Saturday, July 31, 2010

Iran: Death by stoning

London, England (CNN) -- In a room thousands of miles from her prison cell in northeastern Iran, the fear that has gripped Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for years was clear and almost palpable.

"The day I was given the stoning sentence, it was as if I fell into a deep hole and I lost consciousness," said a human rights advocate, reading aloud from a letter attributed to Ashtiani. "Many nights, before sleeping, I think to myself how can anybody be prepared to throw stones at me; to aim at my face and hands? Why?"

Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, was set to be stoned to death for allegedly committing adultery in Iran. Members of the International Committee Against Executions, who have launched a public campaign for her freedom, held a news conference Friday to share a letter they said was from Ashtiani, who is being held in a Tabriz prison, and court documents from her case.

"I thank all of you from Tabriz prison," the letter said. Referring to advocate Mina Ahadi, Ashtiani wrote, "Mrs. Ahadi, tell everyone that I'm afraid of dying. Help me stay alive and hug my children."

The group also presented court documents it said refuted a July 8 statement from the Iranian government that denied Ashtiani would be executed by stoning.
Read the rest here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

An Orthodox Pope?

No. Not him. The author is referring to +Kirill Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. I have my doubts to put it mildly. But the article does make for some interesting reading. Let's be honest. "Byzantine" is a term that could easily refer to more than our liturgical rites.
The current visit to Ukraine by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill -- and his statements before his departure from Moscow and during his stops in Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kyiv -- have probably evoked greater interest than any previous visit to Ukraine by a head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This is not simply because it's mid-summer and there is so little other news. It has become evident that the new patriarch adheres to a clear political line with regard to Ukraine, one that entails regular and lengthy visits -- and possibly even dividing his time between Moscow and Kyiv.

To understand why the patriarch is showing a level of interest in Ukraine that can hardly be compared with scant attention paid by his predecessor, Aleksy II, we need to look at Kirill's biography. He is almost certainly the most influential cleric within the Russian church today. Within the Holy Synod, none of the clerics of Kirill's generation can compete with him in terms of erudition, "media savvy," and administrative ability.

What's more, the majority of the current leaders of the church eparchies, including Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Volodymyr, are already well on in years. The process of rejuvenating the church hierarchy depends on the new patriarch: The new young metropolitans and archbishops will be chosen from Kirill's circle.
Read the rest here.

Memory Eternal

Matushka Jeanette Seamore (see previous post) died yesterday after a long illness. Please pray for her and for Fr. Gabe.

May her memory be eternal!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Prayer Request

This evening I have received a very sad email reporting that Matushka Jeanette Seamore, wife of Fr. Gabriel (St. George the Great Martyr Hesperia CA), of whom I have posted before, has taken a serious turn for the worse. The doctor's now fear the end is not far off. Fr. Gabe and Matushka were longtime members of St. Mary Magdalene here in Merced back when he was still Deacon Gabe. They are both much loved and deeply missed. In your charity please keep them in your prayers.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Death of Paper Money

A very sobering article from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at The Telegraph.
Ebay is offering a well-thumbed volume of "Dying of Money: Lessons of the Great German and American Inflations" at a starting bid of $699 (shipping free.. thanks a lot).

The crucial passage comes in Chapter 17 entitled "Velocity". Each big inflation -- whether the early 1920s in Germany, or the Korean and Vietnam wars in the US -- starts with a passive expansion of the quantity money. This sits inert for a surprisingly long time. Asset prices may go up, but latent price inflation is disguised. The effect is much like lighter fuel on a camp fire before the match is struck.

People’s willingness to hold money can change suddenly for a "psychological and spontaneous reason" , causing a spike in the velocity of money. It can occur at lightning speed, over a few weeks. The shift invariably catches economists by surprise. They wait too long to drain the excess money.

"Velocity took an almost right-angle turn upward in the summer of 1922," said Mr O Parsson. Reichsbank officials were baffled. They could not fathom why the German people had started to behave differently almost two years after the bank had already boosted the money supply. He contends that public patience snapped abruptly once people lost trust and began to "smell a government rat".

Some might smile at the Bank of England "surprise" at the recent the jump in Brtiish inflation. Across the Atlantic, Fed critics say the rise in the US monetary base from $871bn to $2,024bn in just two years is an incendiary pyre that will ignite as soon as US money velocity returns to normal.

Morgan Stanley expects bond carnage as this catches up with the Fed, predicting that yields on US Treasuries will rocket to 5.5pc. This has not happened so far. 10-year yields have fallen below 3pc, and M2 velocity has remained at historic lows of 1.72.
Read the rest here.

P.S. I have just discovered that the book mentioned in the article, Dying of Money (Jens O. Parsson) is available in its entirety online here. The book can be read for free.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Busy week ahead

Posting is apt to be slow this week.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Weather Bulletin: It's hot!

WASHINGTON — When people in the nation’s capital talked about an endless summer this week, they did not mean surfing or margaritas (though they surely craved them). Throughout the mid-Atlantic states, from New York to Georgia, and out through the Great Plains, the heat this spring and summer has been relentless, causing clothes, hair and spirits to wilt well before the dog days of August.

Saturday, as one meteorologist had predicted with scientific precision, was “one of those just downright awful summer days.”

Even as a tropical storm visited Florida, and California continued its strange cold streak, in much of the East a Bermuda High was pushing weekend temperatures to the 100 range and humidity beyond the tolerable.

It is not that any one day has set an all-time heat record, but a large area of the country has been assaulted by a succession of heat waves. Washington in June recorded the highest average temperature for the month since record keeping began in 1871 — including 18 days of 90 degrees or more. July is on its way to a similar unwelcome record.

In New York City, temperatures in July have averaged 5.5 degrees above normal, according to the private weather service AccuWeather.

Standing in Kansas City’s scorching sun, motorcycle police officers holding radar guns bemoaned polyester pants that cannot breathe, and said they were stuffing cooling packs inside their bullet-proof vests. Zoo officials fed ice cubes to otters and asked visitors to come early in the day, when the animals were more active.
Read the rest here.

Not sure what part of California they think is cool. It's over 100 here again and the daily high hasn't been below 90 in weeks.

Nuns on the run

Sister Marie-Daniel, 86, and Sister Saint-Denis, 82, fled their nunnery two weeks ago after convent officials said they were being sent to a remote mountain retreat 250 miles away.

The pair vanished from the Sisters of Saint-Joseph convent in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, on the French Riviera convent, on July 12 and have not been seen since.
A third 89-year-old nun, Sister Maurice-Marie, has revealed she also wanted to flee but broke her leg four days before the two elderly sisters disappeared.

