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The Big News That’s No News: U. S. Church Membership Falls Below 50%

How do we find “truth” about what’s going on in our confused & confusing society?

One source many often turn to for answers is public polls. If a big time pollster says something is happening, many of us still choose to believe it must be so.

A prime example of this phenomenon is the decline in U. S. Church attendance & membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Gallup is just out with a report saying it’s happening, on a major scale. So if there’s a poll behind such an assertion, it must be true:

Gallup: “Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend.

In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.

U.S. church membership was 73% in 1937 when Gallup first measured it. It stayed near 70% through 2000 before beginning to decline, to 61% in 2010 and 47% in 2020.. . .”

Continue reading The Big News That’s No News: U. S. Church Membership Falls Below 50%

The Nice Guy and the Madman Prophet

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist

Nick Kristof is the New York Times’s  Certified Good-Guy columnist. While he’s an intrepid reporter, who has earned two Pulitzers, he’s best known for an uncanny ability to make even an unfolding tragedy like the one he recounts here feel like an upbeat family story.

Almost effortlessly he turns it into what could be the trailer for a newly-discovered Dick Van Dyke/Mary Tyler Moore movie, complete with cameos by Fred MacMurray and Mister Rogers, and a sunny happy togetherness ending. Guaranteed.

It’s only nattering nabobs of negativism, like me, who could think otherwise.

But I did. I read Kristof’s column, and my first thought was, “Oh, heck no: Papa Joyner wouldn’t shoot his own kids when his uprising starts. Of  course not. “ Continue reading The Nice Guy and the Madman Prophet

Excerpt of the Day: “Emergency Everywhere”

From the New York Review of Books, March 25 2021:

Regina Marler: Fire season in California ended in mid-December, but I can’t bring myself to unpack the boxes near the front door.

I threw them together overnight—family photos, backup drives, mementos, passports—in late September, when three wildfires merged, creating the Glass Fire, and burned west into rural Sonoma County, where I live. The Walbridge Fire, which came closer, had been contained only ten days earlier.

Regina Marler

For weeks I kept the gas tank full and wore a respirator mask on my trips out for groceries and bottled water. (The electricity had been cut, and without it the well doesn’t work.) Mostly I stayed in with the windows shut, watching birds materialize through the smoke to land on the feeder. Blackened, blistered bay leaves spattered the driveway.

At night, I woke hourly to scan the surrounding woods for an orange glow. What if no warning came? Like almost everyone in the Bay Area, I have friends who’ve fled fires at night, driven through flames. I ran my risk assessment daily. You could say the fire had already gotten me.

Climate fiction is a genre of necessity—a new, rapidly expanding chorus of alarm. It’s beginning to seem strange not to mention climate change in realistic fiction, and not only because it’s an existential threat.

As Bill McKibben wrote in these pages, “we are entering a period when physical forces, and our reaction to them, will drive the drama on planet Earth.”

The term “climate fiction” itself came into use around the turn of this century. (Its catchy abbreviation, “cli-fi,” was coined by a blogger and environmentalist, Dan Bloom, in 2007.)

While environmental disasters have been a staple of dystopian science fiction since the late nineteenth century, writers before the mid-1960s rarely envisioned anthropogenic climate change. Terrible things just happened, like the hurricane that sweeps humanity off the planet in J.G. Ballard’s first novel, The Wind from Nowhere (1961).

But more recent climate fiction tends to assign blame. The reproductive toxins that render most women infertile in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), for example, derive from leaking nuclear plants and discarded chemical weapon stockpiles—very much humanity’s doing. Almost all climate fiction is political now. It wants to kick the reader’s chair. . . .

