Friday, December 31, 2010

Florence: The Ciompi Revolt

Labor demonstration in Florence during a 2007 general strike.

The Ciompi Rebellion was, so far as I know, the first industrial labor uprising in history. The textile workers, upon whose labor Florence’s prosperity depended, rose up in revolt in 1378 and briefly seized control of the Republic. The rebellion failed in the end, defeated by factionalism among the rebels and by the determination of the city’s ruling oligarchy to squash the uprising. The oligarchy emerged from this episode even more powerful, determined to prevent such a rebellion from ever happening again.

Florence’s new prosperity began with the textile industry. The waters of the Arno at Florence were perfect for washing freshly dyed wool. There were abundant alum deposits in the area necessary for dying fabric. Above all, there was an abundance of cheap labor in the surrounding countryside. Northern Italy was the most densely inhabited part of Europe in the 13th century when Florence’s economy suddenly boomed. Peasants coming into the city provided a seemingly endless and inexpensive supply of labor. Florentine fabrics were competitive in price because the industry paid its workers near starvation wages.

Linen Weaver, mural from the Kanonikerhaus, Constance, Germany, circa 1320

I use the term “industry” loosely. This was long before the Industrial Revolution and mechanized mass production. The assembly line was way in the future at this point. Textiles were still officially a “cottage” industry. Manufacturers owned or leased looms and facilities housed in city tenements and in cottages in the surrounding countryside, a system similar to modern sweat shops. These “cottages” frequently employed hundreds of people. Whole families would work in these shops with small children employed for the simplest tasks.
Not all of this labor was unskilled. Florentine linen and silk weavers were famous for the quality of their work. In addition, there were sewers and embroiderers who did splendid work.
Working conditions could be brutal with long hours and only religious feast and fast days off (the weekend is a creation of the American labor movement in the 19th century). Sickness frequently meant unemployment and destitution. The shops were poorly lit and ventilated with dust and lint making lung disease a certainty.

The Florentine Republic created very strict laws against workers organizing with sometimes draconian punishments. The city’s working class was entirely disenfranchised with absolutely no say in the governing of their communities. They were entirely dependent on the good will of their employers and landlords (who were frequently one and the same). Legal intimidation and economic insecurity kept workers quiet and passive for decades, but that quiet passivity ended in the wake of the Black Death.

The Black Death left in its wake an acute labor shortage throughout Europe, and especially in Florence. Those workers fortunate enough to have survived had new expectations of a certain measure of bargaining power to improve their lot. Those expectations, and having survived the ordeal of the Plague, emboldened them to challenge their exploiters for the first time.

The revolt began with a foreign policy crisis and an attempted coup. Pope Gregory XI attempted to reassert papal control over the States of the Church, which had broken up into a chaos of independent city states and military fiefdoms claimed as payment by a number of mercenary commanders. The last thing Florence wanted was a strong Papal State sharing its longest border. In response to Florentine attempts to subvert his efforts in the Papal States, the Pope placed Florence under interdict forbidding any religious sacraments in the city and making the city’s merchants abroad fair game for seizure of their goods and their persons. The city responded by ordering its local clergy under severe penalties to re-open the churches. That the city’s government succeeded in this policy is a measure of the popularity of its position among patriotic Florentines, rallied by eloquent writers like Coluccio Salutati to the cause of republican liberty against Papal tyranny. The length of the standoff and its growing cost emboldened the traditional pro-papal Parte Guelfa in the city. The Guelfa included the most powerful manufacturers and bankers in the city. They now felt emboldened to attempt a coup d’etat against the Commune, exchanging indirect for direct rule. The prospect of a coup, rumored to take place on June 24th, Saint John’s Day, the national holiday of the Florentines, alarmed the lesser guilds as well as many members of the greater guilds who made common cause with the arti minori.

The Commune, under the leadership of Salvestro de Medici (the family name should be familiar), struck first on June 18, 1387. Using the slogans Liberta! and Popolo!, Salvestro summoned the populace who eagerly rallied to the government. Events quickly turned violent with mobs looting and burning the homes of Guelfa leaders who had all fled the city at the first sign of trouble.
That should have been the end of the troubles, as the Commune had intended, but it was not. This pre-emptive strike against an oligarchic coup turned out to be but the first stage in a revolutionary uprising. The mobs, having done their useful work, would not go home. They simply became bigger and bolder, swelled by the ranks of the popolo minuto (the little people), angered and disappointed that their hoped for bargaining power with their employers was neutralized by the textile manufacturers venturing out in the Tuscan countryside far and wide recruiting even more desperate peasants, keeping wages low.

By July of 1378, the initiative was firmly in the hands of the rebelling textile workers, the Ciompi (believed to be a Florentine corruption of the French word compere) the “guys” we would call them today. The rioting and agitation increased throughout the month until on July 21st, a huge crowd marched into the Piazza Signoria with a petition demanding the right to associate and to form a new guild representing the interests of the city’s textile workers.
The leaders of the Commune in the Palazzo Publico desperately sought to buy time as the rioting grew worse in all parts of the city with mobs looting and burning the palazzi of the city’s manufacturing and banking nobility.
The next day, the rioters lost patience and swept into the Palazzo Publico in a huge wave, breaking down the doors and quickly overwhelming the Palace’s defenders. A young wool carder wearing only a torn shirt and sandals named Michele di Lando seized the city banner and was proclaimed Gonfaloniere or head of state of the Republic by the rebels.
The new government under Lando set to work immediately, polling the populace about forming a new workers’ guild. The response was so large that the new government decided to create not one, but three new guilds, the Arte Tintori (the Dyers’ Guild), the Arte Farsettai (The Shirt Makers’ Guild), and the third and largest guild, the Popolo Minuti representing the workers in the city’s enormous wool industry. For a very brief moment, Florence was the only state in the world at that time to have a government representing almost all of its citizens across class lines.

