Category Archives: Signs of the Times

Memo To Jesus: A Friend needs to find a church. Do you Deliver?

To: Jesus, or his Rep out West

From: Chuck Fager

Re: Need  some Leads

Brown Jesus
Hey, I’m listening . . .

Look, JC, I know you’re busy, but this: I heard from a nice young family in one of the big cities out there, one of those  in the middle of the desert.

It’s a familiar story: she’s creamy, he’s dark chocolate, they have un bébé très joli et très café au lait! Plus more of the usual: they’re short on money, work, and a community.

So they’re kind of struggling, but they say they had a good break a week or so ago: they went to church.

Now in theory, I’m all for that: a welcoming & supportive community would be just the thing.

Except they said it was a mega-church, where the management brought on a comedian to warm up the crowd or something.

A comedian? But wait, I thought. With all their issues, don’t these kids at least know how to laugh?

Un bébé très joli et très café au lait!

Maybe I’m kind of old school, I guess, but . . . you know: “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” not “come unto my shtick.” [I like that Bible quote, as long as it’s from a version where “suffer” means “welcome,”  and not the one I remember from church in my own, kidhood: “Make those kids suffer, like you did . . . .”

Anyway, maybe this is just more old school.

And I can’t help but riff on this, JC, so bear with me:

I think folks who go to church do so because, besides community & support — because they’re also looking for some  kind of encounter with —and this is one of those points where good words are hard to find, but let’s try — they want an encounter with something sacred; something transcendent; something —  okay I’ll say it plain, holy. Continue reading Memo To Jesus: A Friend needs to find a church. Do you Deliver?

Memorial Day for Those Who Said No

In the May 30, 2021 New York Times, there’s an Op-Ed on military conscientious objectors, or COs.  I’m gratified to see it on the brink of Memorial Day. It shows no disrespect for those who agreed to fight in war and died to recognize that a persistent minority has declined to take the sword.

The piece mentions two military COs, but mostly concentrates on the recent case of Michael  Rasmussen. He was training to be a Marine combat pilot, but found his conscience turned against taking part in war. The Times:

One morning as he prepared for a supply flight to Hawaii, Mr. Rasmussen kept returning to the story he’d read in bed the night before in “Path of Compassion,” by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which the Buddha was out begging when he was nearly mugged by a notorious criminal. Instead of robbing the Buddha, the mugger confessed to a life of murder and mayhem and asked him for advice: “What good act could I possibly do?”

“Stop traveling the road of hatred and violence,” the Buddha said. “That would be the greatest act of all.”

Mr. Rasmussen got in his car to drive to the hangar, overwhelmed with what he called an “immense feeling of dread.” The story haunted him: “Am I on the road of hatred and violence?” he wondered. He decided then and there to leave the Marines.

Continue reading Memorial Day for Those Who Said No

Penn State Ex-Pres Headed to Jail: Was PSU’s Secrecy Also a Perp There?

From “Happy Valley” to Supermax?

Graham Spanier, ex-president of Penn State University.

Graham Spanier is going to jail.

Spanier was the longtime president of Penn State University (PSU), who was toppled in the notorious Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal in 2011 and 2012.

Sandusky was a veteran PSU assistant football coach, and in 2012 he was convicted of 45 counts of sexually abusing young boys, whom he lured into the campus under the cover of a youth charity he had started. Sandusky is now doing life in a supermax prison. Continue reading Penn State Ex-Pres Headed to Jail: Was PSU’s Secrecy Also a Perp There?

A Banished Quaker Prophet: Josh Humphries (Updated)

Friend (or rather, ex-Friend) Joshua Ashlyn Humphries, a banished Quaker and Anabaptist prophet/theologian, is dead, at 39.

Josh Humphries, in a happy moment. He deserved more of them.

Dead, and it’s a damn shame.

A  shame for Quakers, Mennonites, and some others. I feel shamed too. But he was not an ex-Friend to me.

The official obituary does not say how or where he passed; presumably in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he had lived for more than ten years. It settled for the piously evasive: he “went to be with the Lord on Thursday, April 29, 2021.”

Yeah, sure; but what ticket did he ride?

The silence here leaves many questions: Josh had serious medical conditions (of which more anon); but just a couple of days earlier, in his last Facebook posts, he was both worn out — and intellectually busy: Continue reading A Banished Quaker Prophet: Josh Humphries (Updated)

A Tale of Two Conservatives: Liz & Longwell

Maureen Dowd, New York Times columnist

Are we ready for the canonization of St. Liz, of Cheney, Martyr?

Lifetime Catholic MoDo isn’t buying it: columnist Maureen Dowd bats away the shiny new blond miraculous medal. She won’t kneel, or even lean, to light the votive candle.

Her trouble is, mea culpa, Dowd remembers. And talks.

How uncouth, and inconvenient:

Maureen Dowd, New York Times, WASHINGTON — May 9, 2021

Dowd: I miss torturing Liz Cheney. . . .

How naïve I was to think that Republicans would be eager to change the channel after Trump cost them the Senate and the White House and unleashed a mob on them.