In The Inland Sea, an artful debut novel by , the effects of climate change have become inescapable and relentless. The book opens during the record-setting Australian heat wave of 2013—until 2019, Australia’s hottest year on record:

Ambulance crews raced towards Circular Quay and Parramatta to tend to the elderly, the pregnant, and the very young. In the western suburbs dogs and babies were discovered comatose after five minutes left inside locked cars…. At Taronga Zoo, the lions were given milk-flavored ice blocks. Carrot-flavored ice was fed to the zebras.

Dozens of fires break out along the south coast, and flash floods follow the fires: “The ocean bled into the land. Salt water seeped into the crops. Rivers not rivers. Homes not homes.”

The narrator, who is unnamed, is adrift after dropping out of a one-year postgraduate honors program. She moves to a semi-seedy part of Sydney and takes a full-time job at an emergency call center, a temporary stopgap, she thinks. She knows the work might be stressful, but

the script we were taught on our first day was meant to shield us from distress. If all went as planned, the person calling didn’t tell us about the fire raging down their cliff or the body they’d discovered at the bottom of a gully. We waited to hear the caller engage with the paramedic or the firefighter and then quietly hung up before hearing the details. We were not meant to hear the problem. We were not meant to hear the woman howl for the baby turning blue in her arms.

[But] at work, she finds that others’ emergencies are “leaking through the borders” of her own life.

Madeleine Watts

Riveted by the calls that come into Triple Zero—Australia’s emergency call number—she jots down details in a notebook. When more than 135 fires are burning across New South Wales, a woman calls to let the fire service know that she has “chosen to go instead of stay. I lived through the fires of ’94, she told me. It’s like a war zone. Smoke everywhere. I’m not going through that again.”

The narrator thinks, but does not say, that she also remembers driving through those fires with her mother, “remember[s] the smoke and the heat and the roads blocked off and no way home.” She connects the caller to the fire brigade and writes “like a war zone” in her notebook. . . .

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Poet, playwright, publisher, andactivist Lawrence Ferlinghetti died of interstitial lung disease on February 22, 2021.

(This post compiled from various online sources.)

He was born Lawrence Monsanto Ferling on March 24, 1919 in Yonkers, New York. His father, an Italian immigrant, had shortened the family name upon arrival in America.

When Ferlinghetti discovered the lengthier name as an adult, he took it as his own. He had a tumultuous youth, parts of which were spent in France, an orphanage in Chappaqua, New York, and in the mansion of the wealthy Bisland family in Bronxville, New York. He attended Riverdale Country Day School, Mount Hermon, a preparatory academy in Massachusetts, and the University of North Carolina, where he majored in journalism.

Upon graduating, he joined the US Navy. After his discharge, Ferlinghetti took advantage of the G.I. Bill to continue his education. He earned his MA from Columbia University in 1948, and completed his PhD at the University of Paris in 1951.

He then moved to San Francisco, California, where played a key role in sparking the San Francisco literary renaissance of the 1950s and was essential to the establishment of the subsequent Beat movement. In 1998, he was named the first poet laureate of San Francisco.

Ferlinghetti’s most famous collection, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), has sold well over one million copies in America and abroad. He was the author of over 30 other collections of poetry . . . . Ferlinghetti’s numerous awards and honors included the National Book Critics Circle’s Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the Robert Frost Memorial Medal, and the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award, among others. He was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2003, and in 2007, he was named commandeur of the French Order of Arts and Letters.

Throughout his career, Ferlinghetti consistently challenged the status quo, asserting that art should be accessible to all people, not just a handful of highly educated intellectuals.

His poetry engages readers, defies popular political movements, and reflects the influence of American idiom and modern jazz. In Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet-at-Large, Larry Smith noted that the author “writes truly memorable poetry, poems that lodge themselves in the consciousness of the reader and generate awareness and change. And his writing sings, with the sad and comic music of the streets.”

Smith observed that, from his earliest poems onward, Ferlinghetti writes as “the contemporary man of the streets speaking out the truths of common experience, often to the reflective beat of the jazz musician.” Such sentiments found an appreciative audience among young people of the mid-20th century who were agonizing over the arms race and Cold War politics. New Pages contributor John Gill asserted that reading a work by Ferlinghetti “will make you feel good about poetry and about the world—no matter how mucked-up the world may be.”