A third 89-year-old nun, Sister Maurice-Marie, has revealed she also wanted to flee but broke her leg four days before the two elderly sisters disappeared.
Read the rest here.

The Original "Goodfella": A life of crime followed by 30 years on the run

Henry Hill spent the first half his life working for the mob and the second half on the run from them. Now at 67, still compulsively looking over his shoulder, he is surprised to be alive. He is haunted by the ghosts of old friends (and enemies) almost all of whom either died in prison or were murdered. He helped put a lot of them in jail and he also buried more than a few bodies in unmarked graves. (Though he still denies actually killing anyone.) The Telegraph recently caught up with one of the most (in)famous gangsters ever to "rat out" the Sicilian fraternal organization.

Read the story here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hors de combat

An American Army platoon is withdrawn from action after suffering nearly 50% casualties.
Three weeks into the fight in the volatile Arghandab Valley, an American platoon of the Army's 101st Airborne Division is heading to the rear, weakened by horrific war injuries and unable to continue their mission. The platoon -- 1st platoon, Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 320 Field Artillery Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division -- started the mission with 17 men, and now they're down to 9. Combat Outpost Nolen has seen some of the most intense fighting in Kandahar Province.

This area is critical to U.S. control of the region because it's a main supply route into the city of Kandahar for the Taliban. It's also treacherous for the platoon trying to carry out its mission.

Shrapnel ripped into Sgt. Matthew Kendall's face and left arm on July 4th, when a soldier from another unit stepped on a homemade bomb, which the military calls an IED, as Kendall walked next to him.

Spc. Kevin Gatson fell victim to another IED July 12th. It was one of many that have been seeded in farming land surrounding the former school the platoon is using as a base. Gatson lost his leg and three fingers. The platoon leader, 1st Lt. Norman Black, had his eardrum blown out by the blast.

A quick reaction team was immediately sent from COP Nolen and came to Gatson's aid. On the way, an IED exploded and Staff Sgt. Kyle Malin lost both of his legs. Less than 45 minutes later, an IED took off both of Pfc. Corey Kent's legs and part of his left hand. Sgt. Michael Hagan was hit in the face and arm by shrapnel, and also ruptured an eardrum in the blast.

Just two days later on July 14, Pfc. Brandon King, a soldier from a different platoon, was shot by a marksman while standing guard duty. He was the first soldier killed at COP Nolen since it was taken over by the 101st Airborne Division.

On July 19, Staff Sgt. Avionne Reese walked into an IED for the third time in the three-week deployment -- it shot pieces of the bomb into the right side of his body. Luckily no one was seriously injured in the first incident on July 5, when an IED went off near a patrol. But on July 12, in the second incident, he was struck by shrapnel from the IED that hit Gatson. After three IEDs the Army will take a soldier out of the fight for evaluation.

Spc. Pedro Torres injured his arm and was hit in the face by the same blast that hit Reese.

The group has already been recommended for 10 Purple Hearts.
Read the rest here

I am sobered and humbled by their sacrifices.

Kosovo: Mob Rule 1 - Rule of Law 0

Europe continues its inexorable slide toward social and political anarchy. The implications for this ruling could be staggering. It effectively casts into doubt the long term viability of any nation state anywhere.
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Kosovo's unilateral secession from Serbia in 2008 did not violate international law, the World Court said on Thursday in a case that could have implications for separatist movements around the globe.

The ruling - a major blow to Serbia - is likely to lead to more countries recognizing Kosovo's independence and move Pristina closer to entry into the United Nations.

It may also embolden breakaway regions in other countries to seek more autonomy.

"The court considers that general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declaration of independence," Judge Hisashi Owada, president of the ICJ, said in his ruling.
Read the rest here.

Yet another gift of Woodrow Wilson (one of the worst presidents in US History) to the world.

Memory Eternal: Abbot Augustine (Whitfield)

Via Serge:
Fr. Augustine, a monastic of the Western Orthodox Rite (ROCOR) and abbot of the Benedictine Congregation in Jacksonville FL has reposed. May his memory be eternal.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

David Cameron; Britain's new Prime Minister is planning a revolution

LONDON — In the five years David Cameron spent rebuilding the Conservative Party in opposition, opinion polls showed that as he sought to rebrand it by offering a compassionate but persistently fuzzy image, voters had trouble defining what sort of a prime minister he would make.

Not any longer.

After 10 weeks in office, Mr. Cameron, who met with President Obama in Washington on Tuesday, has emerged as one of the most activist prime ministers in modern times, rivaling in some respects even Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” who as the Conservative leader in the 1980s attacked unions and government bloat while privatizing national industries and vigorously pursuing free-market policies.

With a relentless battery of policy announcements, Mr. Cameron and his coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have proposed to couple the deep deficit cuts the conservatives sketched out during the May general election campaign with a wider effort to break the mold of big government in Britain that, despite Lady Thatcher’s best efforts, has largely prevailed since World War II...

...Their proposals for slashing spending go beyond anything Britain has experienced in its modern history, even under Lady Thatcher. They sharply reverse course from a Labour government that, for 13 years under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, expanded the state’s power at a pace never seen outside of wartime, turning Britain into one of the most heavily taxed, tightly regulated countries in the developed world, with government accounting for about half the work force and half of the economy.

So far, the course charted by Mr. Cameron and his deputy prime minister, Mr. Clegg, remains largely visionary. At best, they face months, and potentially years, of slug-it-out battles with opponents, including skeptics in their own parties, as well as with newly restive labor unions and a recalcitrant bureaucracy. Their austerity drive alone could bring the coalition down, if people like Mr. Obama who fear that budget-slashing could drive economies like Britain’s back into recession prove to be right.

The main hallmark of the coalition’s program is a plan to halve the annual budget deficit of $235 billion within five years, and to achieve that by across-the-board cuts in almost all government ministries. All the departments involved have been told to prepare a plan for cuts as high as 40 percent, and some may have to cut much deeper than others to compensate for high-spending ministries like those responsible for the military and for Britain’s $290 billion annual welfare outlays, which are unlikely to make even the 25 percent reductions.
Read the rest here.

The right to discriminate on religious grounds

In the opening paragraph of his dissent in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (June 28, 2010) Justice Samuel Alito names the principle he finds animating the majority opinion: “no freedom for expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country’s institutions of higher learning.” I have come to think he is right.

But before I say why, let me review the facts of the case.

