Havana here I come!

After 54 years, the United States will finally do the right thing, normalize its relations with Cuba and end its embargo. The embargo may be the longest-lasting ineffective and nonsensical foreign policy  in US history. This means that twenty years after getting my Masters in Latin American history, I will finally be able to legally visit one of the countries I read so much about. I’ve always supported the idea that the best way to “open” Cuba would be to normalize relations and expose Cubans to the flood of ideas–rather than trying to strangle it–ineffectually–into submission. Continue reading


Breaking Bad toy fiasco

Irwin Mainway would be proud. Even he would have a hard time topping this headline: “Toys R Us pulls meth-toting ‘Breaking Bad’ action figures from shelves after Florida mom’s protest.”

The dolls, based on the recently concluded AMC series, featured characters based on White, a meth-cooking high school science teacher, and his sidekick, Jesse Pinkman. Along with the action figures, the toys came with fake bags of meth, sacks of cash and gas masks.

For those of you not old enough to remember, Irwin Mainway was a sleazy toy salesman who was perennially grilled about his dangerous toys (such as “Bag of Glass”) by Jane Curtin on the “Consumer Probe” skit. The toys were over-the-top ridiculous. Continue reading


ALEC: Church activists are hurting us. Make them stop

ALECvUUThe conservative political Goliath known as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) may have met its David in the guise of Unitarian-Universalists and other progressives. ALEC has been wounded not with a sling and stone, but knowledge and organized financial pressure on its corporate backers.

On October 17, ALEC sent a fundraising  email to its members and supporters that starts off:

“Professional activists ranging from Common Cause to the Unitarian Universalist Church just won’t stop. As part of their misleading smear campaign, these activist groups demand members stop working with ALEC.”

It sounds, almost, unfair. “Professional activists” picking on poor ALEC.

Continue reading


Scalia and categorical religious beliefs

SCotUSJustice Antonin Scalia believes that “religious beliefs aren’t reasonable.” He is not saying that religious beliefs are not appropriate or not fair–that would be a shock, coming from him. Rather he goes on to say that “I mean, religious beliefs are categorical.” In other words, religious beliefs are unequivocal or unconditional.

Scalia made that statement yesterday during oral arguments for the case Holt v. Hobbs. The case involves a prisoner in Arkansas, Gregory Holt, who is a convert to Islam. He wishes to wear a beard in accordance with his new-found religious beliefs. The state of Arkansas is insisting on enforcing its state-law which prohibits prisoners from wearing religiously-motivated beards for security reasons (namely the threat of prisoners hiding contraband in their beards). Holt tried to be “reasonable” about his request and agreed to limit the growth to a half-inch. Scalia’s response to Holt’s request, reported in The Washington Post,  is telling:

“Well, religious beliefs aren’t reasonable,” Scalia said. “I mean, religious beliefs are categorical. You know, it’s ‘God tells you.’ It’s not a matter of being reasonable. God be reasonable? He’s supposed to have a full beard.”

Continue reading

LeBron and the Prodigal Mother

LeBronLicenseEver since LeBron announcedI’m coming home to Cleveland,” there has been a persistent “LeBron James as prodigal son” meme. There’s even a movie (OK, a 4-minute video). Now an Ohio state representative, Bill Patmon, is proposing a “LeBron James Witness 2.0″ license plate, to “honor the return home of our prodigal champion.”

For those of you who don’t remember the New Testament parable of The Prodigal Son, a man had two sons. The older one stayed at home and worked the farm with his dad. The younger asked for his share from his father, went out in the world and blew the money on fast living. Younger son makes his way back home. His father is overjoyed at his return and orders a big celebration (to the disappointment of the fatted calf). Continue reading

By Cat White Posted in Sports

Princeton Mom and the Chinese Government are on the same page

What do American conservatives and Chinese Communists have in common?

50__s_Housewife_ad_cutout_by_AbsurdWordPreferredHere’s a question I never thought I’d ask: What do the Princeton Mom, Susan Patton, and the Chinese government have in common? Answer: they both advocate educated women choosing marriage over careers.

In case you missed the Susan Patton story, she’s the Princeton alum and proud mom of “two [male] Princetonians” who wrote a letter to the Daily Princetonian advising coeds to “Find a husband on campus before you graduate.” Her reasoning is interesting:

Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are.

Continue reading

Food & Drink Week

John’s Green Chili Stew Recipe: Food & Drink Week

Posole is a microcosm of New Mexico cuisine in one delicious pot.

My husband’s specialty is Green Chili Stew (aka Posole), a dish he learned to make when he lived in Albuquerque for six years. This is a staple food in our house from fall through spring. It is a microcosm of New Mexican cooking in one pot. Serve it with a hearty ale or porter and tortillas with honey.

Our strangest experience with it was taking it to a potluck soup party with our group of friends that includes several vegans (this was before they were vegan). The pot was on the stove bubbling away, smelling heavenly. People were stirring, sniffing, and considering their possibilities when someone asked, “Is it vegetarian?” Continue reading

Southwes Quinoa Salad

Cat’s Southwest Quinoa Salad: Food & Drink Week

Vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free dieters – this savory dish works for everyone.