The manufacturers, seeing this new-found power on the part of their workers as a guarantee of ruin, struck back in probably history’s first recorded lockout. They locked up their shops, leaving their always marginal employees to quickly become destitute. This new desperation among the workers created the first of the factional conflicts that would doom the new workers’ government. A radical faction of the rebels rallied in front of the Church of Santa Maria Novella to make demands of the new government. When their representatives attempted to present a petition at the Palazzo Publico, Lando himself chased them out with a sword. He mounted a horse and led a charge against the radicals scattering them and driving them out of the city. All of the city’s guilds, except one, hailed Michele di Lando as the savior of the Republic. The dissenting guild was the new Popolo Minuti. The Tintori and the Farsettai sided with the government and with the city’s older established guilds against the Popolo Minuto. This split proved to be a golden opportunity for the city’s oligarchs to return to absolute power. The new government abolished the Popolo Minuto, eliminating at a stroke the gains made by the city’s wool industry workers. In the years to come, the other two guilds would also be abolished and the city’s oligarchy would again be solidly in power. Once again, laws would be passed forbidding worker associations.

What is so striking about the Ciompi Rebellion from a modern point of view is that, for all of its violence and drama, it was comparatively conservative. There was never any talk of throwing out the Florentine constitution or of ending the Republic for some other kind of state. There was no real effort, and apparently no desire, to completely disenfranchise the oligarchy and to seize their assets. There was no talk of worker ownership of the mills. What the workers wanted was participation in the existing system. They wanted, not their own state, but their own guilds and a place in the Commune.
What is equally striking is the determination of the city’s oligarchy not to make any concessions, to utterly defeat and destroy this uprising. They saw any prospect of power-sharing with their workers as a potentially mortal threat.

Little in the way of reliable records survives about Michele di Lando, and yet, Machiavelli writing about the Ciompi Rebellion in his history of Florence almost 2 centuries later, ranks Lando up with Cesare Borgia among the greatest heroes of Italian nationalism.

A 19th century statue of Michele di Lando in the Mercato Nuovo, Florence.


The conservatism of the Ciompi rebels is all the more remarkable considering that there was no shortage of radical thinkers in late Medieval Italy, both in politics and religion. There were the Fraticelli, the radical followers of Saint Francis who preached a very radical form of egalitarianism that rejected the hierarchies of both feudalism and the emerging capitalist economy. They were radical even by our standards calling for redistribution of wealth and resources.
There was the very radical thinking of Joachim del Fiore who anticipated so much Reformation thought by 2 centuries. He was an apocalyptic visionary who rejected all hierarchies, including those of the Church.

Happy New Year!

A new year means a new beginning and another chance.

Happy New Year to all of my readers!

The Coming Year

I expect a rough year.

The economy will continue to stagnate with high unemployment and diminishing prospects for the unemployed.
The financial industry will continue to dominate our economy (and most of the Western economies). Expect to hear the word "plutonomy" floated about.
Meanwhile, the productive part of our economy that actually makes and sells things and services (as opposed to just moving money around) will continue to be exported to countries with no floor under wages and no ceiling over hours (and to countries with no qualms about slave labor like China).
Ever growing income disparity with a shrinking and ever less secure middle class will make the USA look more and more like Brazil of 60 years ago (and even less like Brazil today which has a booming economy that is larger than that of Russia and most of Eastern Europe, and with shrinking income disparity).
Banks will continue to commit theft and even burglary with impunity (see foreclosure scandals), crimes for which the rest of us would be jailed.
The Recording Secretaries of the Ruling Class (the corporate media) will continue to repeat uncritically what their employers tell them to say.
After the significant gains over the last 2 years, expect an ugly and even sometimes violent backlash against gays and lesbians. Remember that the intensity of the vitriol comes from the fact that the phobes are losing the struggle, and they know it. Time is not on their side.
I expect that the Episcopal Church will continue to find itself alienated from the official Anglican Communion as well-funded right wing campaigns intimidate the Communion leadership. However, I expect unofficial ties between the Episcopal Church and other parts of the Communion will strengthen.
I expect Christianity to continue to decline in the West (including the USA) as it becomes more and more identified with bigotry, reaction, and scandal. As Christianity shrinks, its churches will become increasingly dominated by fanatics who will only accelerate the alienation of the general public.
As Christianity declines in the West and becomes increasingly identified with right wing causes, expect the nihilism inherent in the consumer capitalism that rules our world to flourish virtually unchallenged.
I expect the fundamentalist movements that wreak such havoc in the rest of the world will eventually begin to alienate more people than they attract. I think that is already starting to happen in much of the Muslim world (especially in Iran). The nihilism of capitalism that drives those fundamentalist movements will still be there, but their paranoid, and frequently violent, authoritarianism will seem less and less of a desirable alternative to populations whose expectations are rising with changes in technology and increasing enfranchisement of formerly subordinate and marginal groups (such as women).

It will be a very rough year.