The Christian Legal Society is an organization with chapters at a number of law schools. The purpose of the society, according to the petitioner’s brief, is to “provide opportunities for fellowship, as well as moral and spiritual guidance, for Christian lawyers,” to promote “justice religious liberty, and biblical conflict resolution” and encourage “lawyers to furnish legal services for the poor.”

Anyone can attend and participate in a C.L.S. meeting, but voting members and officers are required to “affirm their commitment to the group’s core beliefs” by signing a Statement of Faith that declares a trust in Jesus as one’s savior, and a belief in the Trinity as well as in the Bible as the inspired word of God. Those who sign the Statement of Faith are expected to live up to its precepts, and if they do not — if they do not refrain from “either participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” — they disqualify themselves from C.L.S. membership. “Sexually immoral” behavior includes pre-marital sex, adultery and homosexual conduct.

And there’s the rub, at least as far as the University of California-Hastings College of the Law is concerned; for, according to its briefs, the school requires all R.S.O.’s (registered student organizations) to maintain an “all-comers” policy with regard to memberships and candidacy for group officers. In a deposition, the law school’s dean explained that “in order to be a registered student organization you have to allow all our students to be members and full participants if they want to.” (There is a dispute about just when this policy was put in place, the petitioners claiming that it was conveniently invented in the middle of the case, the law school claiming that it had been in force since 1990.)

Organizations that will not open their membership rolls to all comers can still form and have a campus presence and petition to use school facilities for meetings, but they will not be granted the benefits that come along with official recognition (which is different, Hastings is careful to point out, from positive sponsorship).

So the issue is joined: must C.L.S.’s right under the First Amendment to form an association of like-minded persons around an idea or an agenda give way — at least with respect to the privilege of R.S.O. status — to the nation’s and the university’s compelling interest in eliminating “invidious” discrimination? Or should the all-comers policy be relaxed in recognition of the right of an association to maintain the integrity of its declared purposes and beliefs?
Read the rest of this excellent piece here.

Russian Orthodox Church given land for church in Madrid Spain

An agreement on the allotment of a plot of land to the Russian Orthodox Church for building a church was signed in the Madrid City Council on July 9, 2010. The plot of 756 square meters is situated in a prestigious part of the city near the Pinar del Rey metro station.

The Russian Orthodox Parish of St. Mary Magdalene was founded in Madrid in 1761 under Envoy N. Repnin. It lasted till 1882. In the post-war period, there was a Chapel of St. Seraphim of Sarov at the house belonging to the Russian Imperial family in Madrid.

The Parish of the Nativity of Christ was founded in 2001, but to this day the divine services have been celebrated in a former furniture workshop.

The need for a church has been discussed for a long time but a breakthrough happened after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Spain in March 2009. Ms. Medvedev visited the Parish of the Nativity of Christ on March 1, 2009. During the visit Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón promised to decide the issue of allotting some land to the Russian Orthodox Church for building a church.

With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, a Nativity of Christ Foundation has been registered with the Spanish Ministry of Culture. It is headed by the rector of the parish, Rev. Andrey Kordochkin. Its Patrons Board includes Archbishop Innocent of Korsun, Archbishop Mark of Yegoryevsk, Moscow Patriarch secretary for institutions abroad, and Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, who lives in Madrid.

The church is to be designed by local architect Jesus San Vicente in cooperation with well-known Moscow architect A. Vorontsov who designed the Russian Orthodox church in Havana.

The agreement provides for tough deadlines: within 6 months after the title of land is registered, a construction license is to be requested and within 2 months after it is obtained the construction should start to be completed within 24 months after its beginning.

What happens when you outsource... the government?

In the case of Maywood CA, apparently not much.
MAYWOOD, Calif. — Not once, not twice, but three times in the last two weeks, Andrew Quezada says, he was stopped and questioned by the authorities here.

Mr. Quezada, a high school student who does volunteer work for the city, pronounced himself delighted.

“I’m walking along at night carrying an overstuffed bag,” he said, describing two of the incidents. “I look suspicious. This shows the sheriff’s department is doing its job.”

Chalk up another Maywood resident who approves of this city’s unusual experience in municipal governing. City officials last month fired all of Maywood’s employees and outsourced their jobs.

While many communities are fearfully contemplating extensive cuts, Maywood says it is the first city in the nation in the current downturn to take an ax to everyone.

The school crossing guards were let go. Parking enforcement was contracted out, City Hall workers dismissed, street maintenance workers made redundant. The public safety duties of the Police Department were handed over to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

At first, people in this poor, long-troubled and heavily Hispanic city southeast of Los Angeles braced for anarchy.

Senior citizens were afraid they would be assaulted as they walked down the street. Parents worried the parks would be shut and their children would have nowhere to safely play. Landlords said their tenants had begun suggesting that without city-run services they would no longer feel obliged to pay rent.

The apocalypse never arrived. In fact, it seems this city was so bad at being a city that outsourcing — so far, at least — is being viewed as an act of municipal genius.
Read the rest here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Teen jailed after... buggy chase

LEON, N.Y. (WIVB) - (RELEASE) After an investigation performed by the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Office, 17 year old Amish boy, Levi Detweiler, was arrested on counts of underage possession of alcohol, overdriving an animal, reckless endangerment and failure to stop at a stop sign.

The investigation found that Detweiler ran through a stop sign in the presence of Sheriff Deputies, an attempt was made to stop the buggy by Deputies and the suspect refused to stop.

The chase ensued for approximately 3/4 of a mile when the suspect attempted an unsafe turn in a driveway and crashed the horse and buggy.

The victim then exited the buggy and took off on foot, leaving the scene of the accident.

The suspect was later found in the area and was interviewed by detectives.

Two Amish males helped Deputies in freeing the horse from the crash and removing the buggy from the ditch.

The suspect was arrested on the charges and arraigned in Leon Court and bail was set at $500. He was remanded to the Cattaraugus. County Jail.

World War I casualties are reburied

FROMELLES, France – The remains of a World War I soldier left in a mass grave for more than 90 years were moved by four-horse cart to a new cemetery for reburial with full honors Monday in a ceremony attended by Prince Charles.

The unknown soldier's new headstone in northern France bears a simple inscription: "A soldier of the Great War. Known unto God." His nationality is unclear, but he was either Australian or British.

German machine guns and artillery left more than 5,500 Australians and more than 1,500 British killed, wounded or missing in under 24 hours at the 1916 Battle of Fromelles, the first Australian combat operation on the Western Front.

Many of the dead were buried by Germans in a mass grave, which was covered by plants over time and discovered by an Australian amateur historian in 2008.

After more than two years of exhumation and identification work by archaeologists, 249 of the bodies were reburied under marble gravestones laid out in a V shape in a new cemetery in the French town of Fromelles.
Read the rest here.

