It’s a winter wonderland that nobody asked for and a biting cold that pierces layers of clothes. Cars line the streets submerged in snow. Stacks of the white stuff reach nearly 5 feet high in certain areas, towering over the recently plowed pavement. The nation’s capitol was pummeled last week by nearly 3 feet of snow in five days, the largest snowfall in the city’s history. Digging out will take time. But time is a luxury that people like George Jones can’t afford. He has worked literally nonstop to keep the doors to the Catholic Charities emergency shelters open. They have never closed on his watch. It’s times like these he’s needed most. But despite his best efforts, there are still those who remain outside, sleeping, surviving, in the frigid night air.
According to a 2009 census conducted by The Community Partnership to Prevent Homelessness, there are about 6,200 homeless individuals in Washington DC, almost 1,500 of them children. These people are in emergency shelters, long term shelters, transitional housing or on the street. With only 2,000 shelter beds available (including those at emergency shelters) and an additional 300 units for families, it seems no surprise many shelters have been operating at or above capacity for the duration of the snowstorm and its aftermath.
Conservatives have long criticized the lingering effects of the 1960s, and not without reason. The legacy of the “Love Generation” — or, as renamed by some disaffected ex-members, the “Destructive Generation” — is decidedly ambiguous. Not unlike Woodstock itself — “three days of peace and music” which turned Yasgur’s farm into a 600-acre latrine — the era’s idealistic youth, having rocked the world with some positive transformations (particularly in civil rights), left a cultural morass for future generations to clean up. Among the era’s gifts to posterity is the continued popularity of the in-your-face tactics that Saul Alinsky promoted in his cult classic Rules for Radicals, which begins with an “acknowledgment” giving props to “the very first radical… Lucifer.”
When purported revelations emerged during the 2008 campaign which were held to show that Barack Obama was in some way influenced by the Chicago organizer (and which were somewhat verified, oddly, by Alinsky’s son), opponents of The One fell over themselves to denounceRules for Radicals.
But a curious thing happened along the way of exposing the alleged Alinsky-like tactics of the modern Left: Some conservatives became Alinskyites themselves.
Case in point: the recent arrest of James O’Keefe, who shot to fame last September after he and a female undergrad, Hannah Giles, dressed as a pimp and prostitute to secretly videotape ACORN employees who seemed eager to aid their purported illegal activities. As the 25-year-old self-described “investigative journalist” began to make national news (in stories featuring photos and video of the barely legal Giles in her “hooker” garb), he boasted to the New York Post that he was using Alinsky’s tactics against the Left to beat them at their own game. When posting his ACORN videos on the Big Government blog, he oftenpointedout which of Alinsky’s rules he used to make the clips.
How many of us have used that phrase at one time or another? Sometimes it means that we secretly wanted more gratitude than we got in return for our trouble. Sometimes it’s a preemptive excuse for not going to the trouble in the first place. In general, it is a lousy phrase, and I hate it when I hear myself using it.
Nevertheless, I have learned that there are genuine risks to trying to help others, and it is best to stop and anticipate those risks before leaping into situations we may not fully understand. Otherwise, the results can be the very opposite of what we intended to achieve.
I think of Jack Henry Abbott, the self-educated career criminal whose book on life behind bars, In the Belly of the Beast, came to the attention of the writer Norman Mailer in 1981. Impressed with Abbott’s talent, Mailer involved a number of other literary figures in a successful effort to get Abbott paroled, and for a brief while Abbott became a sort of poster child for redemption through literature — until, just a few months out of prison and living in a halfway house on New York’s Lower East Side, Abbott stabbed and killed an unarmed stranger over a trivial misunderstanding outside a restaurant. Ironically, the young man he killed, Richard Adan, was also a writer, an aspiring actor and playwright in his twenties who had just gotten married.
In the aftermath of the killing, it became clear that no one involved in gaining parole for Abbott understood the extent of his pathology, or the difficulty of taking a man who had spent almost his entire life behind bars and reintroducing him to civil society. Yet the warning signs had been there for anyone who took the time to stop and look: Abbott had grown up in a series of foster homes and juvenile reformatories, and had spent most of his adult life in high-security prisons, with frequent intervals in solitary confinement for violent behavior. His skillfully written memoir described …
This past January 22 was the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion in the United States. There aren’t very many other days in the United States that manifest such division. I can’t think of any other anniversary that has consistently been celebrated with public demonstrations of opposing beliefs and emotions. Some, including such high profile figures as Alan Keyes, have compared the abortion debate in this country to the debate regarding slavery in the 19th century. That’s a pretty serious comparison considering that that debate was resolved by a civil war.
