act in any way to draw that fundamental right into question have the burden to demonstrate why such denigration is justified, a very high burden on a good day. Those who would watch that fundamental right to dignity ignored or violated at will and do nothing in response have the burden of explaining their acquiescence to what can only be seen as crimes against humanity. And those who would create and maintain social structures which ignore if not defile the divine image on any human face have no right to demand or expect the loyalty of those they would dehumanize.

Free Rainbow. No Border. No Nation. Nothing less. Amen.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

In 232 years, our beloved America has come a long way. But we still have a long way to go to actually be the country whose ideals are to insure “liberty and justice for all.”

This year, let us pledge ourselves to declare and secure independence from

· our addiction to petrochemicals
· our ongoing practice of state killing
· our willingness to blind ourselves to the practice of torture being carried out in our names with
our tax moneys by those our government employs or hires
· our silent assent to invasions, occupations and covert undermining of nation-states around the
world to advance corporate interests
· our acquiescence to the ongoing failure of the world’s best health care to provide care for
everyone regardless of ability to pay
· our willful ignorance regarding climate change and our own role in that change
· our addictions to the scourge of guns, the instrumentalities of death
· our denial of the failure of our “war on drugs” and the carnage it has caused in our communities
· our fear-driven obsession with imprisoning our fellow citizens that has made us the operators of
the world’s largest gulag system
· our reliance on the corporate monopolies of news media that fail to keep us informed
· our indifference to the declining quality of public education
· our acquiescence to the ongoing invasion of the privacy of our homes and telephone services by
consumer industries
· our demonization of the immigrants who make our unprecedented standard of living possible
· our indifference to our unresolved racism
· our ongoing denial of equality to our LBGT fellow Americans

This year, may freedom – and the social responsibility that ALWAYS accompanies it – truly ring. This year, may we be true to the ideals we say we believe:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
– Emily Lazarus, The New Colossus, inscription on Statue of Liberty

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
– James Madison, Preamble, US Constitution

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
– original Pre-1950s Red Scare Pledge of Allegiance

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure…It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
– Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,….

Now, therefore, the General Assembly proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction….

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

- Eleanor Roosevelt, United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

As I was walkin'I saw a sign there
And that sign said no trespassin'
But on the other side It didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!
In the squares of the city
In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief officeI see my people
And some are grumblin'
And some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California
To the New York Island,
From the redwood forest,
To the Gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

- Woody Guthrie, This Land is My Land

This year, may we be the America we say we are.

Happy Independence Day!

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Dear Barack,

The chances are you’ll never see this blog. And so I write this knowing that it’s largely for my own soul that I say these things and the few souls who might intentionally come to my blog or those who accidentally stumble across it in cyberspace.

I want you to know first of all that until last week, I was a pretty solid supporter. I happened to hear your speech the day you entered the race. I was headed to the store on a Saturday listening to NPR and suddenly I heard this voice that sounded vaguely like Martin Luther King, Jr. talking about justice and the need for change. I found myself so taken that I pulled into a parking lot to listen to the whole thing. I found myself with shortened breath and tears in my eyes as I thought to myself, “This is what America needs – a voice in the wilderness crying out for change” adding quickly “And that’s precisely why this man doesn’t have a snowflake’s chance in hell of winning.”

But I was wrong. You did win the Democratic nomination, riding a tide of young voters and middle aged voters like myself sick to our very souls of the direction America has taken under the conservative right Bush regime and its conservative-lite predecessors. In all honesty, you weren’t my first choice in the Florida primary. Given my strong opposition to Iraq and my concern for civil liberties within America, I had planned to vote for Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Fortunately for you, he withdrew the day before the Florida primary and so, despite the fact you had not campaigned here, my partner and I voted for you. Hillary had lost her shot at our votes when she supported Iraq. But I felt good about my second choice. And I thought, maybe this guy actually does have a shot at winning.

Over the campaign, I began to feel I had made the right choice regardless of its circumstances. Your mantra of change, coupled with the fact that regardless of who the Democrats nominated – a black man or a woman - it would be a departure from business as usual, gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, change was coming. The Republicans’ nomination of John McCain, a doddering, duplicitous, self-serving man who paints himself as a POW hero and political moderate, gave me even more hope that maybe change could come. I began to allow myself to feel more hopeful than I had felt in a long time.