We have a group of friends that includes several vegans, along with some who are gluten-free and one who has an aversion to orange vegetables. Needless to say, cooking for this crowd sometimes poses a challenge. I’ve had some tasty quinoa salads and some tasty black bean-corn salads, so I decided to try my had at my own version. This can be freely embroidered upon.

Cat’s Southwest Quinoa Salad


1 cup quinoa (I use half red and half white)

Continue reading

CATEGORY: PoliticsReligion

Hobby Lobby hypocrisy: 401k plan invests in contraception

HobbyLobbyEverydayObamacare litigant secretly profiting from the very immorality it publicly opposes.

The story by Molly Redden in Mother Jones, “Hobby Lobby’s Hypocrisy: The Company’s Retirement Plan Invests in Contraception Manufacturers,” is absolutely worth a few minutes of your time. In short: three-quarters of the Hobby Lobby retirement plan investments are in funds that invest in pharmaceutical companies that produce contraceptive devices that Hobby Lobby’s owners object to having covered by their insurance plans: Continue reading


Eggs vs bullets: Michael Dunn, Willie Noble, and teens being teens

egg-tp-musicI’m trying to wrap my brain around Willie Noble’s killing of Adrian Broadway in the wee hours of Saturday morning in Little Rock, Arkansas. Seems she and six friends drove to Noble’s house and proceeded to cover his car in eggs, toilet paper, mayonnaise, and other debris. Nobles response was to run out with gun blazing, firing into the fleeing car and killing 15-year-old Adrian, who was in the front seat.

Willie Noble, like Adrian, is African-American. He “was charged with one count of first-degree murder, one count of a terroristic act and five counts of aggravated assault.”

Continue reading

Pete Seeger

An era passes with Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, a warrior for social justice in America, held the line until the end.

I regret not seeing Pete Seeger live in concert–I was too young to have appreciated him in the 1960s and 1970s . I eventually got to see Richie Havens on the same bill as Arlo Guthrie in 2009, but not Pete Seeger. And now he’s gone at age 94.

There was was a recent Facebook post asking people to name ten albums that stayed with them. I forgot to add in my response one important collection: Songs for Political Action. It’s a 10-disc collection of American protest songs from the 1920s through the early 1050s. One of the songs was “Hold the Line” by Pete Seeger, written about the Peekskill Riots. I first heard selections from these albums in 1998 when I participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities workshop called “Communism in American Life” at Emory University. Continue reading


Huckabee’s botched Jedi mind trick on women and reproductive rights

Creepy2Mike Huckabee wants Americans to believe that Democrats are interfering in the reproductive rights of women by bribing them with birth control:

“If the Democrats want to insult women by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

In a version of the statement on his Web site, Huckabee has a slight variation in which he charges that Democrats “reduce women to beggars for cheap government funded birth control.” Continue reading


Born rich: “Affluenza” is now a license to kill if you’re wealthy

Accountability? Not for rich people: being wealthy absolves you of responsibility for your actions.

We have a new legal defense and this one will be the death of us: Affluenza. I have to admit that the term, used here on Scholars and Rogues in a number of previous posts, including Amusing ourselves to death, circa 2010 and Affluenza: Black Friday is America’s new high holy day, both by Sam Smith, had not seeped into my consciousness. It took a death, four of them, actually, to emblazon the term on my mind. In case you missed the story out of Texas, a 16-year-old stole alcohol from Walmart, got drunk, drove recklessly, and killed 4 innocent people. His court ordered punishment: 10-years of probation and some pricey rehab to be paid for by mums and daddums. No jail time. None. Continue reading

Slut-shaming quantified: science catches up with female power

CATEGORY: RaceGenderFellow Scrogue Russ Wellen called our attention to an article in the New York Times, “A Cold War Fought by Women,” about research by Dr. Sarah Hrdy that quantifies female competition and aggression. Not surprisingly, Dr. Hrdy and her colleagues conclude that it exists and, importantly from a scientific standpoint, it can be measured through experiments that can be replicated. Continue reading

A chili response: Cat & John’s Anniversary Chili

CATEGORY: FoodDrinkMy esteemed colleague, Sam Smith, recently posted the recipe for his award-winning Doc Sammy’s Three-Meat, Three-Bean and Molasses Crock-Pot Chili.  It sounds amazing.  And if I’m ever in Seattle when 40 degrees and damp, I’d be tickled to sample the original.

Today is my 6th wedding  anniversary and John and I celebrated at home with a pot of chili (a good idea on a blustery day in November in Ohio).  We started with Sam’s recipe, but made some alterations to accommodate our lower-salt diet.  My thanks, and apologies, to Sam.  Hope you enjoy. Continue reading

Politics: Don't Tread on Me

A house divided: what happens after government shutdown ends?