The latest Gallup Poll conducted between May 7 and May 10, 2009, found that for the first time since this question was first posed in a Gallup Poll in 1995 more Americans (51 percent) consider themselves to be “pro-life” than “pro-choice” (42 percent) with respect to the abortion issue. While I am heartened by the information, I don’t have the same optimism that some pro-life groups have that this will suddenly change the law. And, whether it’s rooted in my own cynicism or in my basic distrust of politics, I don’t think that simply “voting pro-life” will do the trick either.
Before I go any further, let me insert a disclaimer. I personally can never vote for a pro-choice candidate when a comparable pro-life candidate is also running. However, I have lived through the presidency of three pro-life presidents, as well as a Republican-led Congress. As far as abortion is concerned, not much has changed. With a track record like that, I can understand my peers who don’t get the logic behind voting for pro-life candidates as the answer to the abortion debate.
Changing the reality regardless of Roe v. Wade
Most women must pass a church on their way to have their abortion. I wonder what the symbol of that church building is communicating to each of those women?
While Catholics receive information from their bishops urging them to vote pro-life, I don’t ever remember hearing with as much emphasis other ways that we can …
Last September my mother returned to Haiti after a seven-year absence from her home country. It was a brief trip involving minor family matters and she came back telling us how amazed she was at the economic growth she had seen. Many families had personal computers or cell phones. Some of the small villages had better roads and bridges. After the tragic events there this past week the country my mother visited just a few short months ago no longer exists. In the wake of the earthquake I keep thinking of the “what if’s:” What if my mother had traveled last week instead? What if I had gone to visit her? What if my sister had finally found the money to spend Christmas, New Year’s in Port-au-Prince? The “what if’s” are choking my family right now. Since Tuesday we don’t even know how sad to be.
There is a distinct difference between mourning for a country and mourning for a beloved niece or cousin, and in my family’s New York City home we’ve been vacillating between both of those states. My father, an emotional guy by nature, started crying Wednesday morning. We got an e-mail about the village he grew up in; it had a church with a kindergarten attached. Both structures collapsed killing everyone inside. His aunt with lung cancer was pulled out of the rubble of her home, with her life and not much else. My mother has a cousin and sister living in Port-au-Prince that she speaks to at least once a week. Both women have several children. She hasn’t heard anything. Over the past week my mother, who is a quiet person, has become even more silent. My siblings and I are worried.
Meanwhile I’m supposed to be studying for a Neurology exam, working at my school’s library and finding bloggers for “Busted Borders.” Instead I’ve been watching CNN, MSNBC and the local news in hopes to see someone we know in the footage of a ruined hospital—it hasn’t happened. Somehow, I am supposed to be living life …
Jonathan Freed hasn’t eaten since New Year’s Eve. The South Florida immigrants’ rights activist is one of six people who say they will not eat until President Obama puts a stop to deportations that separate immigrants from their American families. (Download the letter to the president.)
After a few days he stopped being hungry or thinking of food, he said. Instead he is consistently queasy, and his head is a little foggy.
The hunger strikers are part of a increasingly impatient immigrant movement that wants to see a moratorium on deportations until comprehensive immigration reform is enacted by Congress.
So Freed and his companions are camping on the grounds of St. Ann’s Mission in Naranja, Florida. Naranja is a community filled with Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian immigrants, too many of whom, Freed said, are at risk of deportation either because they are in the country illegally or because they’ve committed crimes ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) deems worthy of exile.
“In our community the amount of enforcement is ripping families apart,” he said Wednesday. Freed, who is executive director of We Count!, a immigrant rights organization, acknowledges that the hunger strike is a dramatic step — and one that could fail. But more traditional forms of protest haven’t worked, he said.
“People have marched, written letters, held rallies and vigils. We’ve done all that. The situation has become so critical we felt we had to do something dramatic,” said Freed.
So for thirteen days now Freed and five others — among them undocumented immigrants with American children — have slept in a tent on the church grounds and spent their days explaining their action to visitors, keeping each other company and praying.
“It’s a political action, but it’s also a spiritual action that you try to get God to intercede and change the hearts of those in government,” Freed said.
Earlier this week a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti and we are learning only now of the complete destruction that has fallen on the Haitians. Early estimates are putting the death toll at 50,000. Here are ways to help:
Long before Twitter or Drudge or Huffington or Gawker, there was another one-word media monolith, bigger and more influential than any one else.