In 1953, two years after his arrival in San Francisco, Ferlinghetti partnered with Peter D. Martin to publish a magazine, City Lights. In order to subsidize the publication, Martin and Ferlinghetti opened the City Lights Pocket Book Shop in a neighborhood on the edge of Chinatown. It became a popular gathering place for San Francisco’s avant-garde writers, poets, and painters.

The bookstore’s publishing arm, the City Lights Pocket Poets series, offered a forum for Beat writers like Allen GinsbergKenneth Patchen and Gregory Corso. Ferlinghetti’s slim volume Pictures of the Gone World (1955) was the first publication in the series.

By 1955, Ferlinghetti counted among his friends poets such as Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, and Philip Whalen, as well as the novelist Jack Kerouac.

Ferlinghetti was in the audience at the watershed 1955 poetry reading “Six Poets at the Six Gallery,” at which Ginsberg unveiled his poem “Howl.” Ferlinghetti immediately recognized it as a classic, and in 1956, he published the first edition of Howl and Other Poems in the Pocket Poets series.

The collection sold out quickly, and the second shipment of the book—seized by US customs, then released—occasioned the infamous Howl trial. The San Francisco Police Department arrested Ferlinghetti on charges of printing and selling lewd and indecent material.

Ferlinghetti engaged the American Civil Liberties Union for his defense and welcomed his court case as a test of freedom of speech. He won the suit on October 3, 1957. The publicity generated by the case energized the San Francisco renaissance and Beat cause, and was vital in establishing definite principles to the various movements’ often disparate aims.

Ferlinghetti aimed to redeem poetry from the ivory towers of academia and offer it as a shared experience with ordinary people.. . .

One reviewer suggested that . . .  Ferlinghetti “enlarged his stance and developed major themes of anarchy, mass corruption, engagement, and a belief in the surreality and wonder of life. …was a revolutionary art of dissent and contemporary application which jointly drew a lyric poetry into new realms of social—and self-expression. It sparkles, sings, goes flat, and generates anger or love out of that flatness as it follows a basic motive of getting down to reality and making of it what we can.”

Two other collections of Ferlinghetti’s poetry provide insight into the development of the writer’s overarching style and thematic approach: Endless Life: Selected Poems (1981) and These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems, 1955-1993. The poems in Endless Life reflect the influences of E.E. Cummings, Kenneth Rexroth, and Kenneth Patchen, and are concerned with contemporary themes, such as the antiwar and antinuclear movements. In Western American Literature, John Trimbur noted that Ferlinghetti writes a “public poetry to challenge the guardians of the political and social status quo for the souls of his fellow citizens.”

. . .Ashley Brown, who, in World Literature Today, called Ferlinghetti “the foremost chronicler of our times,” commented, “Ferlinghetti writes in a very accessible idiom; he draws on pop culture and sports as much as the modern poets whom he celebrates.”

Ferlinghetti also published acclaimed fiction. His last novel was Little Boy (2019), which Ron Charles described as “a volcanic explosion of personal memories, political rants, social commentary, environmental jeremiads and cultural analysis” in the Washington Post. Ferlinghetti’s widely celebrated novel Love in the Days of Rage (1988) takes place in Paris in 1968, during the student revolution; it chronicles a love affair between an expatriate American painter and a Portuguese banker and anarchist. . . .

Ferlinghetti’s often short, surrealistic plays have been performed in theaters in San Francisco, and he exhibited paintings and drawings in numerous galleries.

He died in early 2021, at the age of 101. He lived in San Francisco, where a street is named in his honor.

A poem & an excerpt . . .

Sometime During Eternity . . .