But as Churchill always said in the midst of the Blitz, and especially in that dark year of 1942 when it looked like Germany and Japan would win the war,


Churchill inspecting the ruins of the House of Commons, 1941

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thoughts for the Evening

-Us Liberals and Progressives always take it on the chin. We're always on the defensive. Our side still believes that people are fundamentally reasonable and that the evidence speaks for itself. The reactionary Right doesn't give a damn about evidence or rationality. The Right values loyalty, and loyalty to tribe above all else. They have no qualms about stroking resentments, and blowing dog-whistles that appeal to people's petty bigotries, anything to draw that bright clear line between Us and Them.

-The (self declared) enemies of the Episcopal Church always beat it over the head with its declining membership statistics from the last 40 years. Whole stadiums full of people have disagreed with me, and that didn't change my mind. If we really followed the idea that the majority is always right, then Barabbas would be the Messiah.

-I think the Christian religion is in decline in this country because so many people see it as the Republican Party at prayer. I wonder how many of the formerly churched left the religion because their beliefs about God really changed, and how many left because they were tired of being told how to vote from the pulpit. Just as the Right claims a copyright on patriotism, so they've also trademarked piety.

The Ghost of Fats Waller

... at midnight plays the organ in your church.

Stanley Kubrick's 2001, A Space Odyssey sent legions of young stoners scrambling for records of music by Richard and Johann Strauss.

David Lynch's cult classic, Eraserhead, sent punk rockers and art students in the late 1970s and early 1980s trolling through used record stores for Fats Waller's organ music, which is still largely forgotten.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ma Latest

My mother is currently at a rehab unit attached to Baylor Hospital in Dallas. She used to work at Baylor for many years training new PTs. Some of her former students are still there and come by to visit her.
She is very frail, but mentally much sharper than I had anticipated. She is very strong willed, and deeply resents losing her independence. I understand that she was a handful when she was first admitted to Doctors' Hospital in Dallas. At Baylor, they still have to put a loose harness on her to keep her from falling out of bed, and to keep her from getting up, and falling. She very much resents this, but she cannot make it across the room without assistance. She puts in long days in OT and PT rehabilitation, and I would imagine that she does not make it easy for the staff, since she knows their jobs and is used to being in charge.
Her head injury still hurts, and she is on pain medication. She rests her head on an especially soft pillow since the injury is right on the back of her skull. She still wears a pronounced dent in her forehead from an operation to drain fluid.
The doctors now say that she did indeed have a small stroke, in fact, a continuing series of very small strokes that no one notices until the symptoms appear. She had a couple of them while I was there, the doctors say. Her speech is a little slurred, but so far, no paralysis. She was supposed to be released to a supervised care facility after New Year's, but the doctors have decided to keep her in the rehab unit for another week. After that, she will go into managed care, and then we will decide whether or not she can go home with a live-in nurse, or stay in a managed care facility. It will depend on what she wants and what Medicare will pay for.

My brother and his wife Diane are doing a splendid job of looking after her, visiting her daily and keeping track of her care. The staff at the rehab unit of Baylor have been wonderful to her and to us. The doctors have been elusive, and sometimes working at cross-purposes. It is a lot of work to keep them on the same page.

Michael and I have decided, with Brian and Diane's consent, to proceed with our vacation plans. This is the first vacation we've had together in 3 years. We will leave on January 2nd and be back January 13th. We will stay in touch with Dallas just in case. If necessary, I can make another trip to Dallas around the end of the month before classes start.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Away

Rapture Dallas

I'm traveling to Big D tomorrow, Saturday. I'll be back Tuesday. Happy Holidays everybody!

Christmas, When Every Child is the Christ Child

Uighur children, China

Child soldiers, Burma

Child laborers, India

Orphans, Congo

Street children, Russia

Street children, Brazil


When it comes to child poverty, the USA ranks dead last among the 24 wealthiest countries; 40% of children are low income, 20% live in poverty. The child population in the USA rose 3% while the child poverty rate rose 33% since 2000.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bellini's Last

Giovanni Bellini's last major surviving work is an altarpiece for a side altar in San Zaccaria in Venice. He completed it in 1505 when he would have been in his eighties. It is possible that Albrecht Durer saw this painting newly completed, or being finished, during his second trip to Italy. The current frame is not original. So far as I know, this is the only Bellini altarpiece where the perspective is not consistent with our eye-level looking at the altar.

The painting in its current setting in San Zaccaria, Venice

The painting in its current frame, a later extension of the painting to fit the current frame was removed in the early 1980s.

The Madonna and Child

Saints Peter and Catherine

Saints Lucy and Jerome

The angel playing an early violin.

Bellini's work at its best is about harmony. It is about agreement brought about not by imposing uniformity, but through reconciliation. People and things retain their individual integrity, but opposites become reconciled into complements. Two young women saints are each paired with an older male saint. Bright colors, even opposite colors, are reconciled into an over-all soft golden tonality. The Virgin's brilliant blue and red has its opposite counterpart in the angel's brilliant orange and green. Glimpses of the outdoors on either side, with a fig tree on the left and a small laurel on the right screening the sky, complement the indoor apse where the saints gather. The placement of the Madonna and Child where an altar would be located clearly alludes to the idea of Christ's real presence in the Sacrament, and His abiding presence with all the faithful. God, the Virgin Mary, the saints in their compassion for us, agree to meet us in our world of time and space. The altar becomes a kind of threshold where the two worlds meet. Bellini conceives his painting as a kind of door, or window, where the sacred company appear to us to hear our prayers. All the figures seem turned inward as they appear to listen to the angel's music. The angel plays, listening intently to the notes. Indeed, the relations of color, of proportion, and form in this painting are almost musical.