Egyptian strongman Mubarek is feared dying

US and Western intelligence agencies assess that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is terminally ill, and the Obama administration is closely watching the expected transition of power in a nation that for decades has been an anchor of stability in the volatile Middle East and a key U.S. ally.

Mr. Mubarak on Sunday held meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; President Obama's special envoy to the Middle East conflict, George J. Mitchell; and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

Nonetheless, the 82-year-old Egyptian leader is thought by most Western intelligence agencies to be dying from terminal cancer affecting his stomach and pancreas.

Earlier this month, several Arab and Hebrew newspapers reported that Mr. Mubarak recently sought treatment for his ailment at a hospital in France. A senior Egyptian government official interviewed for this article said those reports were "without any factual basis whatsoever."

There are, however, other indications that Mr. Mubarak's health is failing. In March, the Egyptian leader traveled to Germany for what at the time was said to be gallbladder surgery, a treatment that took him out of action for six weeks, according to a special report on Egypt in the current issue of the Economist.

An intelligence officer from a Central European service told The Washington Times last week that his service estimates that the Egyptian president will be dead within a year, and before Cairo's scheduled presidential elections in September 2011.

Both the National Intelligence Council and the U.S. Central Command have tasked intelligence analysts to start gaming out scenarios after Mr. Mubarak's death and how his passing will affect the transition of power, according to three U.S. officials.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Debt Supercycle and the End Game

...And yet, and yet… While the Debt Supercycle may not yet have ended, I think we can begin to see a clear case that, like the sandwich-board-wearing cartoon prophet warning, “The End is Nigh!” Greece is the harbinger of fundamental change. Spain and Portugal are pointing to the same outcome, as their cost of debt keeps rising. And Ireland? The Baltics?

There is a limit to how much debt you can pile on. But as the work of Reinhart and Rogoff points out (This Time Is Different), there is not a fixed limit or some certain percentage of GNP. Rather, the limit is all about confidence, a theme I have written on many times. Everything goes along well, and then “Boom!” it doesn’t. That “Boom” has happened to Greece. Without massive assistance, Greek debt would be unmarketable. Default would be inevitable. (I still think it is!)

The limit is different for every nation. For Russia in the 1990s, it was a rather minor total debt-to-GDP ratio of around 12%. Japan will soon have a debt-to-GDP ratio of 230%! The difference? Local savers bought government debt in Japan and did not in Russia.

The end of the Debt Supercycle does not have to mean calamity for each country, depending on how far down the road they are. Yes, if you are Greece your choices are between very, very bad and disastrous. Japan is a bug in search of a windshield. Each country has its own dynamics.

Take the US. We are some ways off from the end. We have time to adjust. But let’s be under no illusions, we cannot run deficits of 10% of GDP forever. At some point the Fed will either have to monetize the debt or the bond market will simply demand an ever-higher interest rate. Why can’t we go the way of Japan? Because we do not have the level of savings they have traditionally had. But their savings levels are rapidly declining, which says that if they want to continue their deficit spending at 10% of GDP, they will have to go into the foreign markets to borrow money at a much higher cost, or their central bank will have to print money. Neither choice is good.
Read the rest of this excellent piece here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Nazi militia patrolling the border

PHOENIX (AP) — Minutemen groups, a surge in Border Patrol agents and a tough new immigration law are not enough for a reputed neo-Nazi who is now leading a militia in the Arizona desert.

Jason Ready is taking matters into his own hands, declaring war on what he calls “narco-terrorists” and keeping an eye out for illegal immigrants. So far, he said, his patrols have found only a few border crossers, who were given water and handed over to the Border Patrol. Once, they found a decaying body in a wash, and alerted the authorities.

But local law enforcement officials are worried, given that Mr. Ready’s group is heavily armed and identifies with the National Socialist Movement, an organization that believes that only non-Jewish, white heterosexual people should be American citizens and that everyone who is not white should leave the country — “peacefully or by force.”

“We’re not going to sit around and wait for the government anymore,” Mr. Ready said. “This is what our founding fathers did.”
Read the rest here.

Facebook: Coping with death on the social network

Courtney Purvin got a shock when she visited Facebook last month. The site was suggesting that she get back in touch with an old family friend who played piano at her wedding four years ago.

The friend had died in April.

“It kind of freaked me out a bit,” she said. “It was like he was coming back from the dead.”

Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, knows a lot about its roughly 500 million members. Its software is quick to offer helpful nudges about things like imminent birthdays and friends you have not contacted in a while. But the company has had trouble automating the task of figuring out when one of its users has died.

That can lead to some disturbing or just plain weird moments for Facebook users as the site keeps on shuffling a dead friend through its social algorithms.
Read the rest here.

Liturgy and the limits to authority

Patricius on the delicate topic of liturgical tinkering by those in authority...
...The history of the Old Ritualists [the Orthodox] just goes to show the fine balance which ought to exist between authority and tradition. Authority should conform to Tradition not the other way around. If only juridical hermeneutics of ecclesiology could be shaken off by Catholics and we could return to the simplicity of St Ignatius of Antioch's famous, and self-evidently liturgical, formula: Where the Bishop is there let the multitude of believers be, even as where Jesus is there is the Catholic Church. I don't see why we should accept, as Catholics, what the Church does with the Sacred Liturgy as acceptable when it so obviously is not acceptable. This is why I hate the liturgical books of 1962 and think that Summorum Pontificum is not so great as people make it out to be. Summorum Pontificum only exists because of a false understanding of the Petrine ministry. Pope Benedict has just as little authority to create a distinction between the so-called ''extraordinary'' and ''ordinary'' forms of the Roman Rite as Pius XII has to do away with folded chasubles. That authority simply does not exist. Popes are the guardians of Tradition, not the lords thereof, and 20th century Popes have failed, failed spectacularly, at their jobs. In 1957 (in the immediate aftermath of the new ''restored'' Holy Week) Tolkien wrote to his grandson Michael, and said quite rightly that God ''won't be dictated to by high ecclesiastics whom he himself has appointed.'' Of course he said this in the context of his translation of Jonah, who fled into Ninevah from the face of the Lord.
Read the rest here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Regicide: 92 years ago

On July 17 (NS) in 1918 Czar Nicholas II, the Empress Alexandra together with their five children and several loyal retainers were massacred under exceptionally brutal circumstances by the Bolsheviks.

Holy Royal Martyr's of Russia pray for us!

They have set up kings, but not with my consent, and appointed princes, but without my knowledge.”
-Hosea 8:4


Sovereign debt risk and the private sector

Which governments will not be able to pay their bills?

