Melting Away

July 30, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I’ve been kind of zonked lately and so haven’t written a lot. Much of what goes on in our country is so hard to take in. Seriously, is there anybody in charge out there, anybody with even a few cells in his or her skull?

Part of the problem is that I’ve been studying climate change. First I went to see those photographs at the Asia Society that show the Himalayan glaciers three hundred vertical feet shorter than they were in the early 20th century. Then I went to hear a talk by Gwynne Dyer about his new book, Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats in which he projects, among other horrors, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan over the droughts that will be caused by the melting of those very Himalayan glaciers.  This might seem like irresponsible speculation written for profit except that  a few days later, the New York Times reported a dispute over India’s proposed construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Kishenganga River on the India-Pakistani border, one of the rivers sourced by–you guessed it–the Himalayan glaciers. The conflict between Pakistan’s desperate need for water and India’s desire for more hydroelectric power is, we learn, increasing tensions between these two nuclear powers who have already fought three previous wars.  The same day that article was published the Senate Democrats announced that they were abandoning the effort to pass an energy and climate bill that would, it had been hoped, begin to reduce or at least level off greenhouse gas emissions.

And, of course, you’ve probably heard that we here on the East Coast are experiencing what looks to be the hottest July on record. I ought to be ashamed to complain about this. A film I saw recently about the world water crisis included shots of the region on the Gulf Coast in Mexico that used to be irrigated by the Colorado River but has become a desert. Why? Because the (US) Hoover Dam has siphoned off so much of the Colorado’s water to irrigate California’s Imperial Valley that the river no longer reaches the Gulf. That’s the same Imperial Valley that grows a huge percentage of the food we eat. 

So I shouldn’t be complaining. There is, however, something about having one’s underwear dripping with sweat day in and day out that takes the starch out of a person, so to speak. The temptation to turn on the air conditioning, thus emitting even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, is very strong.  We’re really in a mess.

But the US Senate isn’t going to do anything about this. Fact is, the minority party wouldn’t vote for such a bill if their lives depended on it (which they very well may, though people in power tend to expect they’ll avoid such things).  In part, this is because there’s an election coming, and the electorate includes a lot of climate change skeptics. A Gallup poll in March showed that 48% of Americans now believe threats of global warming to be exaggerated, up from 30% in 2006. Belief in climate change is also dropping in Europe, but not the way it is here. In Britain, the decrease was  to 78%, from 91% five years ago; fewer Brits than Americans have lost their minds.  But ninety-seven per cent of climate change scientists are convinced that climate change poses a serious threat.

For an illustration of  why so few climate scientists are among the skeptics, take a look at the  drawing of a projected 1.4 meter sea level rise on the California coast–the rise expected under a medium-to-medium-high greenhouse-gas emissions scenario–as determined in a 2009 study conducted by Peter Gleick’s Pacific Institute. The study shows that such a sea-level rise will put  “480,000 people at risk of a 100-year flood event… if no adaptation actions are taken. A wide range of critical infrastructure and nearly $100 billion (in year 2000 dollars) worth of existing property, measured as the current replacement value of buildings and contents, are also at risk.” And, of course, people of color and the poor are those who will be at the greatest risk.  But seriously, why would the United States invest money in preventing this kind of thing if  the risk is not absolutely certain? We have our priorities, after all.


Pick Your Battle?

July 19, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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As I have perhaps said, I have been working for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church since the early 1970s. I was enormously inspired and encouraged by the first Women’s Ordination Conference which I attended in Detroit in 1975. And I was as devastated as a lot of other educated American Catholic women when the Vatican issued its statement in 1976 arguing, basically, that women could not be ordained because Jesus had a penis and women  don’t. (The Vatican has backed off from this embassassingly anatomical argument since then; instead, they say that since Jesus didn’t ordain women, they aren’t authorized to do so either. Never mind that Jesus, as Elizabeth Johnson says,  “didn’t ordain anybody.”) 

Since then I have done a lot of work for the ordination of women; picketing cathedrals, begging money from friends, writing articles and book reviews, serving on the WOC Board of Directors, and even as its president for a while. I’ve done my time, as they say.

Since 2002, or whenever it was I went off the  Board, however, a few things have come to me. One is that this is an absolutely hopeless cause. This is not to say that I don’t still support the ordination of women; I do. But the guys in Rome have staked their authority on this issue, and they’re not going to back off for a very long time. So it is probably not worth us falling on our swords, or worse still, behaving in as vile and venomous fashion as they behave to bring about something that ain’t gonna happen while many of us are alive.

In addition, a second thing has occurred to me over the almost forty years since I started working for women’s ordination: it’s not the only thing that matters in the world. It matters. But so do other things.

This past Sunday, two articles in the “Week in Review” section of the New York Times got me thinking about these conclusions that I have been forced to draw over forty years. One was Maureen Dowd’s piece commenting on the Vatican’s announcement that the sexual abuse of children and the ordination of women were equally “de gravioribus delictis” sins.

