Black and White World

New Year's Eve Snowstorm, Hope Street

The snow came down so fast, I went into a house hardly noticing the few flakes, and when I got out the roads were white.

From Cranston St. to Hope St. I saw two fender benders and what looked like a bus and trolley collision. I prayed all the way home  that I wouldn’t slide into a parked car or run out of gas, and my prayer was answered.

The snow turned everything into  a pen and ink sketch, with splashes of color in the traffic and neon lights.

Happy New Year, and drive slow.


Word is out on the internets that Pastor Rick Warren has got a pile of bills he can’t pay. A megachurch, like a Ponzi scheme, will do just fine as long as new members keep streaming in. But there are only six billion of us on earth, and only so many who can make it to Sunday service. The early church did collect a common fund to aid its members, but the Gospels don’t mention construction projects, even small ones. St. Paul was a tentmaker. The Apostles all knew how to work regular jobs when they had to.

A financial model based on expansion has limits. If there is not a plan B for the church that has reached its limit, or the church whose members are facing a recession, a crisis of faith will ensue.

I like my church because they have a reality-based approach to money. That is, they plead with us that the buildings need to be maintained and the staff needs to be paid. Our reward for giving generously is that First Unitarian will endure as a church, not a museum.

For no particular reason, here is a link to my reaction to getting a holy prayer rug in the mail.

The point is–God doesn’t need our money. Our friends, neighbors and relatives might need a loan. Generosity is a virtue, and we should support what we value. If there is value in Saddleback Church it will endure in hard times.


The HIPPA regulations mandate tearing out the fingernails of any health care worker who breaks confidentiality. So let me not be guilty of that crime.

Purely as a hypothetical situation, a nurse might have encountered a patient whose bad choices and bad luck had put him flat on his back in a nursing home. Whose large checkbook ensured the bed would be comfortable.

A very heavy man who talked his way out of the physical therapy sessions intended to give him back some mobility. A man who was dependent in every way, to turn in bed, to relieve himself, to stay clean, to be fed.

Hypothetically, a nurse observing a patient who demanded to be spoon-fed but who was able to hold a newspaper might suspect something other than physical inability. A nurse observing that other patients on the floor were trying with all their strength to keep their independence might be tempted to pass judgment, but that’s not what she’s paid for. She’s basically paid to keep her shift disaster-free, and she does her best.

What threw the hypothetical nurse off her game was the way the patient used his remaining power. He dished out verbal abuse to the nurses aides, with a precision and cruelty that made the nurse think he must have been very experienced at this sort of thing. If the nurse was confronted by a nurses aide– a black women, visibly angry, closed down, not going to talk about it– the nurse would change the assignment so this aide would not take care of that patient again.

It was all the nurse could do. She had eight chaotic hours and putting out fires took all of the shift. The hypothetical patient must have had some clout, because the toll he took on the staff was tolerated by management. Health care workers have a high turnover. We’re a dime a dozen, you know.

Hypothetically, the patient had a setback, and went to the hospital, and had a close encounter with the Reaper. He was really nice when he got back. He apologized for his verbal abuse of the women who were keeping him clean and fed. He was acting pretty normal for a couple of weeks before he lapsed back into his old ways. He may be still tormenting staff somewhere, for all the hypothetical nurse knows, or he may be sipping tea with Tammy Faye in a condo in the Four Gated City.

‘The Elderly’ are not like you and me, they’re older.

Actually, most people who survive a long time wear off their rough edges and acquire some wisdom, or at least get cute and harmless. But some just get meaner than skunks, with experience in techniques of acting out. It’s not the norm, but you encounter them sooner or later.

I don’t wish physical illness and disability on anyone. For the nice people it’s awful and tragic. For the mean people– they just become an awful mess to clean up. So basically, I want everyone to stay as well as they can.

Get well soon, Rush Limbaugh.

MORE: Joan Walsh at Salon is way more graceful and charitable than me and also wishes Rush a quick recovery in the New Year. And when he’s back let’s have at him.

Free Market Can’t Do This

I was making my home visits and spent some time talking to a nice woman who lives on disability. She told me that she used to work at a strenuous low-wage job. Now she is in a wheelchair, because one of her knees was destroyed by MRSA and cannot be repaired. What should have been routine surgery became a year-long ordeal when infection set in, and she lost the use of one leg.

Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus is the bane of surgeons and the plague of nursing homes. Oceans of disinfectant and mountains of gloves and gowns can’t eliminate it. But Norway has succeeded in beating back the resistant superbugs. From Americablog…

Twenty-five years ago, Norwegians were also losing their lives to this bacteria. But Norway’s public health system fought back with an aggressive program that made it the most infection-free country in the world. A key part of that program was cutting back severely on the use of antibiotics.

Now, you economists out there will note the words, ‘public health system’ and also the implication that patients would not be able to shop around for a doctor who hands out antibiotics like candy.

How contrary to a free-market system, where choice rules and rationing is unacceptable, at least to the people with money. In a market system you will darn well get your antibiotic when you demand it, and no government bureaucrat will get between you and the doctor you bought.

Too bad we can’t get nature to go with our program. She keeps cranking out germs faster than we can crank out cures.

What’s called for is some measure of wisdom, some measure of unselfishness and looking at the population as a whole. You may not believe in evolution, but the germs keep on evolving. Antibiotics used wisely are lifesaving. Used selfishly and carelessly they lose effectiveness and leave us outsmarted by bacteria once again.

Get Well Soon, Henry Shelton

From, longtime activist for the poor, Henry Shelton, is in the hospital surviving a stroke.

I crossed paths with his wife, Carol, who was teaching social work at Rhode Island College when I was a student there. Henry was formerly a priest, and Carol a nun. As a married couple in the secular life they practice a ministry of advocating for the poor, for the people who do the hard work at low wages, for the people who don’t have a voice at the State House.

Our Governor prides himself on being a businessman, but a state is not a business. The working poor are not a cheap labor pool we can kick out when they are not needed. Our citizens with disabilities are not a charitable donation we can decide not to bother with when times are hard. Our elderly are not going away, and cutting insurance to pregnant women is not only immoral but guaranteed to bring costs in the future. A state without good education will drive away investors more than high taxes. And firing the few specialized interpreters who helped to integrate immigrants into the system gums up the works in the hospitals, clinics and schools.

We need people like Henry and Carol. Get well soon, Henry, and best wishes to your family and friends.

Can This Marriage be Saved?

It’s time for all good people who believe in the truth of the Bible and the sacredness of marriage to stand up and stop Karl Rove from making a terrible mistake…

Karl Rove, former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, has been granted a divorce in Texas after 24 years of marriage, family spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

“Karl Rove and his wife, Darby, were granted a divorce last week,” said Perino. “The couple came to the decision mutually and amicably, and they maintain a close relationship and a strong friendship. There will be no further comment, and the family requests that its privacy be respected.”

The heck with privacy, and the heck with the godless secular Texas divorce court. If the Roves have family values now is the time to prove it.

The news report, from Politico, goes on and on about what great friends the Roves are, and how much they love their son. It brought tears to my eyes. These people are obviously crying out for an intervention. They don’t know how to run their own lives as well as the concerned Christians who are ready and willing to set them straight. They only need to believe, and surrender, and God can heal their marriage.

According to the Bible, what they are trying to do is a grave sin, and as far as God is concerned, they are married for life. It’s actually more biblical for a man to have two wives than to casually divorce the mother of his son. So Karl Rove will have to work it out somehow with his first wife and undivorce wife number two as soon as possible.

Maybe he thinks he can be like Newt Gingrich — three’s the charm.

Maybe all these people think they can clobber non-believers with the Bible while picking and choosing which parts of it they will apply to themselves. Maybe they want the freedom of a secular society while wooing the Americans who would be happier with a theocracy. Maybe they practice a modern conception of marriage but preach tradition when same-sex couples try to marry on an equal basis of rights and responsibility.

It’s sad when long-term couples break up, especially when there are children. It happens all the time. It’s sad when long-term couples are denied the right to marry in the first place.

I don’t expect Karl Rove to show a new humility, or open-mindedness. It would be more true to the pattern for him to show up at a function with a younger woman on his arm. That’s the way of the world.

Glenn Greenwald on Salon
has more background on the liberal Texas divorce laws and Karl Rove’s crusade against same-sex marriage on the grounds of biblical tradition.

Stop the Presses!

The Hill blog says that Linc Chafee will announce his candidacy for governor on January 4.

No surprise to us. The comments section after the post is already full of partisans hurling flame balls. Sadly, we are a divided nation, and it will be hard to talk sense.

I’ll be impressed by any candidate who promises that when they take off for Iraq to save our troops they will call the Lt. Governor first, just in case it snows. And leave her a set of keys. It’s the responsible thing to do.

Rhode Island’s Future reporting here.