Sometime during eternity
                                                       some guys show up
and one of them
                      who shows up real late
                                                       is a kind of carpenter
      from some square-type place
                                              like Galilee
          and he starts wailing
                                          and claiming he is hip
            to who made heaven
                                       and earth
                                                      and that the cat
                   who really laid it on us
                                                 is his Dad
          And moreover
             he adds
                         It’s all writ down
                                              on some scroll-type parchments
          which some henchmen
                  leave lying around the Dead Sea somewheres
                a long time ago
                                       and which you won’t even find
         for a coupla thousand years or so
                                                 or at least for
      nineteen hundred and fortyseven
                                                      of them
                            to be exact
                                             and even then
         nobody really believes them
                                                   or me
                                                            for that matter
          You’re hot
                         they tell him
          And they cool him
          They stretch him on the Tree to cool
                         And everybody after that
                                                               is always making models
                                          of this Tree
                                                          with Him hung up
          and always crooning His name
                                     and calling Him to come down
                                 and sit in
                                                 on their combo
                           as if he is the king cat
                                                            who’s got to blow
                      or they can’t quite make it
                      Only he don’t come down
                                                         from His Tree
          Him just hang there
                                       on His Tree
          looking real Petered out
                                          and real cool
                                                             and also
                   according to a roundup
                                                    of late world news
             from the usual unreliable sources

                                                               real dead


An excerpt from his poem

Autobiography

I am leading a quiet life
in Mike’s Place every day
watching the champs
of the Dante Billiard Parlor
and the French pinball addicts.
I am leading a quiet life
on lower East Broadway.
I am an American.
I was an American boy.
I read the American Boy Magazine
and became a boy scout
in the suburbs.
I thought I was Tom Sawyer
catching crayfish in the Bronx River
and imagining the Mississippi.
I had a baseball mit
and an American Flyer bike.
I delivered the Woman’s Home Companion
at five in the afternoon
or the Herald Trib
at five in the morning.
I still can hear the paper thump
on lost porches.
I had an unhappy childhood.
I saw Lindbergh land.
I looked homeward
and saw no angel.
I got caught stealing pencils
from the Five and Ten Cent Store
the same month I made Eagle Scout.
I chopped trees for the CCC
and sat on them.
I landed in Normandy
in a rowboat that turned over.
I have seen the educated armies
on the beach at Dover.
I have seen Egyptian pilots in purple clouds
shopkeepers rolling up their blinds
at midday
potato salad and dandelions
at anarchist picnics.
I am reading ‘Lorna Doone’
and a life of John Most
terror of the industrialist
a bomb on his desk at all times.
I have seen the garbagemen parade
in the Columbus Day Parade
behind the glib
farting trumpeters.
I have not been out to the Cloisters
in a long time
nor to the Tuileries
but I still keep thinking
of going.
I have seen the garbagemen parade
when it was snowing.
I have eaten hotdogs in ballparks.
I have heard the Gettysburg Address
and the Ginsberg Address.
I like it here
and I won’t go back
where I came from. . . .

Quakers & Insurrection – A 20th Century Prequel

Last week was not the only time there was a plot to take over the Capitol. A somewhat similar scheme was aimed at Franklin Roosevelt, to keep him from acting as president. It was stopped by, of all people, a retired general of Quaker heritage.

Smedley Butler, in uniform

Major General Smedley Butler, a career Marine who was a fierce fighter — twice awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor — was of Pennsylvania Quaker stock. His grandfather, Smedley Darlington, was raised Quaker, and was one of the enthusiastic young Friends who joined the Union Army in the Civil War, as described in the popular 1863 song, “A Quaker Letter to Lincoln”:

Our dear young men are all aroused, so deeply they deplore

They’re joining “fighting [U. S. General] Joseph [Hooker]’s” band to end “this cruel war.”
In the Washington Post on January 14, this headline appeared:
Wealthy bankers and businessmen plotted to overthrow FDR. A retired general foiled it.
By Gillian Brockell.