Now let me say, parenthetically, that there is probably no hope for the Vatican. Ethics and morals aside, the way they handle an issue as charged as the sexual abuse of children is so stupid, so utterly oblivious of how they sound, that all hope is lost. As Andy Sipowitz used to say on NYPD Blue, they’re dumber than a bag of hammers.

That being admitted, you simply cannot imagine how many of the liberal Catholic listservs I’m on forwarded the Maureen Dowd column to me. Okay, I admit it, the Vatican is hopeless. But really, folks, there’s a world out there. As Margaret Brennan quotes Gregory Baum as saying, in her splendid memoir What Was There for Me Once, if we could just give up looking for the perfect mother, surely we could stop being so angry at the Church.

The thing that really gets me though, is that in that same issue of “The Week in Review,” appeared Nicholas Kristof’s column about the photographs on the melting of the Himalayan glaciers currently on display at the Asia Society. Kristof interviews some of the panelists who spoke on Wednesday night, the panel I brought to your attention in my previous blog. As he notes in this column, the  potential disappearance of the glaciers threatens “the food security of an estimated 60 million people” in the Indus and Brahmaputra basins.

As I began by saying, I have long supported the ordination of Roman Catholic women. But it does trouble me that none of the liberal Catholic listservs of which I am a member forwarded Kristof’s column. Apparently they thought that only Dowd’s mattered. But surely we don’t think the ordination of women–and let’s be clear here, this means the ordination of women educated enough to earn seminary degrees–is more important than the droughts that will bring famine to sixty million or more people?  Surely we can think beyond our own suffering to take that far greater suffering into account?

Watch the Glaciers Disappear

July 13, 2010 at 10:19 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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If you’re like me, you’re feeling the need for a little respite from the mess in the Gulf and the human mess underpinning it. Why don’t we look in another direction, toward the Himalayas, that astonishing mountain range between India and Tibet, the highest one on earth. The Himalayas are, after all, stunningly beautiful, at least in the pictures I’ve seen (I’ve never been there, myself). They are also the source of the most important rivers in Asia, rivers that provide water for 3 billion people, nearly half the population of the earth.

But our respite is, I’m afraid, going to be short-lived, because the Himalayan glaciers that provide the water for those rivers and their three billion people are rapidly disappearing. Get a look at them while you can.

The Asia Society, up at Park Avenue and 70th Street in Manhattan, is making it possible for you to do just that, with their new exhibit of archival photos of the Himalayan glaciers past and present. A video on their webpage gives a sense of the exhibit. Also, tomorrow night, Wednesday July 14, from 6:30-8:00 PM, a panel at the Asia Society will discuss the implications of the melting of these glaciers. One of the panelists is the great climate change activist and writer, Bill McKibben, founder of  Readers who live in New York may want to attend. I’m certainly going to.

But for those of you farther afield, the Asia Society is also broadcasting the panel on-line from 6:30 to 8:00. Perhaps the melting of the glaciers is not a whole lot more cheerful a topic than the destruction of the Gulf Coast, but there’s something about the Himalayas themselves that lifts up the heart. Maybe the pictures, or the panel, will inspire us to take action.


July 13, 2010 at 9:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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And the beat goes on. I awoke this morning to denunciations of the Obama administration’s temporary suspension of deep water oil drilling. Senator Mary Landrieu and half of Louisiana proclaiming that there are lots of safe ways to drill deep for oil, and more to the point, ceasing to drill for oil will destroy Louisiana’s economy.

This performance offers insight into the claims that the recent disastrousous oil spill was the fault of BP and the Obama administration. If we can find individual entities to blame the whole thing on, there’s no reason to halt or even much modify the oil economy around which our larger economy revolves. Punish the bums and go on with things the way they have been. Never mind that very many experts agree that the deeper we drill, the more accidents there were be. And of course, we have no choice but to drill deeper, because we’ve used up all the oil closer to the surface. Meanwhile, various multinationals have announced their imminent departures if the feds don’t allow them to drill the way they want. We are in deep, up to our necks, and not just in oil.

BP is Us. Me, Even.

July 12, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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During the months since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, I have heard a lot of commentary  about it, mostly on National Public Radio, but also  on various tv. news broadcasts. I imagine you have too.

Many of these commentaries go something like this: BP is the devil. They did this on purpose. Now they have destroyed our way of life. We cannot fish, or shrimp, or make money from our beaches anymore. They must pay.  

Or else something like this: The Obama administration is worthless. It hasn’t done nearly enough to stop this disaster. It’s disorganized. Or it doesn’t give a hoot about the suffering people of the Gulf.

All through these commentaries, what strikes me most forcefully is that I have yet to hear one person say, “This is our fault. We were willing to do anything for oil, so we can keep driving our SUVs at 75 miles an hour, and throwing away our plastic bags, and drinking water out of plastic bottles, and all the other things that make oil essential. This is our fault, and if we’re going to avoid this sort of thing in the future, we have to change the way we live.”  And let me be clear here: by us, I mean me, too.