This painting implies a vision of larger harmonies, between humanity and nature, humanity and God, between the spiritual and the material, of a reconciliation among Christian believers. Bellini's vision of humane harmonious spiritual community existed only in his art. All of Europe was riven with religious conflict that would culminate in the Reformation soon after Bellini's death.

Ruskin once said of this painting that it is beyond all description and above all praise.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is Painting Dead?

No, not quite

My painting of Theseus fighting the Minotaur was a big hit at the faculty show recently. The kids loved it. Of course they would, a hero battling a monster is right up their alley. But on another level, their praise meant a lot to me. These are kids used to playing video games that can be more vividly real-looking than life itself. That a painted image could catch and hold their attention meant a lot to me. Which leads me to the conclusion that not only am I a pretty good painter, but that painting itself still has lots of life left in it.

People have been pronouncing painting to be dead ever since photography was invented around 1839. Critics eagerly wrote its death certificate and obituary many times over in the past 40 years, and yet, it persists. The critic Peter Schejldahl about 20 years ago said that painting has become an underground art form. Perhaps. It hasn't quite disappeared entirely from the big international contemporary art shows, the Biennials and Events. But, it is being crowded out by installations and related multi-media art forms.

Painting flourishes on the walls of buildings in the Bronx and in parts of Brooklyn, and some of it is quite good. Not all of it is vandalism. Store owners will commission spray-can artists to paint a wall to attract attention and business. Bereaved families will commission memorial walls, painted memorials on street corners, especially for deceased young people. It seems to me that these are continuations of very old social functions for painting.

Something else that really strikes me about so much contemporary art, at least the official stuff in the gallery, museum, academia circuit, is that it is so patronage dependent. Those big multi-media spectacles require a big down payment in order to happen. These artists spend as much time as movie producers hitting up corporations and foundations for money. Without those grants, these things just aren't going to happen. It seems to me that an anti-corporate message funded by corporate money is a compromised message. Of course, not all artists take an anti-establishment view. Many these days embrace the corporate consumer culture with enthusiasm (or resignation). Some are happy to cheer lead for international capitalism. In return, international capital embraces them for the prestige, glamor, and edge these artists can bring.

And yet, in a world so full of vivid and noisy distractions competing for our attention, painting quietly continues to flourish.

I predict that painting will be dead only when Marcel Duchamp's prophecy about using a Rembrandt for an ironing board comes true.

Christmas Bellini

It's Christmas and it's time to post a painting or two by the great Venetian Giovanni Bellini who lived a long and productive life and mentored a whole generation of artists from Titian to Durer.

Here is the triptych he painted for the sacristy of the Frari Church in Venice that still stands upon its original altar. These are new reproductions. Apparently the painting has been restored in the 20 years since I last saw it. It is so much brighter and clearer here than I remember it. The little strips of landscape in the side panels are much more vivid here than I remember. A magical painting.

Giovanni Bellini, The Frari Triptych, 1488 in the sacristy of the Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. Commissioned as a memorial for Franceschina Tron by her sons. She is buried under a slab in front of the altar with this painting.

The Madonna and Child from the Frari Triptych

Saint Nicholas and Saint Peter

Saint Mark and Saint Benedict

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How Big Is This Really?

It's pretty big.

I'm about as military as a chocolate truffle. I have no interest in weapons and very little interest in military ritual and protocols. Clausewitz said that war is an extension of politics. I think war is a failure of politics, and that there are only 2 kinds of wars, desperate necessity and gratuitous aggression.

The repeal of DADT will have big consequences for gays and lesbians beyond the military. Acceptance of gays and lesbians into the military will make the case against granting them legal equality much harder if not impossible. The depravity and pathology arguments will be dealt a huge, if not fatal, blow. If gays aren't too sick and twisted for the military, then they're not too sick and twisted for protection against housing and employment discrimination. Those of us who live in big city relatively gay-friendly enclaves forget that it's still legal to deny people housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation in most of the country. The case for gay marriage will be strengthened that much more by this.

This may well have an impact on religious arguments over the status of gays and lesbians. The depravity and pathology arguments will be harder and harder to make as gays and lesbians enlist and serve openly in the military. The religious defenders of homophobia will be forced back to ever more literal interpretations of the handful of Scriptural passages that condone it. This leads to the complication that if these passages are still binding, then what about other more exotic and quaint legal regulations in Leviticus and Deuteronomy?

Since this is a big transformation, expect a big backlash, especially from the new Republican Congress next year. I think the Republican leadership wants to get rid of the gay issue. It was a winner for them in the past, but now, it's become an albatross for them. Expect a lot of extreme rhetoric from the party's fringes and maybe a violent incident or two.

White middle class America has decided to accept its gay children (middle class minority America is more complicated and still evolving on this issue). I think both right and left want to move forward to other issues.

How Long Did Gay/ Lesbian Soldiers Really Have to Wait?

Some soldiers from the Second World War:

Pfc Robert Fleischer was awarded the Bronze Star for laying a mine under enemy fire at Wurzburg.

Cpl. Helen Harder, flight instructor specializing in training in instrument flying.

Sgt. Jaquelin Beyer, army intelligence, involved in developing photo processes to help break Japanese code.

Second Lt. Robert Ricks, 8th Air Force navigator whose plane was shot down near Potenza, Italy in 1943. This photograph was recovered from German documents captured at Dachau.