The consternation had been growing in the months between Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election and his inauguration, but his elimination of the gold standard in April 1933 infuriated some of the country’s wealthiest men. Titans of banking and business worried that if U.S. currency wasn’t backed by gold, inflation could skyrocket and make their millions worthless. Why, they could end up as poor as most everyone else was during the Great Depression.

So, according to the sworn congressional testimony of a retired general, they decided to overthrow the government and install a dictator who was more business friendly. After all, they reasoned, that had been working well in Italy.

How close this fascist cabal got, and who exactly was in on it, are still subjects of historical debate. But as the dust settles after the pro-Trump attack on the U.S. Capitol, and as it becomes clearer how close lawmakers came to catastrophe, the similarities to the Business Plot are hard to ignore.

“The nation has never been at a potential brink as it was then up until, I think, now,” said Sally Denton, author of the book “The Plots against the President: FDR, A Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right.”
Smedley D. Butler was a highly decorated Marine Corps general who had received the Medal of Honor twice. He was beloved by his men before his retirement, and more so afterward when he spoke in support of the Bonus Army’s fight for early bonus payments for World War I service.
“He was wildly popular and was an outspoken critic of fascism and Mussolini at a time when there was really an impulse toward that throughout the world, including in the United States,” Denton said.
Sally Denton, a veteran investigative reporter

Given his opposition to fascism, Butler might not seem like a good fit for the job of coup leader, but his support from veterans was more important to the Wall Street plotters.

The “Bonus Army” in Washington. Veterans battered by the Great Depression, they didn’t want revolution, but what would today be called a “stimulus.” (Historical Society of Washington) (and Historical Society of Washington, D.C. /Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)

At the time, there were many more veterans than active-duty service members; if someone could summon them as a force of 500,000 to march on Washington, the government could fall without a shot being fired.

In the summer of 1933, a bond broker and American Legion member named Gerald MacGuire approached Butler and tried to convince him that it would be in the Bonus Army veterans’ interests to demand their payments in gold. He then offered to send Butler and a group of veterans on a lavish speaking trip, all expenses paid, in support of the gold standard.
Butler was suspicious about where the money was coming from but strung MacGuire along over several months to glean more information. Eventually, MacGuire laid it all out: He was working for a group of mega-rich businessmen with access to $300 million to bankroll a coup.
They would plant stories in the press about Roosevelt being overwhelmed and in bad health. Once Butler’s army rolled in, a “Secretary of General Affairs” would be installed to handle the real governance, while Roosevelt would be reduced to cutting ribbons and such.
And they would take care of Butler, too. Additionally, they “offered college educations for his children and his mortgage paid off,” Denton said. “A lot of people would have taken it.”
In [a newsreel ]clip from Dec. 28, 1935,  Butler describes a “fascist plot” to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt and seize the government. (Universal Studios)
But Butler wanted to know who these businessmen offering him money and power were. According to the BBC radio show “Document,” MacGuire told him they would announce themselves shortly. A few weeks later, news of a new conservative lobbying group called the American Liberty League broke. Its members included J.P. Morgan Jr., Irénée du Pont and the CEOs of General Motors, Birds Eye and General Foods, among others. Together they held near $40 billion in assets, Denton said — about $778 billion today.
Had Butler been a different sort of person and gone along with the plot, Denton thinks it would have been successful.
Instead, in the fall of 1934, he went to J. Edgar Hoover, head of what would become the FBI. Congressional hearings were launched to investigate possible fascist sympathizers. Details of the plot soon leaked to the press, who mocked Butler and declared it all a “gigantic hoax.” If Butler wasn’t making it all up, journalists declared, then surely MacGuire was just a prankster fooling him.
The committee never released a report, but it told Congress it “had received evidence that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization in this country. There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient.”
Butler — who later published a [short] book, “War Is a Racket,” [NOTE: A full-length audiobook edition is available at no charge online here  — and the book text is online free here ] in which he lamented that all the military conflicts he had ever been involved in were fought to benefit “millionaires and billionaires” — was somewhat vindicated.
But he claimed that he had named names, and those names had been removed from his testimony that was released to the public.
“Like most committees, it has slaughtered the little and allowed the big to escape. The big shots weren’t even called to testify,” he said in a radio interview.
The committee maintained the names were kept under wraps until they could be investigated and verified. But no further investigation was ever conducted.
According to journalist John Buchanan, speaking to the BBC in 2007, that was probably because Roosevelt struck a deal with the backers of the plot: They could avoid treason charges — and possible execution — if they backed off their opposition to the New Deal. Denton thinks the press may have ignored the report at the urging of the government, which didn’t want the public to know how precarious things might have been.
Smedley Butler is an unlikely Quaker peace hero. Few Friends remember him. But some who have gone beneath the simplistic versions know that the heritage and its impulses pop up in unexpected places and at unexpected times.
Even after publishing “War Is a Racket,” he did not become a pacifist; more of an isolationist/anti-corporate imperialist: if somebody invaded the U.S., he would fight again. Otherwise, leave the world alone, and minimize what we call the military-industrial complex.