The ones with private sectors that are not doing well enough to bail out the government.

That should be one lesson of the near default this year of the Greek government. Government finances are important, but in the end it is the private sector that matters most.

If so, those who focus on fiscal policy may be missing important things. Spain appeared to be in fine shape, with government surpluses, before the recession hit. Now Spain is being downgraded and has soaring deficits.

“Academics and market practitioners have not had an impressive record of predicting serious financial downturns or of providing adequate early warnings of impending sovereign economic and financial problems,” says Edward Altman, a professor at New York University who has long studied debt defaults by companies and governments.

Mr. Altman’s answer is fairly simple: “One can learn a great deal about sovereign risk by analyzing the health and aggregate default risk of a nation’s private corporate sector, a type of bottom-up analysis.”
Read the rest here.

Israel: The politics of Jewish identity

WHO is a Jew? It’s an age-old inquiry, one that has for decades (if not centuries) provoked debate, discussion and too many punch lines to count — all inspired by what many assumed was the question’s essential unanswerability. But if developments this week are any indication, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, might soon offer an official, surprising answer: almost no one.

On Monday, a Knesset committee approved a bill sponsored by David Rotem, a member of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, that would give the Orthodox rabbinate control of all conversions in Israel. If passed, this legislation would place authority over all Jewish births, marriages and deaths — and, through them, the fundamental questions of Jewish identity — in the hands of a small group of ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, rabbis.

The move has set in motion a sectarian battle that is not only dividing Israeli society but threatening to sever the vital connection between Israel and the American Jewish diaspora.

The problem is not simply that some of these rabbinical functionaries, who are paid by the state and courted by politicians, are demonstrably corrupt. (To take the most salacious of a slew of examples, an American Haredi rabbi who had become one of the most powerful authorities on the question of conversion resigned from his organization in December after accusations that he solicited phone sex from a hopeful female convert.) Rather, it is that the beliefs of a tiny minority of the world’s Jews are on the verge of becoming the Israeli government’s definition of Judaism, for all Jews.

It is hard to exaggerate the possible ramifications, first and foremost for Jewish Israelis. Rivkah Lubitch, an Orthodox woman who is a lawyer in Israel’s rabbinic court system, painted a harrowing picture of the future in a recent column on the Israeli Web site Ynet.

“Even if you didn’t go to register for marriage, and even if you didn’t go to a rabbinic court for any reason, and even if you didn’t pass by a rabbinic court when you walked down the street — the rabbinic court can summon you, conduct a hearing about your Jewishness and revoke it,” she wrote. “In effect, the entire nation of Israel is presumed to be Not-Jewish — until proven otherwise.”
Read the rest here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My objective for the day...

I'm home now in California where its in the low 100's through the weekend.

P.S. I have a huge backlog of email I will be trying to go through over the next couple of days. If you sent me anything recently please bear with me.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quote of the day...

The long Anglican experiment ends not with a bang or a whimper but with peals of laughter and derision.
-Richard Freeman in response to "Church of England Bishops will be allowed to become nuns according to synod source"

Hat tip: Bill (aka The Godfather)

A quote for Bastille Day

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in, glittering like the morning star full of life and splendor and joy.

Oh, what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.

But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone. It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.

-Edmund Burke 1793 upon hearing of the execution Marie Antoinette

See also Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France

Monday, July 12, 2010

Central banks start to abandon the U.S. dollar

There are those who would argue that the financial crisis was caused by over-enthusiastic worship of the Almighty Dollar. Call it brutal financial karma, but that church is looking pretty empty these days.

A new report from Morgan Stanley analyst Emma Lawson confirms what many had suspected: the dollar is firmly on its way to losing its status as the reserve currency of the world. We already knew that central banks have preferred gold to dollars, and that they're even selling their gold for cash; now, according to Lawson's data, it seems that those central banks prefer almost anything to dollars.

Lawson found that central banks have dropped their allocation to U.S. dollars by nearly a full percentage point to 57.3% from 58.1%, and calls this "unexpected given the global environment." She adds, "over time we anticipate that reserve managers may reduce their holdings further."

What is surprising is that the managers of those central banks aren't buying traditional fall-backs like the euro, the British pound or the Japanese yen. Instead, she suggests they're putting their faith in other dollars - the kind that come from Australia and Canada. The allocation to those currencies, which fall under "other" in the data, rose by a full percentage point to 8.5%, accounting almost exactly for the drop in the U.S. dollar allocation.

Call it diversification, if you must, but the trendline indicates that central banks are finally putting their money where their anti-dollar mouths are. The dollar has been in free-fall since 2007.
Read the rest here.

Hat tip: Serge

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Poor Rowan Williams

You know, I like Rowan Williams a lot. Partly it’s because he’s a really interesting thinker – even if you’re not theologically inclined, his writings on Dostoyevsky are well worth your attention – who, often at some cost to his own reputation, doesn’t bother much with tailoring his thoughts for media soundbited purposes. Partly it’s because his theological conservatism has never stopped him taking the expansive and humane view. But most of all, I feel sorry for him. And this has everything to do with the unleadable shower he’s supposed to lead, which would tax Moses himself, never mind a fallible human being like +Rowan.

But allow me to digress for a moment. Some years ago I was talking to a clerical contact who’d done some work at the Christian Unity dicastery, and who was most interesting on the differences in dealing with the various denominations. First you have to consider that the four major Christian traditions – Catholic, Orthodox, Armenian and Coptic – may have their differences, but do share a basic conceptual universe that allows them to more or less understand each other, a conceptual universe not shared by Seventh Day Adventists or Louisiana snake-handlers or such. What this boiled down to was that if Catholic negotiators were talking to the Russian Orthodox, both sides would have their settled dogmas that they could compare, identify points of agreement and disagreement, and talk about in a structured way.

This is not, of course, to say that you couldn’t make progress with the Protestants, at least those with settled positions. My interlocutor was very impressed at the way the German tag-team of Kasper and Ratzinger had engaged with the Lutherans, drawing on a shared cultural background and some understanding of what the Lutherans were about. But what used to drive him absolutely spare was trying to deal with the Anglicans, because they were a constantly moving target. You could have Rowan Williams across the table from you and have very little idea whether what he was saying was an official Anglican position or just Rowan’s opinion. The latter would, of course, be rendered more likely if Akinola popped up the next week and flatly contradicted what you’d heard from Rowan. Or was it Akinola who was off message? One could never tell…
Read the rest of this excellent (and rather witty) blog post over at Splintered.