“And we are looking for ways to reopen the portions of the government that we agree with.”  Jenny Beth Martin, Tea Party Patriots

There it is in a nutshell.  The whole national divide summed up in one sentence.  So, Ms. Martin, we know you’d like to defund the Affordable Care Act.  What else? I’ve met Libertarians in my life who would strip all funding from public radio and television and the arts in general.  How about National Parks and monuments?  There sure was a stink this week in DC when the World War II Memorial was closed.  Rand Paul went so far as to label those who closed it “goons.”  But should such a memorial even exist at taxpayer’s expense?  Should its maintenance and upkeep be sold off for naming rights?  But opening those closed attractions seems to be a high priority for even members of the Tea Party.  World War II vets storming the barricades is certainly more photogenic than furloughed meat inspectors or passport clerks. There’s a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico–granted a weak one, named Karen.  Surely it will cause damage and certainly there will be requests for aid.  FEMA was already reactivating personnel previously labeled non-essential.  But even in the event of a natural disaster, is the federal government’s assistance really all that essential?  After all, a number of conservatives exclaim loudly that the federal government is incompetent.  But let a disaster strike, say a fire or flood in Colorado, and even those counties that will be voting to secede from the rest of the state because of its recent too-liberal tendencies line up at the federal trough.  Certainly a number of conservatives objected last fall to aid to New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.  It’s a lot easier to say no, to place conditions, to object, when it’s someone else’s state or district or city.  Or home. I’ve thought about objecting on those grounds myself.  When I see Texas or Alabama in the news for some disaster:  chemical plant explosion, hurricane, drought, I think, “No help for you!  Let you fix this on your own, since you don’t want to help others.”  Briefly. It’s just anger–mine.  I realize that.  And I know that, in reality.  I would never want people to suffer that way just for the sake of a political disagreement.  How about you, Ms. Martin?  How hard is your heart?  Does it satisfy you to see people suffer? Abraham Lincoln said of slavery, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Well, we certainly tested that theory.  And three-quarters of a million men died to make the house all one thing. Is there going to be a civil war this time?  No.  Eventually our representatives will be forced to come to their senses and realize that, when you govern, at least in this country in this century, you don’t get to just operate or fund “the portions of the government that we agree with,” but you have to deal with the rest of it, too.  Getting to that point is getting uglier every day. But will there, nonetheless, be a time of reconstruction?  A time of binding up the nations’ wounds?  I certainly hope so. I can’t see how it’s going to happen.  But it has to at some point.  Lincoln, after all, was right. Image:  Marty Duren.

Dad and cat 1962

Watching my dad die

Dad and cat 1962My dad, David White, died on Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 10:10 PM.  I found out the time later–I didn’t think to look at the clock when it happened.  He died after five days in the hospital, after two weeks of being unable to eat, after nearly 25 years of congestive heart failure following a heart attack at age 49.  He died at the end of three days of dying.  I still called him “Daddy.”

People asked if he had been sick.  Well, yes, he had been.  But he had been sick for so long that we sort of took his illness for granted.  When he went into the hospital the previous Tuesday, no one was terribly worried.  My mom called in the evening to tell me that she had taken him to the emergency room because he was still so nauseous that he could not eat.  When I had dinner with them the week before, he had eaten very little because his stomach was upset–he never got any better.  Mom said, “Don’t come down.  They admitted him after we waited in the emergency room for four hours [that was unusual–his heart condition usually rated more attention].  The doctors are trying to get the nausea under control.  I’ll call you tomorrow night and let you know how he’s doing.”

You see, my dad went into the hospital normally once or twice a year, usually for either dehydration or excess fluid on the lungs (it’s the lasix tightrope walk–ask any racehorse).  The doctors would change some of his meds, re-prescribe others, and eventually send him home with an equally well-stocked pharmaceutical larder.  We thought this would be the same kind of incident, even though, after a June hospital stay, we were told the incidents would become more frequent.  He finally accepted a wheelchair (which he never used after it was delivered) and oxygen at home to ease his breathing.

Mom called on Wednesday and reported he had a better day–he had even been able to eat some cream of chicken soup (apparently the dietitian had overlooked his heart condition and had not prevented the soup from reaching him).  I was once again hopeful and promised to leave school early on Friday to spend some time with him.

When she called Thursday night, the news was not so good.  The nausea was back.  The dietitian had cracked down on his food choices.  No more cream of chicken soup (too high in fat, not on the heart diet).  No potatoes or other high potassium foods (the result of a misdiagnosed kidney condition earlier in the year).  My mom argued with the nutritionist–my dad wanted the soup (it had tasted good) and he was going to have his soup, either from their kitchen or from hers.  He got his soup, but he could barely eat any of it.  She said I had better come down on Friday.

On Friday morning I got to school a little early to prep for a meeting.  My cell phone rang as soon as I entered Tudor House.  It was my mom, “You need to come down now.” I picked up my husband, John, and a suitcase and we headed for the hospital an hour away.