What do all of these soldiers have in common? They were all gay.

From Alan Berube's Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two

DADT Is No More

Don't Ask Don't Tell, the ban on gays serving openly in the military is no more. The Senate vote was 65 to 31.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Save Christmas! Take Christ Out of It!

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogMarch to Keep Fear Alive

The shepherds probably heard the angels singing The Internationale that night.

Hat tip to Grandmere.

I needed this little laugh.

I especially loved the line about Franklin's proverb (frequently mis-attributed to Jesus) being "belched out between mouthfuls of French whore." I'm howling with laughter and coughing at the same time. I've always HATED that proverb.

Our Enemies Are the Best

East Texas likes its politicians crazy and paranoid, but Louis Gohmert runs away with all the prizes:

From Heinrich Himmler to Anita Bryant to Fred Phelps to Bishop Akinola, we've always been so fortunate in our enemies. They almost always end up helping us and our cause more than helping themselves. How? Because they are almost always so crazy, vicious, and repulsive. And the ones who aren't so crazy and repulsive are stuck with the ones who are.

"I have only made but one prayer to God, a very short one, 'O God, make my enemies ridiculous,' and God granted it!" -- Voltaire

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

10 Good Reasons Not To Take The Bait

We Episcopalians are usually excruciatingly polite and mild mannered even when we are NOT being nice. Polite or not, it would be best for all if we decline to join the Archbishop of Canterbury's tea party known as the Covenant. Here are 10 good reasons why not from the Comprehensive Unity, No Anglican Covenant blog.

Ten Reasons Why the Proposed Anglican Covenant Is a Bad Idea

1. The proposed Anglican Covenant would transform a vibrant, cooperative, fellowship of churches into a contentious, centralized aggregation of churches designed to reduce diversity and initiative. The Covenant would institutionalize the “Instruments of Unity” as never before and would give extraordinary power to the newly enhanced Standing Committee.

2. Under the Covenant, churches will be inhibited from undertaking new evangelical or mission initiatives for fear of offending other Communion churches and becoming embroiled in the disciplinary mechanisms set up by the Covenant.

3. The centralization of authority envisioned by the proposed Covenant is cumbersome, costly, and undemocratic. In an era in which power and authority are being distributed in many organizations in order to achieve greater efficiency, responsiveness, and accountability, what has been proposed for the Communion seems out of step with current thinking regarding large organizations.

4. Although the proposed Covenant is offered as a mechanism to achieve unity, its immediate effect is to create divisions. Churches that cannot or will not adopt the Covenant automatically become second-class members of the Communion. The inevitable application of the disciplinary provisions of Section 4 will likely further distinguish between “full” members of the Communion and less-than-full members.

5. The proposed Covenant is dangerously vague. Sections 1–3 of the Covenant, which are seen by many as innocuous, leave much room for divergent interpretations. Section 4 makes it all too easy for any church to “ask questions” about the actions of another, which may then be subjected to unspecified “relational consequences.” There is no sure measure of what behaviour is likely to be acceptable, no checks provided against unreasonable complaints, and no guarantee that “consequences” (i.e., punishments) meted out will be commensurate with the alleged offence.

6. The proposed Covenant runs counter to the gospel imperative of not judging others. It is all too easy for Communion churches to complain about the sins of their sister churches while ignoring or diverting attention from their own failures to live out the Gospel.

7. The proposed Covenant encourages premature ending of debate. Rather than taking the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:38–39) and seeing how controversial matters play out, the Covenant evidences an eagerness to “settle” them. This is an unfortunate temptation to which the Communion seems subject. It has too quickly concluded that “homosexual practice” is “incompatible with Scripture” and that adopting the Covenant is “the only way forward,” neither of which is either intuitively obvious or universally agreed upon.

8. The notion that we need to make “forceful” the “bonds of affection” is fundamentally flawed. If we need force and coercion to maintain relationships between Communion churches, there is no true affection, and the very foundation of the proposed Covenant is fraudulent.

9. The proposed “Covenant” seems more like a treaty, contract, or instrument of surrender than a covenant. In the ecclesiastical context, a covenant is usually thought of as an agreement undertaken in joy and in an atmosphere of trust—baptismal and marriage covenants come to mind. The proposed Anglican Covenant, on the other hand, is advanced in an atmosphere of anger, fear, and distrust, and with the threat of dire consequences if it is not adopted.

10. The proposed Covenant is not the only way forward; there are better options. The Anglican Communion would be better served by remaining a single-tier fellowship of churches, allowing disaffected members to leave if they must, while keeping the door open for their return. Any alternative position cedes too much power to those willing to intimidate by threatening to walk away.

Cold Hearts and Coronets

Just in time for Xmas:

Don't like the way wealth is distributed? Then you can join congressional Democrats and grump about it, or you can get some wealth for yourself. says Roger Simon at Politico.

All the new conventional wisdom about "people should learn to live within their means" propounded from folks in DC who regularly hobnob with celebs, wait in "green rooms" for their teevee interviews, and pull in well over 250k per year just to be opinionated, reminds me of the antisemitic joke whose punch line is "force yourself!"

I'll bet Roger has more than adequate health insurance and has never ever seen the inside of a DC emergency room or clinic.  I don't imagine that he knows anyone who has either.