I thought the Donald would evaporate in a poof of orange smoke, ending a supremely screwed-up period of history. But the loudest mouth is not shutting up. And Republicans continue to listen, clinging to the idea that the dinosaur is the future. “We can’t grow without him,” Lindsey Graham said.

Denied Twitter, Trump is focusing on his other favorite blood sport: hunting down dynasties. “Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee,” David Siders wrote in Politico.

Yet an unbowed Liz Cheney didn’t mince words when, in a Washington Post op-ed a few days ago, she implored the stooges in her caucus to “steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

That trademark Cheney bluntness made Liz the toast of MSNBC and CNN, where chatterers praised her as an avatar of the venerable “fact-based” Republican Party decimated by Trump.”

So far, so good, or at least so au courant. And then comes the legendary Dowd dagger:

“But if Liz Cheney wants to be in the business of speaking truth to power, she’s going to have to dig a little deeper.

Let’s acknowledge who created the template for Trump’s Big Lie.

It was her father, Dick Cheney, whose Big Lie about the Iraq war led to the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. Liz, who was the captain of her high school cheerleading team and titled her college thesis “The Evolution of Presidential War Powers,” cheered on her dad as he spread fear, propaganda and warped intelligence.

From her patronage perch in the State Department during the Bush-Cheney years, she bolstered her father’s trumped-up case for an invasion of Iraq. Even after no W.M.D.s were found, she continued to believe the invasion was the right thing to do.

“She almost thrives in an atmosphere where the overall philosophy is discredited and she is a lonely voice,” a State Department official who worked with Liz told Joe Hagan for a 2010 New York magazine profile of the younger Cheney on her way up.

She was a staunch defender of the torture program. “Well, it wasn’t torture, Norah, so that’s not the right way to lay out the argument,” she instructed Norah O’Donnell in 2009, looking on the bright side of waterboarding.

She backed the futile, 20-year occupation of the feudal Afghanistan. (Even Bob Gates thinks we should have left in 2002.) Last month, when President Biden announced plans to pull out, Liz Cheney — who wrote a book with her father that accused Barack Obama of abandoning Iraq and making America weaker — slapped back: “We know that this kind of pullback is reckless. It’s dangerous.”

Dowd remembers more:

For many years, [Cheney] had no trouble swimming in Fox News bile. Given the chance to denounce the Obama birther conspiracy, she demurred, interpreting it live on air as people being “uncomfortable with having for the first time ever, I think, a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas.”

Thanks to that kind of reasoning, we ended up with a president who fomented an attack on the nation at home.

In her Post piece, Cheney wrote that her party is at a “turning point” and that Republicans “must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”

Sage prose from someone who was a lieutenant to her father when he assaulted checks and balances, shredding America’s Constitution even as he imposed one on Iraq.

Because of 9/11, Dick Cheney thought he could suspend the Constitution, attack nations preemptively and trample civil liberties in the name of the war on terror. (And for his own political survival.)

Keeping Americans afraid was a small price to pay for engorging executive power, which the former Nixon and Ford aide thought had been watered down too much after Watergate.

By his second term, W. had come around to his parents’ opinion that Cheney had overreached, and the vice president became increasingly isolated.

Liberals responded to Trump’s derangements by bathing the Bush-Cheney crowd in a flattering nostalgic light.

So, shockingly, the Republicans who eroded America’s moral authority — selling us the Iraq war, torture, a prolonged Afghanistan occupation and Sarah Palin — became the new guardians of America’s moral authority. Complete with bloated TV and book contracts.

Trump built a movement based on lies. The Cheneys showed him how it’s done.

Thanks, MoDo.  Like the nun’s rap on my knuckles with her thick wooden ruler, back in parochial school an eon ago, (or more like a whack upside the head), I can see I needed that. I won’t buy the miraculous medal either.

But I admit I might be tempted to light her a candle one of these days.

The beatified one and her Dear Old War Criminal Dad.

At the same time,  I’ve lately been reading about  & listening to some of St. Liz’s ex- Republican admirers.  I’m thinking of the agonized public conversation going on among some of the most cogent anti-Trumpers, now recovering and at least somewhat repentant ex-Republicans. I’m thinking particularly those associated with The Lincoln Project & The Bulwark. Continue reading A Tale of Two Conservatives: Liz & Longwell

Garrison Keillor Goes Contemporary

My buddy Garrison — well, I did meet him once, and he even told me a couple of his secrets, which I blabbed here in 2016.

And we’re the same age; we always are, except for the sad months of September until early December. He gets older first.

And now he’s charging into the post-pandemic, and I’m glad to see it, and will let him tell much of his new story right here, as a guest post. Not least, because he starts out with a truth that applies to us both:

GK: I don’t need another career, but once a writer, always a writer–

Continue reading Garrison Keillor Goes Contemporary

There Goes the neighborhood: Cussing no longer a crime on the Alamance County courthouse steps

It’s true.

Anyone, even you or I, can now cuss on the grounds of the historic old Alamance County Courthouse, in downtown Graham NC. You could even do it right on the courthouse steps.

