Saturday, December 31, 2005

Ancient and Future Catholic Musings

Johnathan Bennett of Ancient and Future Catholic Musings offers a relevent and insightful reflection on the meaning of the Feast of the Holy Family:

The feast of the Holy Family strikes me as extremely counter-cultural, especially in America in 2005. The family unit, which used to be the source of cohesion in society and culture (and the Church) has broken down. I don't
think we can even speak of "breaking down" anymore. The divorce, cohabitation, and out of wedlock birth statistics are alarming. Add to that the rates of pornography use, the abuse of children and the coverups, the casual acceptance of abortion, and an uncritical embrace of artificial contraception. People seem to be actively making war on the family unit, even if not intentionally.

There exists an even more subtle assault on the family as well: materialism. In fact, we could probably tie all of the above issues to this. American society tends to pursue greater material wealth at the expense of other blessings. Children (and even a husband or wife) tend to get in the way of pursuing material wealth. Casual sex and living together are much easier and cheaper than supporting a person through ups and downs and in sickness and in health. Paying for food and shelter for a child tends to take away money from the flat-screen TV or Hummer fund. Even in school, children are taught about careers and success and rarely is family life emphasized and if so, it's in the context of limiting it: i.e. birth control.

And yet, this family unit, Mother, Father, and Child, is called holy. God created the family Willow1blog and sanctified it through the Incarnation. The Catholic Church refers to the family as the "domestic Church" because it is the setting where our Faith and values are passed down. Also, the Church's mission is lived out in the family from evangelizing to proclaiming the Good News. The failure in Catholic catechesis, while surely due in part to the parish and parochial schools, is probably rather a result of lukewarm and heretical parents who pass on a lukewarm and heretical faith to their children.

As a society, but more importantly as a Church, especially in America and Europe, we need to recover the value and emphasis on the family. This doesn't mean denigrating the single life, but rather recognizing different vocations. It also means that parents, especially Christians fathers, must take a strong leadership role in both their own families and in the lives of the Church and community.

Family life is difficult. Those of us in families would be lying if we said otherwise. We're ornery, self-absorbed and tempermental. We get pre-occupied with our own pursuits. We become sick, sometimes chronically. Above all, we strive to live in harmony with the Grace of God, but often surrender to our fallen nature. Those of us that share our lives endure this constant litany of humanity.

Is it any wonder, then, why Reasonable people have extolled the Absolute Individualism that celebrates the single life? Individuals enjoy life on their terms. They get to experience the pleasures of culture, material well-being and titillating excitement of various sexual liasons. They answer only to themselves. They call their own shots and do as they please. What's wrong with that?

Nothing is wrong with that. That's the problem. Absolute Individualism is an ideology that celebrates Nothing. It's adherence live lives utterly depraved of meaning or significance. If we alone determine the sole meaning of our lives and of reality, then there is no authentic meaning to either. Absolute Individualism is the worship of Nothing. And the worship of Nothing is Hell.

Need proof? That's simple: ask any person his name.

What are names but the sign of our own identity? We are ourselves, and we signify ourselves with the names we have been given. And who calls us by our names? Other people, that's who! When was the last time any of us spent our days referring to ourselves by our names? Exactly! Other people confirm us in our identity by calling us by name. Therefore, our identity can't truly be complete unless we live it in relationships.

These relationships become the very expression of our humanity. If we live the utilitarian relationships that Absolute Indivualism implicitly demands, we suffer the deficiency of never becoming who we truly are. Relationships through the use of others are no relationships at all. What, then, makes a genuine relationship?

As Jonathan said, it is Love! When we truly love one another, we become one with them in an authentic relationship. We give of ourselves to them, and they to us. We both thus truly become who we are. The fullest expression of this love here on earth is manifested in those precious relationships we call Family.As a "Domestic Church," Families become a sign for all to see of Christ's Church. The mutual self-giving that is the vital life of all healthy families becomes evident to all. Families thus incarnate the very essence of what the Church is, and therefore, of who Christ is.

Of course, Families aren't perfect because people aren't perfect. Many of us suffered in families in which love was not the defining trait all could see. Some of us survived the horrifying Babylonian Captivity of growing up with parents enslaved by sin: dysfunctional people such as alcoholics, drug addicts or others that could not live free of their compulsive and self-destructive behaviors. But while such traumatic experience can understandably color one's perceptions of family, it does not define the essence of what family is.