This past week I came crashing down to reality. First there was your rejection of public funding. If there is any key to political corruption in the farce we call American democracy today it is the observation of the Proverbs writer that money is the root of all evil. Barack, it takes no particularly brilliant insight to recognize that politicians who must constantly raise campaign funding sell their very souls to those who hold their purse strings. That means that most Americans, including the family in which you grew up, are effectively cut out of the political process in America. The status quo is a good deal for somebody, but it simply isn’t most of America.

Then there was the child rape death sentence ruling by the SCOTUS. Frankly, I was amazed that Kennedy swung against the Great American Killing Machine in the name of “evolving standards of decency.” As his decision noted, America’s practices are largely neither evolved nor decent. And this was one small step in the right direction, the direction against state killing that the majority of the world’s nation-states now embrace (why have they evolved and we haven’t?).

Your response was chilling: I have always felt that communities have the right to express their outrage by killing such offenders. Barack, that’s a pretty low level of moral reasoning. It’s the same utilitarian reasoning a killer uses when he chooses to kill witnesses – their deaths serve as a means to the killer’s ends. That people are outraged is understandable, expectable. But outrage does not produce a “Kill One Human Being Free” card, regardless of who they are. You should know better. And you should be ashamed of your response.

Then there was the gun decision. Kennedy swung right this time and the gun lobby won its greatest victory. America is inundated with guns that are used with impunity on anyone their possessor chooses. While Americans respond with maudlin candle lit rallies and yet one more magnetic ribbon to affix to the rear of their SUVs, the reality is that most of us accept this status quo as normal if not normative. We even pass laws like my own bone-headed state of Florida just passed protecting a supposed "right" to take your guns to work, but only if they stay locked up in your vehicle, right up to the point the disgruntled worker goes postal.

Now, the Supremes legitimate that understanding by telling Americans they have a right to own and use guns, not in the context of collective security that the Framers intentionally wrote into the amendment but simply because individuals want to own and use guns. As Justice Scalia (now there’s an oxymoron for you!) said in the previously mentioned state killing case, “More people will die because of this decision.”

This decision is the fruit of the long term GOP project of packing of the courts with far right ideologue jurists - perhaps the primary reason I still plan to vote for you in hopes that even a slight deviation from this current far right trajectory is essential to retaining anything that even remotely resembles democracy in America. The SCOTUS’ current focus on the vindication of force, power, corporate privilege and the deprivation of individual rights has a name – in the 1930s it was called fascism.

Barack, your response, which the local newspaper rightly described as “tepid,” was simply, “I’ve always believed in an individual right to own handguns” although, in all fairness, you do then state your support of the very kinds of efforts to regulate them that the SCOTUS just struck down. A tepid - and conflicted - response to a sea change victory for America’s killing industry is hardly inspiring.

Yesterday, the press reported that you intend to actually expand Mr. Bush’s “faith based” funding of social services. And it reports that as a part of this program you would agree with religious organizations’ discriminatory hiring practices. Now, Barack, we all know what that means: institutionalized homophobia legitimized by religion. Your support among the LBGT population in America has been very high. In all honesty, I feel you have betrayed us with this move and I suspect that many of my fellow LBGT people do as well.

The reality is that I am in favor of change, not necessarily your candidacy. And my willingness to hold my nose and pull your lever becomes increasingly attenuated as you reveal yourself as a centrist politician who will do anything to get elected. But you have a bit of a problem now. Your change mantra has come back to haunt you, hasn’t it?

Explain to the American people how business as usual in campaign funding by the wealthy and thus business as usual in American politics constitutes “change.” Explain to the thousands of people on America’s Death Rows who did not get fair trials or, worse yet, are innocent like those with whom you are personally familiar in your home state of Illinois, how your position on killing offenders to express community outrage constitutes “change.” Explain to the thousands of victims each year of gun violence – the highest rate in the world – how your tepid support of “individual rights” to guns constitutes “change.” And finally, explain how support of homophobic hiring practices in a country with a history of institutionalized homophobia constitutes “change.”

In all honesty, I feel used, Barack. I feel that your smooth rhetoric has been hiding a mediocre spirited, self-serving politician, just as your Hillary supporting opponents said all along. More than that, I am heart-broken over the appearance of this political Mr. Hyde. I have been so disillusioned about my country for so long. I had truly allowed myself to hope that maybe you would actually lead the move to change things. Today, rid of any self-delusions, I am back to survival mode – doing whatever I can to resist the seemingly inexorable life-denying aspects of a culture that values money above human beings, uses force as a matter of course for conflict resolution and which allows an uncritical tyranny of the majority to continue denying all of America’s citizens their birthright as Americans.