Daddy had been moved to the Cardiac Care Unit at Mercy Hospital (I still call it “TM” as in “Timken-Mercy” even though the name changed several years ago).  He had just been settled in the room when I got there.  My sister and mom were both there.  Both had been crying.

CIMG0530My dad had no blankets covering him.

The lack of blankets startled me more than the breathing at first.  My dad wore a heavy down coat most of the time–even in the summer–over his standard t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, sweater vest, and sweater, all the result of a permanent chill because of poor circulation.  The fact that he was not heavily bundled up and apparently not cold was a bad sign.  The good sign was that he was lucid.

“The doctors said there’s nothing they can do but keep him comfortable.” Mom was that blunt.

The CCU staff was wonderful.  His cardiologist had cared for him since Daddy’s heart attack in 1985 and Dr. U was the one doctor my parents trusted implicitly.  Even he acknowledged the end of the road–my mom said he was almost in tears.  The doctors suspected the nausea was being caused by one of the heart meds that was keeping him alive and there was no way to address the situation.  They would have had to stop all of them and restart them one at a time to eliminate the culprit.  That was not an option.

Daddy’s breathing became more regular as the nurses got his anxiety under control.  But his condition worsened.  He asked for pain medicine in the afternoon–one of the side effects of worsening congestive heart failure is pain in the extremities as circulation weakens in the body’s attempt to keep the vital organs functioning.  His nausea also increased and he began vomiting more frequently.

I must make a confession at this point: I’m squeamish.  I can’t deal with blood or vomit.  My sister was a real trooper when Daddy was actively sick.  I, wimp that I am, ran for the washcloth and the nurse.  At some point while I was out my sister changed the channel from “Law and Order” to “The Kardashians.” It’s weird what details stick with you.  It was the first time that I saw that particular show–it added to the unreal nature of the weekend.

We stayed until late Friday evening and then went back to my parents’ house for the night.  My mom stayed at the hospital.  Sometime that night my parents made a decision.

On Saturday, my dad’s symptoms were about the same.  He slept more and was frequently sick.  At one point, when my sister and mom went for lunch, he woke up for awhile and talked to me about the natural gas explosion and fire in San Bruno, California that was being covered on the news.  We discussed the suspected corrosion of the pipes as a possible cause.

There were a lot of things I wanted to say–but I couldn’t get the words out.  I wanted to thank him for all the understanding over the years, for his constant patience with my mom’s health, for welcoming me home when my life fell apart (more than once).  As usual, I connected with him via the news and missed that emotional piece that neither of us seemed to be very good at.  The opportunity passed.  That’s my biggest regret.

Friends and relatives visited.  At some point one of the nurses brought in a heavy looking round magnet on a cord and hung it from a hook on the wall.  I knew it was a magnet because it stuck to the wall on its side, looking like a bright blue doughnut.

Later Saturday afternoon, my mom asked us all to come out to the waiting room.  She told us that she and my dad talked Friday night and made the decision to stop his remaining meds.  The doctors said that, once that happened, Daddy would die within a short period of time.  They would increase his morphine to continue to keep him comfortable.  He would lose consciousness, his blood pressure would drop, and eventually his heart would stop.  We understood that he was suffering and that nothing could be done and this was the remaining course of action.  Were we OK with it?  Yes.  Did we want to be around when the meds were stopped?  Yes.

Sunday morning, early, we all gathered at the hospital.  He looked around at us and said, “Well, I’m ready if you are.” Daddy kissed us all and told us that he loved us.  I thanked him.  The nurse turned off the IVs, except for the one with the morphine.  He closed his eyes and slept.  We stayed close by.  It felt somewhat morbid to sit and wait.  But I knew I had to stay and bear witness.

After a couple of hours, my dad woke up.  He looked around and seemed to be rather surprised to see us.  He put his head back against the pillow, “What’s taking so long?” My mother looked thunderstruck (I now understand what that expression looks like), “Well! What at kind of a question is that?” My brother-in-law tried to be philosophical, “These things aren’t in our hands.” Me? I burst out laughing, “Well, you’re the math guy.” He seemed to think about that and slept again.  Aside from answering nurses’ questions, he didn’t speak again.

Morning became afternoon.  The nurses brought us coffee, cookies, and some fruit.  Daddy’s blood pressure remained steady.  It declined a bit and then rose again.  My husband and I began to think it might be another day or so.  Later in the afternoon, we made the decision to drive home to the east side of Cleveland to get more clothes and necessities.  On the way back to Canton, we stopped and got some Chinese food.  I got back in the car and found messages from my sister:

    5:51:45 PM Last bp reading 62/17 but they switched arms HR still 70
    5:54:01 PM Ill update u in 10 min
    6:05:17 PM 67/24

I feared I would miss being at my father’s bedside because I was hungry and that I would have to bear that burden of selfishness forever.  I replied:

    6:24:35 PM We’re on our way back.