Hat tip: Dr. Tighe.

Commission Chiefs Issue Grim Warning on Debt

BOSTON -- The co-chairs of President Obama's debt and deficit commission offered an ominous assessment of the nation's fiscal future here Sunday, calling current budgetary trends a cancer "that will destroy the country from within" unless checked by tough action in Washington.

The two leaders -- former Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton -- sought to build support for the work of the commission, whose recommendations due later this year are likely to spark a fierce political debate in Congress.

"There are many who hope we fail," Simpson said at the closing session of the National Governors Association meeting. He called the 18-member commission "good people with deep, deep differences" who know the odds of success "are rather harrowing.

Bowles said that unlike the current economic crisis, which was largely unforeseen before it hit in the fall of 2008, the coming fiscal calamity is staring the country in the face. "This one is as clear as a bell," he said. "This debt is like a cancer."

The commission leaders said that, at present, available federal revenues are fully consumed by just three programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. "The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans, the whole rest of the discretionary budget is being financed by China and other countries," Simpson said.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Damian Thompson: The Church of England is firmly Protestant

Tonight the Church of England finally acknowledged something that has been obvious since 1992, when it decided to ordain women priests: that it remains, despite the Oxford Movement, and as John Henry Newman came to believe very firmly, a Protestant Church.

As such, it enjoys the freedom to follow the example of its Reformed counterparts in other countries and ordain women to the highest level of ministry, whatever it chooses to call it. (The fact that England’s established Church calls its senior presbyters “bishops” is a matter of historical accident: had circumstances been diffferent in 1558, it might have gone the way of Scotland.)
Read the rest here.

Church of England rejects compromise on women bishops

Plans put forward by Dr Rowan Williams urging a compromise over the issue were rejected last night by members of the General Synod, including some of his most senior bishops.

The last-ditch proposal was designed to prevent an exodus of traditionalist priests, who are now likely to defect to the Roman Catholic Church.

It represented a significant gamble by Dr Williams, who was heavily criticised by liberals last week after Dr Jeffrey John, the homosexual cleric, was blocked from becoming Bishop of Southwark. Dr John's nomination to the post was revealed by The Sunday Telegraph last week.

The failure by the archbishop to gain sufficient support for his plan is likely to be viewed as a further dent to his authority.

Groups within the church have been campaigning for female clerics to be treated equally and to be allowed to become bishops, without any concessions that would undermine their ministry.

But their proposals have been opposed by traditionalists and evangelicals who do not believe making women bishops is in accordance with biblical teaching.
Read the rest here.
Hat tip: Dr. Tighe

Liberals seek to emulate tea party movement

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, the "tea party" movement must be honored.

In an effort to replicate the tea party's success, 170 liberal and civil rights groups are forming a coalition that they hope will match the movement's political energy and influence. They promise to "counter the tea party narrative" and help the progressive movement find its voice again after 18 months of floundering.

The large-scale attempt at liberal unity, dubbed "One Nation," will try to revive themes that energized the progressive grassroots two years ago. In a repurposing of Barack Obama's old campaign slogan, organizers are demanding "all the change" they voted for -- a poke at the White House.

But the liberal groups have long had a kind of sibling rivalry, jostling over competing agendas and seeking to influence some of the same lawmakers. In forming the coalition, the groups struggled to settle on a name. Even now, two of the major players disagree about who came up with the idea of holding a march this fall.
Read the rest here.

Iran may step back from death by stoning sentence

TEHRAN, Iran -- The lawyer for an Iranian widow sentenced to be stoned to death for an adultery conviction expressed cautious optimism Saturday after Iran said it will review the decision, which has drawn international condemnation.

Human rights activists and other officials, however, warned that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, could still be hanged.

The outcry over the death sentence is the latest thorn in Iran's relationship with the international community, with the United States, Britain and international human rights groups urging Tehran to stay the execution.

Stoning was widely imposed in the years following the 1979 Islamic revolution, and even though Iran's judiciary still regularly hands down such sentences, they are often converted to other punishments. The last known stoning was carried out in 2007, although the government rarely confirms that such punishments have been meted out.
Read the rest here.

Help Wanted: Apply on Wall Street

While much of the country remains fixated on the bleak employment picture, hiring is beginning to pick up in the place that led the economy into recession — Wall Street.

The shift underscores the remarkable recovery of the biggest banks and brokerage firms since Washington rescued them in the fall of 2008, and follows the huge rebound in profits for members of the New York Stock Exchange, which totaled $61.4 billion in 2009, the most ever. Since employment bottomed out in February, New York securities firms have added nearly 2,000 jobs, a trend that is also playing out nationwide at financial companies, commodity contract traders and investment firms.
Read the rest here.

State's Rights supporters cheer (weakly) court's gay marriage ruling

A judge’s decision on Thursday declaring that a state law allowing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts should take precedence over a federal definition of marriage has exposed the fractures and fault lines among groups working to bolster states’ rights.

The decision, by Judge Joseph L. Tauro of United States District Court in Boston, supports and echoes a central tenet of the Tea Party, 9/12 and Tenth Amendment movements, all of which argue that the authority of the states should trump Washington in most matters not explicitly assigned by the Constitution to the federal government.

Congress, the judge said, had infringed on a question that was the province of local voters and legislators.

But in using the argument to support gay marriage in Massachusetts, where the case arose, the judge created an awkward new debating point within the less-government movement about where social goals and government policy intersect, or perhaps collide.

Some people involved in the campaigns to limit Washington’s reach cheered what they said was a states’ rights victory.

“The Constitution isn’t about political ideology,” said Michael Boldin, the founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, a group based in Los Angeles. “It’s about liberty, and limiting the government to certain divisive issues — I applaud what I consider a very rare ruling from the judiciary.”

Others, like Steve V. Moon, a software programmer and founder of, a group founded in Utah in 2008, said the judge’s decision was both right and wrong.
Read the rest here.

For the record, I concur with the narrow rational in the court's decision. It's a state's rights issue. The Feds should mind their own business.

Rush checks out... and cashes in

A year after railing about the high tax burden on wealthy New Yorkers, Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk-show host, is severing one more tie with New York, selling his lushly decorated Fifth Avenue penthouse to an undisclosed buyer.

Mr. Limbaugh's 10-room condominium, which features a 30-foot-wide living room with fireplace and four terraces overlooking Central Park at East 86th Street, went into contract Thursday for a bit under the final $12.95 million asking price, brokers said.

One broker familiar with the transaction said the final price was about $11.5 million. Mr. Limbaugh paid just under $5 million for the apartment as well as a maid's room and a storage locker, in 1994.