Finally, Paul Wolpe, an ethicist at Emory University in Atlanta, in an interview on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly last week, stuck his neck out and said some of this. Good for him. You can read an abbreviated version of the interview, or you can watch the interview itself, both on-line.  Either, imho, is well worth the few minutes it will take you.

The Priest-as-Primary-Predator Myth

July 3, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Vatican attempts to rebut the scandal of Catholic clergy sex abuse by accusing the media of malicious intent have for the most part not been successful. “Just one more attempt at ducking responsibility” is the most common reading of such tactics.

It is the case, however, that matters Catholic, and, in particular, purported Catholic sex scandals, have been wildly popular on stage, screen, and in the news for a very long time, from at least the 19th century convent narratives of Maria Monk and Rebecca Reed,  to SisterAct, and the current revival of Nunsense on Broadway.

Thus, while it’s comforting to read the ongoing coverage in the US media of the “expanding” clergy sex abuse scandal as an expression of deep concern for sex abuse victims, there can be little doubt that such stuff also sells, big time. Consider, for example, Time  magazine’s May 27 cover story, “The Trial of Benedict XVI” ( the pope was,of course, not on trial). Or Thursday’s lengthy article in the New York Times  laying out for us that the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the current pope did an inadequate job of prosecuting accused priest perpetrators. Some news that.

I bring this up because on Friday, on NPR (WNYC),  Leonard Lopate interviewed Susan A. Clancy, the author of The Trauma Myth, a new book on child sexual abuse. As Jefferson A. Singer writes in a review in the June 18 issue of Commonweal magazine, the book is a rebuttal of the “the widely espoused  ‘trauma model’ of child sex abuse, a model that characterizes most abuse as a physically coercive act perpetrated against a terrified victim.” Based on ten years of research, Clancy, according to Singer, “proposes a different template:” child sex abuse as the “seductive manipulation, by a trusted intimate, of a confused, and compliant child.”  The dominance of the “trauma template,” according to Clancy, results in guilt, shame, and isolation on the part of the majority of victims.

Clancy’s argument, in the interview, is a fairly nuanced one; I would urge you to listen to her yourself  But certain parts of it seemed especially pertinent to the “widening” (as virtually all journalists put it) Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal. First of all, because their experience doesn’t fit into the “trauma template,” the vast majority of abuse victims do not report their abuse. This is so because they do not realize, until years later, that it was abuse. According to Clancy, experts believe that 1 out of 5 girls and 1 out of 8 boys are actually victims of sexual abuse. Since reported cases of sex abuse make up only 10 percent of this number, it seems that there is a great deal more sex abuse occurring than it generally acknowledged, and much of it unrecognized until well after the event. (The average age of sex abuse victims is 10 years.)

Secondly, and Clancy describes this as “the worst part” of her findings, when victims whose experience falls outside the trauma template did report the sexual abuse to their families, in very many cases, the families refused to believe them, or blamed them for what had happened. A frequent refrain heard from interviewees was “And they continued to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner.” Many of those who call in at the end of the Lopate-Clancy interview confirm this part of her argument.

It is clear from what Clancy says that people closest to the victim are those most likely to commit the abuse, which is part of the reason for immediate relatives frequently refusing to acknowledge it (and virtually never calling the police). This, Lopate and Clancy agree, suggests a problem that is “endemic” to the structure of the family and of society.

Jefferson Singer’s Commonweal  review of Clancy’s book and the Lopate-Clancy  interview on WNYC make no reference to Catholic clergy sex abuse. But if you haven’t made any connections for yourself, let me suggest a few. First of all, many families don’t seem to react to reports of familial sex abuse very differently than the bishops and the Vatican did until  recently.  Not that this justifies their behavior–but the similarity is striking.

Secondly, if, in fact, there is vastly more sex abuse going on than we have been led to believe, and if, in fact, so much of it is in families that it suggests a problem in the very structure of that “foundation” of American society, what might be an effective way to draw attention away from such a problem? How about identifying child sex abuse with the Roman Catholic Church? Case in point: Jeffery Israely and  Howard Chua-Eoan’s absolute statement in their cover story for the May 27 issue of Time,

Church officials defensively point out that almost all the alleged crimes at the heart of the current crisis were part of a social milieu in which child sexual abuse was rarely prosecuted, if discussed at all. But nowhere was there a more systemic tendency to cover up the shame and scandal than in Catholic parishes and orphanages entrusted with the care of the young…

Really, fellas? Susan Clancy seems to suggest that there’s more in the American family…

By raising these questions, I do not mean to suggest that the sexual abuse of children is not horrific. (Nor does Clancy suggest this.) But Clancy’s research does reinforce a notion I have had for a very long time: you may need to keep an eye on Father Mike, but you’d better keep an eye on Uncle Fred as well, and maybe even more so.

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