More messages on the return drive:

    6:27:33 PM He seems the same it may have been the changing arms Hr still 70
    6:36:30 PM 61/18 at 630
    6:43:51 PM We’ll be there ASAP
    6:45:22 PM K i know ur mom wants u to b here

We arrived at the hospital before 7 PM–Daddy was still with us.  My mother and sister continued to cry intermittently.  Daddy’s blood pressure continued to drop.  One of the nurses closed the door to the room and pulled the drape part-way across the windows to give up some privacy.  I sat near his feet, on his left side, my mom on my right, holding his hand.

There was nothing to do but watch the numbers fall and listen to his breathing grow more shallow.  After 9:30 the alarms went off more frequently.  The nurses silenced them–there was no help to summon.  Just after 10, it became clear that it would be any minute.  The final alarm went off.  The nurse took that big blue magnet and placed it on Daddy’s pacemaker to disable it, in case it fired (someone had told me earlier what it would be used for).

Daddy was gone.  We sat with him for awhile, waiting for the doctor to come and make the pronouncement (some things are not done until someone declares them done).  The nurse came in to tell us the doctor was delayed.  We waited awhile longer, saying our goodbyes.  Then we escorted my mom off the CCU floor for the last time.

Daddy70I so wish I had had the courage to have the difficult talks with him: about his illnesses, his final arrangements, his funeral.  But I didn’t.  I understand all the reasons people don’t talk about those things:  it’s a reminder of mortality, it’s morbid, it’s rude.  But I should have asked him how he was really doing.  He told me basics about trips to the doctor–but not about the slow decline over the years.  We could see some of it.  But we never talked about the fact that he was Dying.

In the end, lacking his wishes and input, we improvised–we did the best we could.  I guess that’s how we go through life, despite our best plans and intentions.  We made the funeral arrangements, I immersed myself in a tribute video for the wake, I had a memorial placed in the football program for the high school whose games he attended for over 35 years.

It’s been 3 years now.  Daddy’s ashes still sit on the mantle of the fireplace he built.  I wrote most of this shortly after the funeral.  It took this long to be able to edit the piece without crying–too much.  I think of him with every great science news story, or when some some politician we spoke of gets his comeuppance or I get to travel some place new and wonderful.  Or when I call my mom and get the answering machine and hear my dad’s voice, still taking calls.

Given our mutual uncertainty about the hereafter, I don’t think much about “heaven” in connection with my dad’s afterlife.  I’d like to think he’s sharing another dimension with Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan, finally understanding all those equations and theories that he strove to understand in this life.

Love you, Daddy.

CATEGORY: Religion Humanism Atheism

Should the US military be promoting Humanism and Atheism?

CATEGORY: Religion Humanism AtheismContrary to common wisdom, there are atheists in foxholes. Humanists, too. Granted, not a lot of them. But they exist. But do they need a chaplain?

NPR recently did a story about Jason Heap applying to be the Navy’s (and in fact the US military’s) first Humanist chaplain. Jason became an minister in Texas after graduating from Brite Divinity School at TCU. He later graduated from Oxford. And, somewhere along the way, he lost his Christian faith. Apparently when that happens, it does not result in the loss of one’s designation as a minister.

Heap’s application has gotten farther than anyone in the past who tried to follow this path. And some people are really unhappy about how far Heap has gone.

Take Colonel Ron Crews (Retired), who heads the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. On the Alliance’s Twitter homepage, they leave no doubt about where they stand, “Pursuing a nation where all chaplains, and those whom they serve, freely exercise their God-given and constitutionally protected religious liberties.” For the NPR story, Crews explained,

“‘For God and country.’ That is the motto of the chaplain corps, and someone who comes from a humanist freethinker position could not ascribe to that motto. So it’s by definition of who a chaplain is.”

Heap also faces opposition in Congress, where Representative John Fleming (R-LA) introduced an amendment to the 2014 Defense Appropriations Act to “prevent funds from being used to appoint chaplains without an endorsing agency.” In other words, no denomination, no chaplaincy. Fleming explained,

“This I think would make a mockery of the chaplaincy. The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they’re at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, ‘If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.’”

After the Fleming amendment passed the House as part of the appropriations act, Religion News Service added, “Currently, the Department of Defense recognizes more than 200 endorsing agents, all of them based on a belief in God.”

Unfortunately for Crews, Fleming, and RNS, they’re all wrong on their basic assumption that the unifying characteristic of current military chaplains is their belief in God. Three short examples.

According to 2012 statistics, there are between 12-14 Buddhist Chaplains. Many are endorsed by the “Buddhist Churches Of America,” a Japanese Buddhist organization originally invited to the US to support Japanese immigrants near San Francisco. Its origins are in Mahayana Buddhism though it became a separate sect in Japan called Jodo Shinsu (“Pure Land”). Although many westerners consider Buddhism a “religion,” it does not concern itself with the worship of a god and certainly Buddhas are not gods. It is best described as non-theist. In the words of Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, “The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment.” However, in keeping with tradition in many parts of Asia, it is also not mutually exclusive. This means that practitioners may combine a variety of spiritual practices, some of which may involve various deities or spirits.