Ma Latest

Talked to Ma very very briefly over the phone today. She recognized me and asked how I was. I said, "fine and how are you!" She replied, "feeling strange," and then said something about the nurse coming in and hung up. I talked to my brother who said that now the doctors are not sure she even had a stroke. They now think the dizziness may have been caused by a drop in her blood pressure, which apparently is still low. They think the memory loss and disorientation may be more from the head injury. They don't know if she'll ever completely recover her short term memory and former mental function, but they do expect that she will recover about 90% of it. She is still in the hospital trying to build her strength back up for rehabilitation.
Very confusing.

I made it into work today. I gave a final exam and graded it in my nice warm office. I hope our apartment is nice a cozy again when I go home presently.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cold Hearted December

For all of my blog readers (all 5 of you), and those among you who do not follow my Facebook page, I apologize for my absence here.

It's been a rough month. As always in December, I'm very busy and ill at the same time. This year, I've been going through a royal succession of flu, colds, and respiratory infections that have left me miserable but functional at best, and completely bed-ridden at worst. On top of all that, on Saturday, the boiler in our building blew, and so it's 25F outside and there's no heat. I'm sitting in front of a space heater grading papers during the day, and shivering under blankets on the couch at night so that Michael at least can get some sleep without getting sick. We went through Sunday with no water as the old boiler was torn out. I canceled one of my classes this week because of illness, and I sent an email blast to students in another that I might not have their papers graded by exam time (it looks like I will after all).

And then there are so many people for whom things are so much harder.

I made a trip to the emergency room at Beth Israel in Manhattan last night that, fortunately, turned out to be unnecessary. Another respiratory infection that gives me a nasty rasping choking cough replaced my flu, and it was starting to set my asthma off, so Michael took me to the hospital. We arrived on a bitterly cold Monday night to a packed emergency waiting room with all kinds and all ages of unhappy people and little security or supervision. A small group of old drunks was openly drinking Jack Daniels and harassing everyone else in the room right in front of an unconcerned staff. After waiting about 3 hours, the nurse on duty put us in a cubicle next to an old woman who apparently had some kind of seizure. Her family was there with her, and she made life very difficult for them. She had Alzheimer's, and put up quite a fight every time anyone wanted to do anything for her. Her daughter was apparently quite used to this, and supervised the orderlies and nurses on how to handle her. "Bitch!" the old woman would yell, and her daughter calmly replied, "That's right, my name's bitch." It turns out that they had all been there together waiting since noon on Monday (It was after 9PM when we met them), and they just got word that the old woman would have to spend the night in the emergency room because, while the hospital did have a bed, there was not enough staff to look after her at that moment.
Across from us was another family with another ill mother, a large family who formed a kind of protective escort around the elderly mother. They were having all kinds of problems with security who were allowing only one friend or relative with a patient at a time into the emergency area. When a security guard insisted that one woman in the group leave, she refused. She said she would rather be arrested than return to a cold crowded waiting room to be harassed by a bunch of old drunks. The guard backed down and she stayed.

Michael and I have been in plenty of emergency rooms in our day, but this was probably the worst we've seen in terms of crowding and disorder, and this was Monday night, not Saturday night. Michael guessed, probably correctly, that this hospital, and most of the others on Manhattan, are this way now because Saint Vincent's in Greenwich Village closed. That was the only hospital on Manhattan south of 14th street, and on the West Side, and now all the other hospitals in the Borough must take up the slack. Officially, Saint Vincent's closed because of financial reasons. Unofficially, it sits on some extremely valuable Greenwich Village property, and the developers are already swarming in and squabbling like vultures over a fresh carcass.

Michael this morning angrily suggests that several Congress people and Senators should be forced to go to emergency rooms just like the rest of us with either cut-rate insurance or no insurance, and then tell us how awful socialized medicine in those godless gulags known as Canada, France, and Israel really is.
I think that they know all about it, and they just don't care. As Michael pointed out, in affluent Nassau County he watched 10 police squad cars pull up just to remove one old passed out drunk in a parking lot. Meanwhile in much of Brooklyn, if you're being robbed or assaulted, you're lucky if one cop car shows up within an hour. As long as they and theirs are cared for and protected, people genuinely don't care what happens to their neighbors. I got mine, and the hell with everyone else.

It's for this reason that now I despair of any real political solution to the economic and social impasse we find ourselves in these days.

A nation divided between winners and losers won't last long, especially if half or more of the population have no stake in their country and nothing to lose. They might conclude that it's better to kick over the table and start a new game, or to take their chances with the enemy.

So, to hell with the December darkness and the enforced Xmas good cheer! Let's join Gauguin and head to the tropics where it's bright and warm, even if it's really no better than any other place on earth.


What was once St. Vincent's Hospital will indeed be torn down and transformed into luxury housing. St. Vincent's which played historic roles in the AIDS crisis and in the September 11th attacks as well as providing vital services to the residents of Lower Manhattan has been discarded in the name of profit.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Devil ...

... is a fanatic; always an ideological fanatic and sometimes a religious fanatic.

Hat tip to Grandmere.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Free Money

... for rich people. Free money that all the rest of us will have to pay for through higher tax rates, increased fees and sales taxes, and reduced government services.

Thanks a lot.

Elizabeth Edwards

Grateful remembrance.

That we have any healthcare reform at all, we owe it all to her.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fuck Yeah!

Hat tip to Joe.My.God

The haters and their media enablers are predictably outraged by this.

Ma Latest

She will be moved to a kind of holding facility to prepare for transfer to rehab. She still needs to get her strength back. I'm told that her mental state is improving, though she still has occasional difficulty recognizing people and remembering where she is.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Not Very Hopey These Days

Could Sarah Palin become the next POTUS?