Fortunately for you, the alternative in this election is untenable for folks like me. Increasingly it appears we have a centrist Clinton Democrat clothed in the garb of “change” versus a doddering, unprincipled Republican clothed in the garb of “POW hero” even as he assents to Americans torturing our own POWs. So, my vote for you in November is secure simply due to circumstances. And I suspect that is probably true for many Americans who will pull the lever next to your name with resignation. So, not to worry, Barack. Except, perhaps, for your own integrity, assuming that was ever particularly important to you.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.
More Learning, Less Time – Such a Deal! – for Someone

The local paper ran a story on the county school system which bears a little critical scrutiny. Increasingly I find it amazing how unexamined assertions seen as unchallengeable revealed truth inform public policy. The Sentinel article this morning was packed with them. To wit, the headline:

RE: "Orange County schools will pack more learning into same amount of time"

Interesting assumption. But why would we presume that students will learn more in the same amount of time simply because we impose an additional class' worth of information upon them in that same time frame? If the students are managing to learn X in 53 minutes – and that’s a major presumption - why would we presume they could learn the same X in 45?

This is certainly the fundamentalist free market ideology at work - "lay off" (read: fire) workers, impose their job duties upon the remaining workers, pay them less benefits and threaten them with termination all the while ignoring the corresponding decline in quality of work product and worker burnout, all based solely on the imperative of stockholders unwilling to pay for the operation of the companies that keep them wealthy. Substitute teachers for workers and taxpayers for stockholders and you have the paradigm of Florida public schools.

But why would we presume that students, already struggling to jump through the hoops of standardized testing confused for education, will learn more in the same amount of time? And why would we take a paradigm that has clearly NOT worked for anyone other than the very few wealthy beneficiaries of this exploitative practice and impose it upon the school children of Orange County, all the while congratulating ourselves on what clever behavioralists we are?

Then there’s this assertion in the lead:

RE: The seven-period schedule is a cost-free way to lower class sizes and give students more opportunities to take electives.

Again, an interesting assumption. Who will plan the seventh class for the teachers? Who will grade the extra class’ papers? Who will learn the seventh set of 35 or more names with all the various learning disabilities and special needs that go along with them? Who will now reconstruct all the existing lesson plans to try to get the work of the former 53 minute classes to now fit into 45 minutes? It may be cost free to the school board to lay down cavalier dicta which totally restructure the work of their remaining teaching staff. It’s a good deal for somebody. But someone also bears the cost.

Not surprisingly, the Sentinel story ran comments from principals and a teacher who supported the changes but no comments that drew the move into question. Here’s the view of the world from the inner sanctum of the principals:

RE: There's little reason to fear any fallout as long as classes remain in the 45-minute range, the National Association of Secondary Principals says.

Of course, there will be little fallout for those who will not be required to actually implement these changes. There was little sweat on the brow of the white masters sipping mint juleps rocking in their rocking chairs on the verandas while they watched their slaves picking cotton, either. But, there will be fallout. Someone will absorb the blow. Chances are, it will be both students and teachers.

Now, here’s the comment from the supportive teacher. While we don’t know what the teacher actually teaches, the sentiment is admirable. His focus is actually on the students here:

RE: The new schedule gives struggling students -- who often get no electives because they have to take remedial reading and math -- at least one class of their choice…. “Now a lot of our kids will be able to have P.E., art or music. Sometimes school can be kind of a drag for them…”

Of course, this is but one more piece of evidence of the failure of Pavlovian test-driven pedagogy. Not only are 30% of America’s children being “Left Behind” and written off as failures because they cannot pass a single standardized test, the testing regime has made school so rigid and unbearable that many students, not surprisingly, don’t want to go. Imagine a school day packed with drilling for math and reading exams with no opportunity to engage in anything remotely human like physical education for the jocks or art and music for the expressive kids. No doubt school has become “a kind of drag for them” and their teachers-turned-technocrats as well.

You have to admire a teacher who is willing to do yet more than the already enormous expectations placed upon any public school teacher simply so his students might find school even bearable. But shortening class periods so more can be packed into a single school day is not the answer. Might it be that the whole project of test-driven pedagogy needs to be reconsidered? Wasn’t it Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over (and here, more of it) and expecting different results?

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.

Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.