 

Should Felony Murder charges be lodged against the January 6 Instigators?

Attorney Mark Schwartz.

Philadelphia civil rights attorney Mark Schwartz has issued an open letter to the federal attorney for Washington DC, in the matter of potential charges in the wake of the U.S. Capitol invasion of January 6.

The letter is below, as I believe his recommendations are timely and should be part of the discussion of legal responses to the insurrection. Continue reading Should Felony Murder charges be lodged against the January 6 Instigators?

“How Many Is One Egg Roll?” The Autopsies of 2020 Begin

If you think we’re almost done with Twenty Twenty, think again.

With almost a week yet to run, already, “2020-Lit” is an established journalistic genre, and surely we’ll soon be inundated with books, novels, poetry, songs, paintings movies & miniseries about it. Count on it.

Newspapers are leading the way, and their pundits are already staking out their turf in this rich, if currently mostly malodorous field.

The New York Times today is peppered with such markers, some predictable others striking. Here are some snippets which caught my eye. There’s lots so this sample is by no means representative, just what was most vivid before breakfast . . . Continue reading “How Many Is One Egg Roll?” The Autopsies of 2020 Begin

For My King Chuck Hopes, “The Crown” Is A Royal Pain

There’s not much left on my personal bucket list. That’s especially true when the dreamiest, yet most implausible items (e. g., hitting a homer against baseball’s Evil Empire in Yankee Stadium) are subtracted.

But one hope, after so many decades, still dances tantalizingly on my horizon: living to see a king of England named after me.

Chuck The Third. By the grace of God, yada yada.

The Bad Guy of Balmoral?

Not, let me hasten to add, that I fantasize about being king in his place. The royals are periodically interesting to watch, but would be purgatory to be. I’d rather be stuck preparing a tally of all the times You-Know-Who said “incredible” to describe something he knew absolutely squat about.

Nor am I counting down the days. After all, I know his queenly Mum is merely 94 & evidently immortal.

But still, it could happen, in my remaining span. I turn 78 next week, and that’s old enough to have seen the Cubs and the Red Sox win the World Series, and Mike Pence lose a race for re-election as Veep.

And just in time to put more flies in the ointment, the hit Netflix series “The Crown,” I gather, has been doing its best to besmirch my royal namesake as the Bad Guy of Balmoral, the Weasel of Westminster, the Cad of all the Castles, not to mention the Doom of Diana.

Sigh. The knaves.

Washington Post columnist Ben Judah did a valiant job of defending Chazzz’s reputation against such video slander on December 2, 2020. Judah said, in part: Continue reading For My King Chuck Hopes, “The Crown” Is A Royal Pain