You betcha!

All it takes is low voter turn out plus a third party spoiler (Michael Bloomberg or Ralph Nader) and Mama Grizzly's movin' into the White House!

I'm not saying it will happen, but it could. And with the President (along with much of the Democratic Party leadership) suffering from Stockholm Syndrome (in Frank Rich's words this morning), a third party spoiler might not even be necessary.

I'm beginning to think that the fix is in no matter who wins what in 2012. The tax cut for the plutocrats is an economic disaster coming at us like a runaway freight train with no one to stop it or even slow it down. The deficit everyone so sanctimoniously wrings their hands about will balloon by $20 billion in 2 years, and $700 billion in less than 10. All that free money (which will be paid for by more borrowing and raising taxes on the rest of us through increased fees and sales taxes, and reduced government services) will just get socked away in overseas tax shelters and never see the light of day. For that kind of money, we could get much better economic results if we just gave everyone $25 thousand in cash for free.

I'm beginning to think that this is not about economics, but about control. I read an essay by some libertarian thinker at the Cato Institute who made the rather insightful comment that liberals want to work in the 1950s and conservatives want to live in the 1950s with the clear implication that both schools of opinion ignored fundamental technological and social transformations that made those desires impossible. Perhaps, but I can't help but notice that the beginning of the 21st century is rapidly starting to look more and more like the end of the 19th century. It seems at that time that everyone in the USA either worked for, or owed money to, about a dozen people. Elections were passionately partisan affairs that ultimately signified nothing. A frustrated electorate went back and forth between two parties on the take. There wasn't much real difference between Republican Benjamin Harrison and Democratic Grover Cleveland. Senators openly boasted about the size of the bribes they took from railroad, manufacturing, and banking interests. Foreign governments would send their diplomats to make courtesy calls on the President and Congress. But for real business with the United States, foreign governments sent diplomats to meet with JP Morgan. For all the Horatio Alger stories of rags to riches, the USA was a rigidly stratified society at that time with a caste system based on race, ethnicity, class, and access to education (determined by the other 3). The colleges and universities of that time were gate keepers who usually kept the gates closed to all but a well-connected establishment elite. Despite all the Horatio Alger talk of self determination and the Herbert Spencer rhetoric about "survival of the fittest," the very wealthy and their families with their influence and powerful connections largely enjoyed the protection of the state from misfortune, while everyone else was very much on their own. If floods or fires happened (as they always do), then there were always church charities and the Red Cross, so the conventional wisdom assumed. The very idea of any government relief from disaster was unimaginable. When the great 1900 hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, there was no Coast Guard to rescue anyone and no FEMA to help anyone rebuild, no publicly funded effort to prevent a the loss of a third of the city's population in one night. The system was one of socialism for the rich and rawest capitalism for everyone else.

I think those days are coming back. We are watching the last act in the greatest transfer of wealth in American history, from the rest of us to about 1% of the population. This process began in 1981, then accelerated with financial industry deregulation and "tax reform" by both political parties. And now it's all about to be fulfilled in one enormous shift of wealth to the top, and the tax burden to the bottom. With a greater share of the wealth comes a greater share of power. The next easy step would be toward a Prussian style shareholder democracy.

JP Morgan didn't like free-market competition any more than Lenin did. He believed that a paternalistic oligarchy run by a few monopolies and cartels would be best for the United States. He believed that this would bring stability and security at home, and make our relations with other nations more reliable and less risky. While not any utopian ideologue, he shared the ideologue's distaste for the messy unpredictability of history.

His dream may be at last coming to its fruition.

JP Morgan

Saturday, December 4, 2010

AIDS Disappeared

... down the old All-American memory hole along with a quarter million dead.

I'm reading David Wojnarowicz's Close to the Knives again after more than ten years. The passage describing Peter Hujar's death from the disease is more powerful than I remember. What a writer! and with only a limited education! Wojnarowicz never finished high school. His first hand account of the AIDS catastrophe will bring back a flood of memories for those who lived through it. It certainly did for me.

I'm amazed at how thoroughly the whole disaster has dropped off the radar. Everyone assumes that it is "over." It is "over" only in the sense that the threat of nuclear war is "over." Now, it seems to be in the process of being forgotten, perhaps deliberately. HIV infection rates among young gay men in New York are on their way back up as safe sex becomes so passe.

I cannot help but wonder how different the public and official response to the disease would have been if it swept through the affluent suburban white population. All men may be created equal according to Mr. Jefferson, and they may be officially equal in the eyes of the law, but they are certainly not equal in the eyes of government policy or their neighbors. AIDS first struck in this country in the midst of a still much despised minority, gay men.

Wojnarowicz reminds us of just how bad the response was for the first 10 years of the epidemic. There was the official policy of malign neglect by the Reagan and Bush I administrations (at the time, Haiti had a more enlightened and successful AIDS policy). There were all the stories of panic. William F. Buckley (who usually knew better) proposed tatooing HIV positive gay men. There was Proposition 64 out in California to quarantine all gay men in internment camps, cooked up by paranoid cult figure Lyndon LaRouche and enthusiastically endorsed by Congressman William E. Dannemeyer. The Catholic Archdiocese under Cardinal O'Connor successfully blocked efforts by New York City's public health department to promote safe sex practices. There was the constant distinction in political rhetoric and in the commercial media between "innocent" AIDS victims and "others" (i.e. gay men). The most famous of all of those "innocent" victims, Ryan White insisted, to his credit, that all AIDS victims were innocent.