Right there. In front of God & everybody — everybody including Sheriff Terry Johnson.

Yes, even him. The Raleigh News & Observer  (or ”N&O” in local parlance) broke this big  story on Monday Continue reading There Goes the neighborhood: Cussing no longer a crime on the Alamance County courthouse steps

When Jeff Bezos Personally Apologized. No, Really.

The first time I heard the Jeff Bezos Apology story, it was from my big brother just the other day, and I immediately thought: No way.

There is just no way Jeff Bezos publicly apologized. And he simply could not possibly be dumb enough to do what he had allegedly apologized for.

A scene from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

Not that he’s some paragon or guru or the Dalai Lama of Prime. Most of the bad things people say about his Amazon empire are true, and I kept rooting for the union drive at his Alabama warehouse right til the organizers drove off the cliff.

But this other story, new to me, was so ridiculous that it had to be one of those floating internet legends. Had to be.

I mean, sure, sometimes Amazon gets caught with its corporate pants down; or at least unzipped. Take its initial dismissal earlier this month of the charge that many Amazon delivery drivers are so driven that some have to pee in bottles to stay on their inhuman schedules.

The company first tweeted a disdainful denial of the reports, which were echoed by a Democratic Congressman from Wisconsin, Mark Pocan. Continue reading When Jeff Bezos Personally Apologized. No, Really.

“Nation Building” on the Moon? Smarter than the U.S. in Afghanistan?

Tom Friedman, longtime NYTimes columnist, treats us to some snippets of diary entries from his first trip to Afghanistan, in early 2002, with then Senator Joe Biden. Friedman opens the piece in the posture of sadder-but-wiser sage:

“I was not surprised that Joe Biden decided to finally pull the plug on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Back in 2002 it was reasonable to hope that our invasion there to topple Osama bin Laden and his Taliban allies could be extended to help make that country a more stable, tolerant and decent place for its citizens — and less likely to host jihadist groups.”

Was that really a “reasonable idea? In what is justly called the “graveyard of empires”, or more properly the graveyards of too many loyal troops sacrificed on the altars of hubris erected by heedless, foolish imperial “statesmen”?

Friedman insists he had doubts even then: Continue reading “Nation Building” on the Moon? Smarter than the U.S. in Afghanistan?

Patrick O’Neill – A Letter from the Hole

Patrick O’Neill, i happier times.

My friend Patrick O’Neill is serving a year in a federal prison, for attacking a replica of a nuclear missile at a south Georgia navy base in April of 2018. (A post with more about that protest is here.) It’s part of his peace witness as a member of the Catholic Worker movement.

Most of us don’t think about the missiles a lot. But there are enough just at that one Georgia base to kill pretty much everyone in the world, on fifteen minutes’ notice.

Yeah, the risk of nuclear Armageddon  did not disappear with the fall of Soviet communism.

Patrick and several others did think about the missiles, tho, and it led to Patrick reporting to the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio just about when Joe Biden was being inaugurated.

Doing time is tough. And nobody can do it for him. Patrick has a good deal of jail experience; and one lesson is that it doesn’t get much easier. There are a few ways to be supportive from outside. Mine is to send Patrick reading matter. Reading can dull some moments in the overwhelming tedium of confinement. So I have sent him a few of my books. (Hey — a captive audience; the best kind.)

Patrick’s solitary note.

It can help a little. Patrick said so, in a note that arrived this week:

‘Let all you do be done in love’— St. Paul

Good Friday [04/02/2021] Day 18 in the SHU (solitary)

Hi Chuck— My Lenten Journey will take me past Easter — I’ve done a lot of time (20+ jails, 6 prisons), but this has been the worst. Before the SHU [NOTE: SHU = Special Housing Unit] I spent 4 days in a hospital with 2 armed guards with me at all times who kept me in leg irons, and my left hand attached by chains to the bed, one chain attaching my leg irons to the bed . . . .
I had to pee in a plastic bottle while chained.

When I asked one guard to use the bathroom he said, “Do you have to do Number Two?” He would not have unchained me otherwise. And the leg irons never came off except for 15 minutes when I took a stress test on a treadmill. And now I’m in the hole for Covid quarantine.

[Note: It’s no surprise that Patrick came down with Covid. Since March 2020, The New York Times has tracked every known coronavirus case in every correctional setting in the United States. . . .

A year later, reporters found that one in three inmates in state prisons are known to have had the virus. In federal facilities, at least 39 percent of prisoners are known to have been infected. The true count is most likely higher because of a dearth of testing, but the findings align with reports from The Marshall Project, The Associated Press, U.C.L.A. Law and The Covid Prison Project that track Covid-19 in prisons.

The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 people have died in custody, where access to quality health care is poor.

The deaths, and many of the more than 525,000 reported infections so far among the incarcerated, could have been prevented, public health and criminal justice experts say.] Back to Patrick:

I was reading your book and really enjoying it (Eating Dr. King’s Dinner) before I got sick. I hope the book is still there when I get back to my unit. We’ll see. . . . Continue reading Patrick O’Neill – A Letter from the Hole