Television viewers didn’t call him Cronkite. Or even Mr. Cronkite. To America, he was just Walter. Everyone knew who you were talking about when you uttered that name. When I was growing up, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, he was part of an American ritual: come home, have dinner, watch Walter. He told us “that’s the way it is,” and we know he was right. Occasionally, people would also sit down to Chet and David (over at NBC) or Harry and Barbara (at ABC). But Walter was it. Nobody could touch him. He was gravitas, and veritas – gravity and truth – and he was the face in front of the most respected broadcast news outlet in the world.
His voice, my words
In 1982, fresh out of college, I landed a job in CBS’s Washington bureau, as a Production Secretary. I typed and answered the phone and learned how to work a newfangled thing called a fax. They paid me 11-thousand dollars a year. I considered myself rich.
It was a great time to be there. Just one year earlier, Cronkite had retired from the CBS Evening News, replaced by Dan Rather. When I arrived on the scene, the place was still very much in transition. The ground had shifted. The Evening News was changing its style and focus. Walter, meantime, was mentioned, but never seen. It was understood that Dan wanted it that way. Cronkite popped up from time to time on television – hosting the Kennedy Center Honors, or narrating something for PBS – but rarely on his old network.
But in 1986, I got the opportunity to play a small part in one of those appearances.
“The world has splintered into Googles and Facebooks and Politicos; there are a thousand little
Quick — can you give me the latest on the divorce drama between Jon & Kate Gosselin? Or why Paula Abdul isn’t going to be judging this year’s American Idol? Odds are you can answer those questions but you can’t tell me the name of the man who died recently after saving more than a billion lives.
You’ve never heard of him, yet when he died he was lauded as history’s “greatest human being.” You’ve never heard of him, yet he changed your life.
Dr. Norman Borlaug, who died September 12, 2009, at the age of 95, was humble and kind, and devoted his intelligence not to getting rich himself but to transforming the lives of those who needed help the most.
We spend so much of our time focusing on the goings-on of celebrities and reality TV stars — and that’s OK; it’s only human — but occasionally it’s important to give tribute to a person who is really changing our world, quietly, with no spotlight or paparazzi documenting their journey.
Dr. Norman Borlaug: An American Hero
Born in 1914 in rural Iowa, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work that contributed to ending the India-Pakistan food shortage of the mid-60s. Until Dr. Borlaug’s discoveries, rot and infestation could decimate wheat crops and reduce entire countries
Growing up just south of Los Angeles, Sr. Bernadette (Mary) Reis would see her cousin Paul Mages when her family took vacation trips to visit his family in the Milwaukee area. For the first 25 years after she entered the convent with the Daughters of St. Paul at the age of 14, Sr. Bernadette and Paul saw each other only at a couple of family gatherings.
Having reconnected over the past two years while living near each other in New York City, Sr. Bernadette and Paul have developed a deeper friendship. This has forced them to bridge the very different worlds they inhabit: Paul’s as an openly gay man and Sr. Bernadette’s as a member of a traditional Roman Catholic religious order.
During their wide-ranging discussion they confront issues ranging from how Sr. Bernadette reconciles the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding homosexuality with her relationship with her cousin and his longtime partner, to how being gay deepens Paul’s commitment to his Christian faith.
BustedHalo: I’d like to start by asking from both of you, what do your friends think about your relationship with each other?
Paul Mages: Well I know that the first time I invited my cousin Mary over to where I live there was a Fourth of July cookout, my landlady and her daughter, who’s about 32, both live in the building and the daughter pulled me aside and said, “You never told me your cousin was a nun.” So I think people, I don’t know — they just don’t assume that you’re friends with religious, but she’s just another person in the world.
Sister Bernadette: I came pie in hand, and it was the best pie that they had there. So yeah, and it was just very normal, it felt very comfortable.
PM: Right, they expect religious to be in their own cloistered community.
BH: What was it like for you, Sister Bernadette, when you found out Paul was gay?
The uproar over Notre Dame’s honoring President Obama in late May exposed the fissures within American Catholicism that will no doubt be on display following the President’s July 10 visit to the Vatican.
But while it is no secret that American Catholics have been publicly bickering with one another since the end of Vatican II (and well before then, if one reads a little history), what we are seeing now is more disturbing than a simple clash of ideologies.
It is a culture war — but not the broader, endlessly discussed “culture war” between blue- and red-state America. Rather, it is a more specific, more intense, intramural Catholic culture war. It is not pretty and, more importantly, its viciousness serves only to confirm to those outside the Church that, while we call ourselves Christians, we are unable to live out the most basic precepts of Christian compassion and charity.