I can remember when those diagnosed with AIDS were immediately cut off by the insurance industry. Many who had been successful affluent professionals died in poverty, as well as in agony, because of these policies. I remember that my mother had a terrible time for awhile finding health insurance because she was in a profession with so many gay men, physical therapy. Her employer's health insurance company cut everybody off, and it was a long time before they found another provider. I remember when legions of newly uninsured gay men found themselves admitted to Saint Louis City County hospital where they were treated very badly by a hostile staff. They found themselves prey to religious fanatics and petty criminals encouraged by the hospital staff. There was only a handful of doctors in Saint Louis prepared when the epidemic hit the area, and a smaller number willing to play the system to keep their patients out of City County and to get them cared for. To their credit, Saint Mary's Hospital in Saint Louis had a resident immunologist who prepared his staff for the disease, and was ready when the epidemic struck. Barnes Hospital had good care provided you had a doctor willing to work the system to get you in (Barnes was notorious for turning away the uninsured in those days).
Then there were all the landlords in Saint Louis evicting AIDS sufferers and the HIV positive. I remember Father Charles Bewick, an Anglican priest from London recently fired from the Anglican Institute in Saint Louis (and recently hired by my parish as an assistant priest) founded Open Doors, the first advocacy group for housing AIDS sufferers in Saint Louis, and perhaps one of the first such groups in the country. He faced torrents of abuse from landlords and property owners, and he suffered from the disease himself, but, he never backed down, and succeeded in keeping at least a few from living in the streets.

I consider myself to be very lucky. I continue to test negative for the disease. I certainly lost a lot of friends, but I never lost partners or family to the disease.

The response of the gay community at first was not quite the heroic one we've come to believe. The first response was denial. There were accusations that the disease was everything from a media hoax to a genocidal government conspiracy. Those now legendary support and treatment groups were the creations of desperate necessity. It soon became clear that there was no help coming from a hostile public or hostile government who would have been only too pleased to see the disease rid them of a nuisance population. AIDS sufferers were sitting ducks for all kinds of quacks and frauds. Wojnarowicz writes about his dying partner, Peter Hujar, requesting to be driven out to a "doctor" out on Long Island who treated dying AIDS patients with injections of typhoid. Wojnarowicz's account of the trip out to that "doctor" is harrowing.
Desperation drove the aggression of ACT-UP in its early days (Wojnarowicz was a member and participated in some of their confrontations). The famous/ notorious ACT-UP strike on Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York that disrupted a Mass was seen at the time as self-defeating over-reach by the group. In retrospect, it may actually have been a breakthrough. It sent a clear message to a lot of people beyond the cathedral walls that those in positions of power and responsibility would not be safe from ACT-UP or other activists. If activists are willing to hit the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, disrupting Mass in the cathedral, then why should Pfizer or Glaxo or Blue Cross or the Centers for Disease Control, or the federal government assume that they would be safe from them? These extreme acts (the most extreme was probably throwing cremated remains on the White House lawn) eventually kicked the ogre in the shins with sufficient force to get his attention and to make him rethink his policies. A lot of people fought hard (and died hard) to win those government programs and insurance reforms for the treatment of AIDS patients. Even the medication "cocktail" had to be fought for. It was the creation of only a handful of researchers, and then there was a long hard fight to make it affordable and available to anyone beyond the most affluent.

So, now we assume that AIDS is "over." Far from it. The disease is only on stand-by. The creators of the cocktail are quite clear that they have not invented a cure. They've only delayed an inevitable death sentence. People still die from the disease. It is no longer the immediate death sentence that it once was. We now talk of living with the disease, but most who have it will eventually die from it. That happened to my good friend John Boone over the summer. He had the disease for years and was on extensive medication that kept him reasonably healthy.

Just because we're tired of hearing about the wolf doesn't mean he's not still at the door trying to get in and kill us all.

Now it appears that the face of AIDS has changed its color. It is no longer exclusively a disease of gay men. White gay men were the public face of the disease for a long time (never mind that it affected minority gay men disproportionately). Around the world, the disease overwhelming affects heterosexuals and is passed through heterosexual sex (especially in Africa and increasingly in southern Asia and eastern Europe). Another very despised group disproportionately affected is intravenous drug users. AIDS forces societies into very existential ethical questions: what to do with undesirable and superfluous populations. People of decency and good will are rightfully horrified that this is even a question.

"Normal men do not know that everything is possible," said David Rousset, a journalist and survivor of Buchenwald.

David Wojnarowicz's photograph of Peter Hujar
taken shortly after his death in 1987.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

David Wojnarowicz Lives

... and he's still kicking against the pricks from beyond the grave, even after he's been dead for 18 years. And now, another group of shrill religious pricks is shrieking over his work.

The Smithsonian, under pressure from a Catholic conservative group and House Republicans, removed a short video by Wojnarowicz from an AIDS related exhibition.

I don't know if this is testimony to the enduring provocative power of his art, or to the very delicate sensibilities of the same old religious hypocrites who've been around since the days of Caiphas and the Sanhedrin. As far as I'm concerned, these boy-raping, poor-robbing, capitalists-on-their-knees whited sepulchers richly deserve it.

Here's a still photo Wojnarowicz made from the offending video.

Bravo Dave! Don't let being dead stop you from kickin' em right where they live.