There are three Hindu Chaplains in the US military, all endorsed by the Chinmaya Mission West. It is almost impossible to generalize about “What is Hinduism?” as practices and beliefs vary widely from polytheism to non-theism. Chinmaya Mission was founded in 1953 by followers of Swami Chinmayananda, a devotee of the study of the Vedas (ancient Hindu texts). Yoga, meditation, and study are all part of Vedantic Hindu practice, with the goal of understanding and achieving higher consciousness. Among Swami Chinmayananda most famous teaching are “‘Renounce your ego’ is the Lord’s only request. ‘And I will make you God’ is the promise” and “If I rest, I rust.”

Finally, there are between 18 and 22 Unitarian-Universalist chaplains, all endorsed by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The UU denomination is non-creedal but does promote “The Seven Principles,” broad ethical guidelines. To borrow from Will Rogers, “I am not a member of any organized religion. I am a UU.” UU ministers run the gamut from truly ecumenical, to those that lean towards one belief, including Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or Humanist. None of the Seven Principles demand belief in a divine being. In fact, the state of Texas tried to revoke the tax exempt status of UUs because of their lack of devotion to a deity. It’s not unusual for services to have Humanist themes. One of the earliest services that I clearly remember was presided over by an avowed Atheist. Included in the music for the service were Humanist hymns from the UU hymnal.

So. Colonel Crews and Representative Fleming, it’s time to step away from this one. The US military has already set an example of allowing chaplains from non-theist denominations. Furthermore, the purpose of the Chaplain Corps is to meet the needs of those serving in the military, and there are more self-identified Atheists than Buddhists, Hindus, and UUs combined. Add to that the largest single category of religious declaration in the military, “No religious preference,” with over 22% of the military, about whose needs we know little.

Does the military need Humanist Chaplains? Yes, if it would meet the needs of those who have chosen to serve. This isn’t about the religious preferences of civilians.


HobbyWeek: Digging up the Dead

The central figure here is not an idiot or moron. The idiotic expression was produced by a sudden poke in the middle of my back by Uncle Will’s thumb and the reaction was almost fatal. The family tries to suppress this picture, but I mean to keep it alive as long as I am alive. I, Emmy, have spoke this.

It began with a photo that I found in the mid-’70s. My Aunts Jo, Marion, and Rose took my mom and me to the Neely house in Rayland, Ohio to see if there was anything there that we wanted as it was being cleaned out so that my cousin could rehab it for her family. We found lots of antique glassware, my great-grandmother’s rocking chair, and lots of other fascinating, filthy items that just had to be saved. Somewhere, I picked up a sepia-colored photograph–bent, repaired with tape, and absolutely fascinating. The quote at the beginning was written on the back and the white house to the left is where I found it. I tucked it away in an envelope to await the day that I could afford to have someone restore it.

The hook

My dad told me that the note was written by Aunt Emmy, who I had met when I was very young. She didn’t marry until she was 60, and then her husband died after ony a year and a half. She spent her last years in a nursing home in Wheeling, West Virginia, called Altenheim. The name on the sign was written in very fancy script and was hard to read. One day a young couple stopped by, parked and approached the porch where Aunt Emmy was sitting. “We’re here to see the antiques,” the man announced. “Well, you’re looking at one of them,” Emmy replied. I had a hero. I also had a model for aging well.

That photo sat in its envelope for decades, moving with me from apartment to house. I heard more Emmy stories. I also heard stories about her brother, Wink. How he took a bus out to Kansas in the 1920s and bought a plane. The seller spent a couple of hours teaching Wink how to fly it, and then Wink flew it home. To Ohio. By himself. This is the same uncle whose ship was sunk by a German U-Boat before the US got into WWI. The Germans were very polite about it. They surfaced and signaled their intention to the merchant vessel, gave the crew time to get into life boats, and then torpedoed the ship. Oh, the Germans came back with food and water for the crew. They didn’t want to kill the Americans, that might bring the US into the war too early. Uncle Wink, with the big grin on his face, stands to the far left with my paternal grandmother. His real name was William Winslow, named for the mischievous Uncle Will with the errant thumb.

But, in the end, it wasn’t the stories that compelled me to start seriously putting together the pieces of my family tree. That took the death of my father in 2010. All of a sudden, the stories stopped. I felt compelled to record what I had heard and connect the dots. I had to pick up Emmy’s torch.

There are two things in my background which make genealogy a natural rabbit-hole for me to fall down. The first is that I majored in and taught history. I was influenced by my Uncle Jack, a priest and historian who told the best stories about long-dead cardinals. The second is that I love a good mystery. Add to that a strong streak of perseverance (instilled in me by my father) and and a real curiosity about anything in my background that might explain how and why I ended up as me. In other words, how far did the apple fall from the tree?

The mysteries

There are two main mysteries over which I have been obsessing pondering. The first involves a letter to my paternal grandmother and the second involves the death of my great-great-grandfather during the Civil War.