Vitriol and name-calling
As Catholics who write and debate from a conservative perspective, we’ve witnessed this clash close up. The vitriol and name-calling has been raging online, all too often anonymously, for quite a while. But what was previously regarded as fringe or extreme, and confined to heated exchanges on web forums, has increasingly seeped into the Catholic mainstream. The verbal abuse among fellow Catholics has gotten out of control, and Catholics need to address it if they care about healing the Body of Christ.
The verbal abuse among fellow Catholics has gotten out of control, and Catholics need to address it if they care about healing the Body of Christ.
Just about all of us involved in the Catholic culture wars — especially those who write and blog — have, at one time or another, been guilty of rhetorical excess, or transgressed Christian charity in some way. We often rationalize our behavior by emphasizing the gravity of the situation — After all, what could be more demanding of severe rebuke than life-and-death issues like abortion and war? — or by telling ourselves that this is just the culture we live
It’s difficult now to grasp what a radical thing Eunice Kennedy Shriver was undertaking in the 1960s, when she founded the precursor of the Special Olypics, then fostered the later event’s success. We sit, after all, in a time — thank goodness — when we have largely lost the ability to flinch in the face of physical or mental hindrance in our brothers and sisters. We prefer to take people as they are, and our world is better for it.
This is due quite directly to Eunice Shriver, who began her work in a vastly different era when handicaps were something to be hushed up about, or hidden from view. After all, she caused a minor scandal in America in 1962 when she penned an article in the Saturday Evening Post acknowledging that her sister Rosemary, one of the nine Kennedy siblings, was developmentally disabled. This was considered a taboo for any family at the time, even one whose members included the President and Attorney General of the United States.
Shriver by all accounts was the sort of person who never blushed, and never backed down. As important as she considered it to force into the public conscience an awareness of Rosemary and others like her, she put a far greater priority on the work that caused much less instant fuss, but that has had much greater, lasting effect. In the same year she introduced the world to her sister, Shriver hosted a camp for the handicapped during summer days on the grounds of her farm. The idea for “Camp Shriver” was simple: allow those with disabilities the chance to enjoy each other’s company and take part in friendly competition — without judgment, without spectacle. It sounded so small, but the humanizing effect of sportsmanship was enormous.
When I was ten, my favorite movie was Mary Poppins. As it begins, British siblings Jane and Michael Banks write an advertisement listing their requirements for a new nanny. Their father — a curmudgeon who prefers investment banking to parenting — shreds the heartfelt proposal, throwing it in the fireplace and into infinity. His children’s wishes reach Mary anyway; she sits perched contentedly in the sky, as if waiting for them. With the snap of her fingers, Mary Poppins could transform a routine bunch of chores on a mundane Monday into an eternal summer Sunday afternoon at the carnival. Truly, Mary was capable of the miraculous.
Twenty-five years later, I found myself seeking Mary again. This time, it wasn’t Disney’s bohemian nanny that I yearned for, but Mary the Mother of God, who is capable of making miracles happen in real life. I hoped I’d find her in France.
As I sat in the San Francisco airport waiting to board an eleven-hour flight to Paris, I thought back to the many events that led me to be embarking on eight days of volunteer service in Lourdes, along with 15 strangers and a priest. As the North American Lourdes Volunteers brochure stated, “Volunteer pilgrimages are profound spiritual journeys in which one experiences the Gospel message of Lourdes and then lives the message in service to others.” Help! I imagined that my first solo European trip would be more along the lines of a Contiki tour for thirtysomethings seeking all-inclusive drinks, museum passes and a date. Instead, I had reluctantly chosen what was to be a serious pilgrimage for serious Catholics. I was bound not to fit in.
Though I attended thirteen years of Catholic school and a Jesuit University, my faith had waned in early adulthood. I spent my 20s in New York City and California, chasing my dream of becoming a writer and an actor. I became the type of Catholic that shows up on December 24th and Easter Sunday. My relationship to the Church had become akin to my subscription to The …
With the outpouring of support from Busted Halo readers earlier this month, on December 16 we found out that Tiyatien Health won the grand prize in the Ashoka Changemakers’ “Rethinking Mental Health” global competition. The competition drew over 340 submissions from 42 countries and sought the “best solutions to improve mental health in communities around the world.”
Dr. Patrick Lee, a friend of mine who is heading up this important project, said, “We were overjoyed by the outpouring of support from people around the world. You — our community of friends, families and colleagues — rapidly mobilized a global network of concern around our work and the Changemakers competition. Your response was incredible. We could not have achieved this without your support.”