Monday, November 8, 2010


Been in Sicily the past few days, visiting my daughter, who lives here. Thank heavens for Sicilian food. The food is a constant reminder that Sicilians are not demons from the planet Urpton come to destroy earth by driving around with their heads removed.

After 2 days of Sicilian traffic, I am ready to begin slashing tires on every single vehicle near me, purely out of a sense of self-preservation. Let me be more precise. My plan is that, before I drive, I want to go out and slash the tires of everyone within a 10-block radius, so that I don't have to scream and cry like a baby out of sheer animal terror the first few minutes of each commute.

Driving in Sicily I suddenly understand why zombies never die, and there is an inexhaustible supply of them. It's because the producers of zombie movies lived in Sicily, and had to drive here each day. The peculiar horror of zombie movies - "where do they all come from? what do they want? why can't I kill them?" - actually originated with Sicilian drivers. The producers of zombie films perceived that the rest of the world would not believe their Sicilian driving stories, so they cloaked them with much more credible, down to earth plot devices, like West Indian voodoo tales of the un-dead rising to feed on the bowels of the living.

Typical Sicilian Driver Photo Credit

By the way, remind me never, ever to make a sarcastic comment about U.S. Postal Service employees again. Ever. My daughter and I went to the Post Office in town yesterday morning to mail a letter. One hour and 15 minutes after we entered the post office, after waiting in line behind 2 people, we emerged, letter mailed.

The guy immediately in front of us had 6 letters to mail. Let me tell you about that.

I commented to my daughter, after 25 minutes of watching "6 letter guy" (I'll call him "6," for short) get "served," that the U.S. could arm and launch a nuclear warhead faster than this. She nodded in agreement. She actually knows about such things. At one point the post-mistress left the poor guy standing there for 15 minutes. No news on where she went, or why. As far as I could see, he just had 6 letters. No special colored paper, no special boxes. Just 6 letters.

I am not kidding; I am not making this up; I am not exaggerating. I kept checking my watch, in disbelief.

At one point during the 35-40 minutes lavished on "6," a small old Sicilian man came up and began screaming at the post-mistress. Apparently he had little sticker #10 in his hand, and Mr. "6" had sticker #11. My daughter and I held sticker #13. For a fleeting moment I actually felt sorry for the post-mistress. She sent "6" back to stand with us, and waited on the little screaming Sicilian man. It was after she got done with Little Screamer that she disappeared for 15 minutes on "6." Probably had to go smoke a joint or something.

Little Screaming Sicilian Man Photo Credit

The sticker thingies are fascinating. When you come in the P.O. you punch a button on a machine and get a sticker with a number on it. Very much like a deli. At some point during your stay at the P.O. your number will come up on an electronic screen at one of the P.O. windows. You don't know where or when. This is important, because there is no line. There is what looks like a rugby scrum, or a rush for the last boat out of France as the Nazis were taking over in 1940. So the little sticker thingies are actually a survival mechanism for the post-mistresses and the few shell-shocked people in attendance who cannot stomach the idea of trampling or beating another human being to get to a P.O. window.

Absent the sticker thingies, tramplings and beatings would be the order of the day. Much like the traffic right outside the door. The mangled, lifeless bodies of two people were scraped off the highway outside the P.O. in the 1:15 we waited. (I made this last sentence up. Sorry. I had to exaggerate something. It was too stressful remaining entirely factual.

So the sticker thingies represent, not a triumph of civilization, but a brave and lonely voice of civilization in a culture that veers frighteningly close to the "tohu bohu" mentioned in Genesis 1. Except, of course, for their food, which I mentioned. The food is highly organized, varied, delicious, and reminds one there is a God in heaven and he will return in glory.

As for our post-mistress, when she re-emerged she was much slower than when she started with "6." Which I wouldn't have thought possible, except I saw it all with my own eyes.

I've decided that as between the Post Office on ludes and the headless zombie Sicilian drivers on methamphetamine, I will choose the headless zombies. I would prefer someone else kill me than to take my own life.

I'm beginning to understand the stressed out tone my daughter's voice has when she calls home.

Thursday, November 4, 2010



"Public relations disaster."

"Scandalously negative attitude toward women."

These and even harsher words are uttered by Richard McBrien, a Notre Dame theologian writing in the National Catholic Register about a recent Vatican document. McBrien, who doesn't agree with the Church's refusal to ordain women as priests, claims that the document defines the ordination of female priests as a moral wrong on par with the sexual abuse of minors.

What the Vatican document actually did was to add several different kinds of forbidden conduct ("delicts") to the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (see link for the full text, or see a letter summarizing the changes.) There are a variety of "delicts" added to the Congregation's jurisdiction, among them possession of child pornography by priests, abuse of a developmentally disabled person over 18, various ways of wrongly celebrating the Eucharist, the recording or divulging of confessions, and the attempt to ordain a female priest.

Historically, wrongful ordination of priests is exactly the kind of doctrinal "delict" the Congregation is supposed to deal with - issues that require the Church to define what is and is not faithful to the Church's teaching. The whole business of having the Congregation take jurisdiction in cases of priests accused of sexual abuse is a recent addition (2001) to their jurisdiction caused by the grave threat to the Church posed by the abuse problem. It was the Pope's way to ensure the cases get handled properly, and not left to kick around at the Diocesan level.

So McBrien's argument actually has the whole thing quite backward, historically and logically. The historically and logically correct argument would be that including sexual abuse cases in the Congregation's portfolio was a bit of a stretch. Doctrinal disputes, like female ordination, are right up the Congregation's historical "alley."

McBrien may have blundered because he actually doesn't understand this. Or he he may be interested in making a propaganda point and figures nobody will call him on the details. Either way, this is a sad performance by a man with a doctorate in theology.

In any event his argument is foolish and ought to be dismissed. If he wants to argue about female ordination, by all means, argue the merits, but don't confuse bogus posturing with argument.


Just read a New York Times article decrying the ouster of 3 Iowa judges on election day. The judges had been part of a unanimous decision invalidating Iowa's traditional marriage law. Iowa's voters didn't like the decision and dumped 3 of the judges who were up for re-election November 2.

The article had quotes from two law school professors, another from a former California judge who was ousted by voters there, and a final quote from a gay advocacy group spokesperson. All talked about how awful it is that the judges were voted out of office. No surprises there, eh?

Just a quick question, though: weren't the judges voted into office? I mean, that's the system in Iowa, right? The people vote for judges, just like they vote for other political candidates? So is the point of all the hand-wringing that it's okay to vote judges into office, but wrong to vote them out?

Really? Because that makes no sense. If critics want to argue that Iowa shouldn't elect judges, make the argument. Many would agree. But to argue that once a judge is elected he or she should never be voted out of office, well, that is absurd.

What made the article truly uber-strange was that the only perspective from those who ousted the judges was the hope that the election would send a "message." No one explained why a Constitutional right to gay marriage is legally and historically shaky. No one spelled out the political legitimacy problem when judges insist on doing the legislature's policy-making business. No one supplied the plentiful sociological reasons for favoring traditional marriage. (For an interesting story on the subject read this Time Magazine article from 2009. I mention Time deliberately, the point being that even Time gets it. Which is saying something.)

Nada. It's as if only one side of the debate was allowed to explain itself. The majority of Iowans who voted the judges out, well, apparently no one's allowed to explain anything. At least not in the NYT.

Not surprising, from the Times. That's what's sad.