The letter is a one-page typed document, written by my grandfather (nicknamed “Teeny” since his childhood) to my grandmother, Jeanne, who was visiting her ailing sister in New York in March or April of 1930. He had, according to the letter, recently been fired from his job and was still angry about it. It sounds as if there was some sort of scandal:

My Grandmother

The methods pursued in my release were positively rotten, and don’t think for a minute that I have been keeping quiet about it. I haven t [sic] the first person yet to say that they were justified in their action. . . . I am getting sick of talking about it to people it doesn’t do any good, I want a little action. . . .

So Good Night Darling and don’t worry every thing will work out alright, someday, We will have the pleasure of watching somebodyelse squirm.

Here’s the kicker, on the outside of the envelope, in my grandmother’s handwriting are these four lines:

Wherever you go
Whatever you do
I want you to know
I’m following you

At that point, my grandparents had been married less than 6 months and the Depression had started. Within eight years, at age 36, my grandfather would be dead from cirrhosis of the liver. By the time my dad was two, he and his older brother slept at their grandmother’s house most nights. There are no photos of my grandfather except for a tiny photo of him as a toddler pasted into the family Bible.

The second mystery involved Teeny’s dad, Daniel, who had been orphaned in the 1860s before he was six years old. His parents, Aaron and Isabel, married sometime in the 1850s and had three daughters before the Civil War started. They lived in what was called District 44 of Virginia–today it’s called Triadelphia, a town to the east of Wheeling, West Virginia. I’ve found Aaron’s parents and siblings. I know that some of his brothers, his father, and at least one uncle joined a Union regiment in the part of Virginia that seceded from Virginia to become West Virginia.

Aaron was 28 in 1860, Daniel was born in 1863, so Aaron lived until some time in 1862, at least. I can’t imagine that he did not fight in the Civil War. But I have no idea what happened to him or to Isabel. Granted, that part of Virginia/West Virginia was dangerous–there was a lot of internal turmoil and Confederate raids. Perhaps they took the children to live elsewhere, were killed in a raid, died of disease, or maybe a combination of those. Perhaps Aaron died on the battlefield. Daniel and one of his sisters show up in the 1870 census records, orphaned, more than a hundred miles away in Donegal, PA on neighboring farms. Eventually they returned to the Ohio Valley, across the river from Wheeling.

The wrong information

Of course it turns out that some things you heard about your family while you were growing up were wrong.

My mom’s family missed an entire nationality. I was always told that her side of the family was German–which is true, so far as I can tell, so far–for my grandfather’s side of the family. But my grandmother’s side of the family came from The Netherlands in the 1600s and helped settle the Hudson Valley. It’s a long way from that to a coal town in the West Virginia hills.

My dad’s family has the rumors of famous ancestors. We have one near-miss: the one of the earliest arrivals was a younger brother of Edward Winslow, he of the original Pilgrims on the original voyage of the Mayflower. The other rumor is that we’re somehow related to Oliver Cromwell. Great, some people get Jefferson, I get a Roundhead. I am happy to report that, aside from a handwritten note on an old family tree, there is no evidence to support this.

The surprises

In the course of my research, I’ve connected with a distant cousin in central Ohio. She was tickled to learn that I knew that one of our grandfathers had married 2 sisters (sequentially, the first died, no bigamy, so far) and that the sisters were listed under several different names because of their various marriages.

The Reaves

It took me several years to locate two individuals whose portraits I photographed at my Aunt Geraldine’s house before she passed away. I spent an afternoon scanning photos and making notes on who all of the people were. Finally, she retrieved two pastel portraits on convex drawing board in ancient oval frames. I was allowed to remove them from the frames for photos. She said, “Those are the Reaves.” I couldn’t find any Reaves on my mother’s side and they weren’t too many generations back. Then one day I tripped over them. Well, I tripped over their daughter, anyway. I think the portraits I have are too old to be my great-grandfather and mother. One of these days I’ll find their names, too.

My Aunt Jane let me borrow a suitcase that was found in the attic of her old house. It turned out to be full of photos and letters from my paternal grandmother’s family. That’s how I found the Mysterious Letter. There was also a collection of postcards from various southern hotels my uncle stayed at in the 1950s. A 1941 George McQuinn baseball card. An envelope containing 3 curls cut from my dad’s hair when he was a year old. Dozens of handwritten deeds. A box of family letters. Lots of envelopes full of negatives.

And at the bottom of an old box of assorted chocolates, in two pieces, was a glass negative. The only one I found. It was Emmy’s picture. Turns out that it scans beautifully. I haven’t had a chance to restore the image yet. But I can see that I didn’t do too badly with the first one, especially where I had to improvise (for example, creating Uncle Paul’s jaw line that had been obliterated by a fold). Of course I have to restore it. Emmy would want it that way.

I mean to keep it alive as long as I am alive. I, Cat, have spoke this.


ReligionWeek: Will organized religion destroy your religious freedom?