At that price, city officials said that the sale would usually trigger a payment from the seller at the closing of about $325,000 in transfer taxes, including about $164,000 for New York City and $161,000 for New York state to help close the state's huge budget deficit.

Last year when New York state adopted a temporary income-tax surcharge to raise more than $3 billion a year, Mr. Limbaugh said on his radio show that he was going to "get out of New York totally" and sell his Manhattan apartment. A Web transcript of the show is titled "El Rushbo to New York: Drop Dead."
Read the rest here.

Mark Twain's unvarnished autobiography

Wry and cranky, droll and cantankerous — that’s the Mark Twain we think we know, thanks to reading “Huck Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” in high school. But in his unexpurgated autobiography, whose first volume is about to be published a century after his death, a very different Twain emerges, more pointedly political and willing to play the role of the angry prophet.

Whether anguishing over American military interventions abroad or delivering jabs at Wall Street tycoons, this Twain is strikingly contemporary. Though the autobiography also contains its share of homespun tales, some of its observations about American life are so acerbic — at one point Twain refers to American soldiers as “uniformed assassins” — that his heirs and editors, as well as the writer himself, feared they would damage his reputation if not withheld.

“From the first, second, third and fourth editions all sound and sane expressions of opinion must be left out,” Twain instructed them in 1906. “There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see.”

Twain’s decree will be put to the test when the University of California Press publishes the first of three volumes of the 500,000-word “Autobiography of Mark Twain” in November. Twain dictated most of it to a stenographer in the four years before his death at 74 on April 21, 1910. He argued that speaking his recollections and opinions, rather than writing them down, allowed him to adopt a more natural, colloquial and frank tone, and Twain scholars who have seen the manuscript agree.
Read the rest here.

Illegal Workers Swept From Jobs in ‘Silent Raids’

BREWSTER, Wash. — The Obama administration has replaced immigration raids at factories and farms with a quieter enforcement strategy: sending federal agents to scour companies’ records for illegal immigrant workers.

While the sweeps of the past commonly led to the deportation of such workers, the “silent raids,” as employers call the audits, usually result in the workers being fired, but in many cases they are not deported.

Over the past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted audits of employee files at more than 2,900 companies. The agency has levied a record $3 million in civil fines so far this year on businesses that hired unauthorized immigrants, according to official figures. Thousands of those workers have been fired, immigrant groups estimate.

Employers say the audits reach more companies than the work-site roundups of the administration of President George W. Bush. The audits force businesses to fire every suspected illegal immigrant on the payroll— not just those who happened to be on duty at the time of a raid — and make it much harder to hire other unauthorized workers as replacements. Auditing is “a far more effective enforcement tool,” said Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, which includes many worried fruit growers.
Read the rest here.

Friday, July 09, 2010

U.S. marks 3rd-largest, single-day debt increase

The nation's debt leapt $166 billion in a single day last week, the third-largest increase in U.S. history, and it comes at a time when Congress is balking over higher spending and debt has become a key policy battleground.

The one-day increase for June 30 totaled $165,931,038,264.30 - bigger than the entire annual deficit for fiscal year 2007 and larger than the $140 billion in savings the new health care bill will produce over its first 10 years. The figure works out to nearly $1,500 for every U.S. household, or more than 10 times the median daily household income.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Heat and slow posting

I am still in New York visiting the family where we are experiencing record high temperatures (100+ downstate) with all that yucky east coast humidity added in for our pleasure. I expect to post some over the next few days. But posting will remain intermittent until I get back to California.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

One of history's most unjustly maligned figures...

King George III, a great monarch.

Quote of the day...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

-Thomas Jefferson "The Declaration of Independence" July 4th 1776

Saturday, July 03, 2010

A criticism of the Western Rite

Fr. Milovan Katanic (SOC) of the excellent Again and Again blog has posted a thought provoking criticism of the Western Rite experiment. I remain (with many caveats) a supporter of the W/R. That said, unlike most contra-occidental material one runs across on the web, this piece strikes me as cogent and well reasoned in its arguments.
The first argument against a Western rite is ‘why?’ Why have a ‘Western’ rite? Rites do not save souls, it is the spiritual contents of rites that save souls. Thus, Orthodox rites do not save in themselves: the case of Uniatism, which imitates Orthodox rites, proves this. Moreover, if great attention is paid to rites, this leads to ritualism, a particular danger in High Church Anglicanism or Anglo-Catholicism. After Anglicanism had lost continuity with Roman Catholic liturgical rites, this movement tried to recreate them in the nineteenth century.

Inevitably, this resulted in ritualism, the study of dead rites and attempts to revive them through a sort of artificial respiration. Most people find any ritualism irrelevant to their daily lives and boring. They say: Why have another rite in Orthodoxy when we have perfectly good ones already? Why try to breathe life into what has been long dead? Why such interest in the glass, when it is only the wine that is interesting?
Read the rest here.

Illinois: Still trying to make California look good

CHICAGO — Even by the standards of this deficit-ridden state, Illinois’s comptroller, Daniel W. Hynes, faces an ugly balance sheet. Precisely how ugly becomes clear when he beckons you into his office to examine his daily briefing memo.

He picks the papers off his desk and points to a figure in red: $5.01 billion.

“This is what the state owes right now to schools, rehabilitation centers, child care, the state university — and it’s getting worse every single day,” he says in his downtown office.

Mr. Hynes shakes his head. “This is not some esoteric budget issue; we are not paying bills for absolutely essential services,” he says. “That is obscene.”

For the last few years, California stood more or less unchallenged as a symbol of the fiscal collapse of states during the recession. Now Illinois has shouldered to the fore, as its dysfunctional political class refuses to pay the state’s bills and refuses to take the painful steps — cuts and tax increases — to close a deficit of at least $12 billion, equal to nearly half the state’s budget.

Then there is the spectacularly mismanaged pension system, which is at least 50 percent underfunded and, analysts warn, could push Illinois into insolvency if the economy fails to pick up.

States cannot go bankrupt, technically, but signs of fiscal crackup are easy to see. Legislators left the capital this month without deciding how to pay 26 percent of the state budget. The governor proposes to borrow $3.5 billion to cover a year’s worth of pension payments, a step that would cost about $1 billion in interest. And every major rating agency has downgraded the state; Illinois now pays millions of dollars more to insure its debt than any other state in the nation.
Read the rest here.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The BBC to put +Benedict XVI on trial

Mark Thompson, the BBC director-general, may be a devout Catholic, but the corporation is doing little to make Pope Benedict XVI feel welcome ahead of his first state visit to England and Scotland in September.

Mandrake can disclose that the BBC is planning a 90-minute drama which will take as its premise what would happen if the Pope were to go on trial for covering up sex abuse perpetrated by priests.

A BBC spokesman denied any knowledge of the project, but Paul Gilbert, who works in the corporation's drama department, admitted to me that he had for the past two weeks been involved with the "development" of a project with the working title of The Pope on Trial. He said it was "too early" to talk about casting or on what channel it was envisaged the drama would be broadcast. The Pope, who has pledged to rid his church of "filth", has already been subjected to an investigation by the Radio 4 programme The Report into allegations that he covered up abuse. The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, believes sections of the BBC are pursuing an anti-Catholic agenda. He had earlier been irked when the BBC had attempted to broadcast Popetown, a cartoon which mocked Pope John Paul II.

The Tablet, the Catholic newspaper, today expresses concern about how "hostile" British television in general is towards the Pope. Peter Tatchell, who is organising protests during the papal visit, has lately been commissioned by Channel 4 to make a programme about the Papacy.
Read the rest here.

WCC is unable to gain agreement on women's ordination and gay marriage

It is difficult for the World Council of Churches to put forward a view on the issue of same-sex marriage and female clergy, the head of the Christian grouping has told journalists in Moscow after meeting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I.

Speaking at a media conference on 30 June, the WCC general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Russian Orthodox leader responsible for ecumenical dialogue, dealt with challenges facing the world's largest ecumenical organization and inter-Christian dialogue in general.

In response to a question from a Russian journalist about same-sex marriage and female clergy, Tveit said that the WCC cannot express a position until there is a consensus and that opinions within the organization vary.

"The WCC has 350 churches," he said. "We work on … establishing consensus. That means that the council doesn't have an opinion on issues that have not been discussed or have not been discussed to the level of consensus. The World Council of Churches does not have a position on either of the questions you raised."

Tveit noted that different churches had different positions on such issues. He said the WCC had a role in fostering conversations, and in opening space for discussing issues where churches have different viewpoints. "I don't foresee that the World Council of Churches will have one point of view on either of these issues in the near future," he stated.

Tveit was on the final day of his first official visit to Russia, which began on 27 June. He had attended the opening of the WCC's Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration, hosted by the Russian Orthodox Church and which continues to the end of the week.

The committee discusses the participation of Orthodox churches in the work of the WCC, which represents some 560 million Christians. Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran, has made contacts with Orthodox churches a priority since he assumed his position in January.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest member of the WCC, whose 349 churches are principally Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant.
Read the rest here.

Artistic censorship in modern Russia

A CONTEMPORARY work of art can provoke outrage disproportionate to its artistic merit. In Russia it can also herald a change in the course of history. In 1962 the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev famously denounced and banned an exhibition of avant-garde artists in Moscow, saying his grandson could paint better. This marked the end of the short post-Stalinist thaw and ushered in the period of “stagnation”. Khrushchev himself was deposed two years later.

Nearly 50 years on, Russian prosecutors are demanding a three-year jail sentence for the organisers of a contemporary-art exhibition in Moscow. The verdict, expected on July 12th, could have an impact far greater than the exhibition itself and determine the balance of power between ultranationalist religious radicals and secular pragmatists in Russia.

The exhibition, called “Forbidden Art”, was organised three years ago by Andrei Yerofeev, a contemporary-art curator, who put together works barred in recent years from other exhibitions. Symbolically, it was shown at the Sakharov museum and centre, a bastion of human rights named after the late Russian physicist and dissident, Andrei Sakharov. Its director, Yuri Samodurov, is a co-defendant.

To highlight the censored nature of the show, the works were concealed from public view by a fake wall and could be seen only by climbing onto a stool and peering through small holes. Photography was banned to prevent the dissemination of the images and people under the age of 16 were warned to stay away. One picture showed a Russian general raping a soldier with the caption “Glory to Russia”; another placed an Order of Lenin medal in place of Christ’s head.
Read the rest here.

Fr. Robert Taft (SJ) calls for restoration of communion between Rome and Orthodoxy

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches should own up to their past misdeeds and work to restore communion, according to a Jesuit liturgical expert.

Robert F. Taft, S.J., a former professor of Eastern liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, said that the rift between the churches was sustained primarily by offensive actions—not theological differences.

"The main problem that we Catholics and Orthodox face in our ecumenical dialogue is not doctrine but behavior," Father Taft said. "The issue is not that Catholics and Orthodox do not know how to pray and believe and live Christianity in the right and true apostolic way. The problem is that we do not know how to act."

Father Taft delivered "Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today," on June 28 at the Rose Hill campus.

He pointed to Catholic "uniatism"—aggression against another church—as a major problem blocking fruitful dialogue between the religions. He added that although the Orthodox faith has been victimized, it also refuses to admit its own misdeeds.

"Western Christianity’s historic defects of imperialism, power and domination led to the crimes for which Pope John Paul II asked pardon in Rome on the first Sunday of Lent in 2000," Father Taft said. "Metropolitan Kallinikos of Piraeus—an official spokesman of the Orthodox Church of Greece—responded … by declaring there was nothing for which Orthodoxy had to ask pardon."

Father Taft advocated a system of "ecumenical scholarship and theology"—a new way to study Christian tradition that seeks to reconcile and unite, rather than to confute and dominate. To accomplish this, the Catholic and Orthodox churches must recognize one another as historic apostolic sister churches, he said.

"For Catholics, such an 'ecumenical theology' must mean an end to declarations on the nature of the priesthood that exalt the celibate clerical state of the Latin tradition in a way that is demeaning to the thousands of legitimately married eastern clergy," he said.

"It might also mean Catholic theologians realizing that Latin scholastic theology of the Eucharist is 'a' theology and not 'the' theology."

The point of this new ecumenical theology is not that Catholics and Orthodox never disagree. "What it does mean, is that at the official level, disagreements can be discussed truthfully and courteously, without invective, rudeness and slander," Father Taft said.

His was the first keynote at "Orthodox Constructions of the West," a three-day conference that examined how Orthodox authors created artificial categories of "East" and "West" and then used that distinction as a basis for self-definition.

The event was supported by the Patterson Triennial Conference Endowment for Orthodox/Catholic Relations as well as several units at Fordham University, including the Center for Medieval Studies and Orthodox Christian Studies Program.

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to approximately 14,700 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, a campus in Westchester, the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y., and the London Centre at Heythrop College in the United Kingdom.

Feast of St. John of San Francisco

St. John Maximovitch patron of this blog and the namesake of its author.