Organized-Religion4On July 2, America’s real Independence Day, by the way, leaders of a number of churches that doctrinally and theologically do not usually see eye-to-eye gathered at the National Press Club for a “religious liberty” press conference to announce their collective effort to trample individual religious freedom. They released “Standing Together for Religious Freedom: An Open Letter for All Americans.” The signatories to the letter included leaders from Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon, Lutheran, and Jewish organizations and denominations, as well as academics and various values-oriented groups, such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.

The point of their letter and presentations is that the Obama Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services are violating the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause by requiring insurance companies or administrators to provide birth control coverage in separate policies to persons covered by policies paid for by religious institutions opposed to contraception. In the “Standing Together” letter, the objection is described this way:

Very simply, HHS is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B. The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining–or casting aside–religious doctrine.

In short, the heads of some major conservative religious institutions believe that their right to freely practice their religion trumps an individual’s right to not have religious doctrine forced upon him/her.

The “product” that “Citizen A” is being forced to provide is health insurance, which does not violate the tenets of any known denomination, not even Christian Science. A wall has been proposed by HHS to provide separation of church and contraception, but that apparently is not sufficient. It will only be substantial enough if it imposes religious doctrine on employees of religious-affiliated institutions, regardless of the religious leanings of the employees (or lack thereof). And, let’s face it, we’re talking primarily about women’s use of contraception.

One more point: no one is forcing “Citizen B,” the employee, to buy anything. If the religious doctrine in question, a ban on some or all forms of artificial contraception, is truly compelling for the employee, then that should be sufficient for that person to adhere to the prohibition. But, it’s not. In fact, this prohibition does not convince a majority of any faith to eschew contraception (across the US about 60% of sexually-active women use contraception), much less its employees. Perhaps this is a way to attempt to control the behavior of at least some people associated with institution, since members of the flock don’t always toe the line.

But I digress–I wrote about much of this in a recent post on Hobby Lobby and its claim of religious freedom (which, by the way, the “Standing Together” letter implies support for, “we call upon HHS to, at a minimum, expand conscience protections under the mandate to cover any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services.”) [emphasis added]

What’s really interesting is how groups that would not otherwise get along, come together in the name of power and politics.

Let’s start with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. They oppose interfaith prayer and worship to the point that LCMS pastors were chastised for participating in interfaith services after September 11 and the Newtown shootings. But apparently it was alright, in this case for the president of the LCMS to band together with representatives of the Catholic Church, despite the LCMS aversion to such churches that “attach spiritual or eternal rewards to the works or virtues of men.” This harkens all the way back to Luther and the 15th century argument over whether men are saved by faith alone or through faith and action.

We also have Catholics and Pentecostals sharing the stage. Traditionally, they question each other’s practices. Catholics find the symbolic communion and baptism of Pentecostals wanting. Some Pentecostals, like some Baptists, question the very existence of the Catholic Church and go so far as to call it anti-Christian.

And everyone, despite their past criticisms and questions about its very nature, is willing to partner with the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints–Mormons–to build a bigger coalition against the contraception mandate. Just as Evangelicals and Southern Baptists were willing to endorse Mitt Romney, they are now willing to work with the denomination that was once labeled a “cult” because it suits their purpose.

Speaking of cults, nearly all of the churches “Standing Together” consider the Hare Krishnas to be a cult, calling it variously “sinful,” “deceitful,” etc. Some dismiss it as paganism or “just a Hindu sect.” However, for the purposes of defeating the contraception mandate in the name of “religious freedom,” the International Society of Krishna Consciousness is included. In fact, they seem to be the only non-Judeo-Christian faith to join the group.

Add to that the fact that various Christian denominations that promote the belief that, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes unto the Father, but by me” and yet are willing to share the stage with Jewish leaders who do not share that view.


My dad was a very thoughtful man–and also a very skeptical one. He was especially skeptical of Big Business and Big Religion. He said on numerous occasions, “Sometimes things just don’t make sense until you add money into the equation.” I don’t know if he was familiar with L. Ron Hubbard’s line, “If you want to get really rich, start a religion.” But I wouldn’t be surprised if he were.

These religious leaders are joining together to gain power and influence. Dating back to the 1980s, conservative Christian groups (primarily Protestants), banded together to exert influence over policy and elections. But as the religious landscape in the US changed, the coalition had to change as well. The tent, as they say, had to get bigger and more inclusive of religious conservatives from different faiths and denominations. The trend towards more overt involvement in politics by religiously-affiliated groups started after the Clinton administration and it shows no sign of slowing. What the individual religions cannot do on their own, they hope to do by joining together to put the combined weight of their membership behind their policy push, sort of a faith-based cartel. A pseudo Big Religion.

Some Big Businesses, who have no religious limitation on their political activity (and Citizens United to provide them with free speech), already strive to have a maximum impact on elections. Imagine the possibilities if Big Religion and Big Business combining to increase each other’s influence over policy and daily life.

Some people argue that anyone who goes to work for a religiously-affiliated institution has to expect to toe their doctrinal lines and if the employees don’t like they, they can quit and find another job. But what if all businesses are granted the ability to impose the religious beliefs of their owners on the employees?

And what better starting place than with something as innocuous as contraception?