Family remains the way in which we fully become human. The extent to which we honor families as the foundation of society is the extent to which our society blossoms. We are all part of God's family through Christ Jesus our Lord. That means we all share that intimate relationship with each other.Today, let us thank God that he has called all of us to live in his Family. And let us witness to an enshadowed world just how precious living in a family truly is!

Mea Culpa!

Yes, I've neglected the blog these past two days. I'm sorry! I offer no excuses. However, here's a snapshot of my last two days:
1. On Thursday, I spent much of the day attempting to upload songs to my new Christmas gift, a Creative MuVo TX FM MP3 player. Who could imagine that a flash drive MP3 player would prove so complicated? I would upload songs, and the songs would play in the wrong order. I converted songs from ACC format to MP3 format, so that my Creative Media Organizer--that came with the player--could read my songs from Real Player. Still, no luck! This fruitless day became a somber and depressing evening, though not because of my MP3 troubles.

My father had not been himself all week. He was lethargic, plagued with exhaustion and the constant cramping of his irritated leg veins. He also exuded gloom and doom over his health and the current state of his real estate business. The Blushing Bride, haunted with her own struggles as his team partner, found her own perspective taking a downward turn as a result. Of course, yours truly, wrestling with my own demons of occupational existential angst, slipped right into the quicksand with her.

2. I awoke Friday to one of my head-splitting migrains. Someone could have driven a broom handle or a pool que between my eyes with a pile-driver, and I would have suffered less! Somehow, I managed to make it to Quest for the blood test my new Rheumatologist ordered. When I came home, the migrain intensified. I proceeded to take the headache prescription a neurologist had written for me. And for good measure, I took my morning and previous evening helpings of my RA medication.

Not the brightest move I ever made.

The headache went from bad to worse. I lay on the couch, trying to rest. My Fine Young Fool came into the family room, saying, "You don't feel good, Daddy?"

"No, buddy, I don't,"


Isn't he the greatest?

Unfortunately, his concern did not alleviate my migrain. In fact, the next phase began soon after. I felt the early warning signs from my stomach. In spite of my throbbing head, I raced into our master bedroom and to the master bath. I had just lifted the toilet seat when the first heave began.

Keep this in mind: I had fasted from all food and all liquid except water since 9PM Thursday evening in preparation for the blood test. My body had no solid waste to unleash. My stomach didn't care. I stood over that toilet, and several times my system evacuated whatever offensive substance had dared to enter. That proved to mostly be water. Though, it might have been whatever undigested medication remained in my stomach. I haven't the slightest.

After that fiasco, I laid down for about two hours. The migrain greeted me with a smile when I awoke. It persisted throughout the day, finally beginning to wane around 5:30PM. Even now, I can feel traces of the headache, like particles of mud swirling around in a whirlpool, ready to conglomerate once more!
There you have it! My tale of woe is done. Tonight, assuming my migrain remains at bay, The Foolish family and I will journey to Harrison, NY and celebrate the coming New Year. I'm uncertain how much posting I intend to do this weekend. Expect me when you see me.

Until then, Have a happy and holy New Year!

New Year's Eve Day

Glaze of white powder
Spread over Fall's canopy,
brighten a gray day

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Green Christmas

Snow, melted away,
Melody of autumn leaves
All across the yard

The Dependable FISA in a Time of War

The President of the United States of America authorized the National Security Agency to conduct electronic surveillance on people within the US that contacted suspected terrorists beyond US borders. Critics charge that he violated the FISA law by not seeking warrents in FISA courts. They content that such warrents would not have been hard to come by.

To these critics, I ask: Is that your final answer?
One might ask whether the Bush administration has flooded the FISA court with requests and has gotten sloppy about their work. Indeed, since 2001 the Bush administration has sought 5,645 warrants -- which hardly sounds like an administration that has worked with the impulse to run roughshod over the idea of getting search warrants for their work. That number reflects an increase of only 64% over the final term of the Clinton administration, which requested 3,436 FISA warrants during that period. Considering the increased activity by the Bush administration post-9/11 to tighten security and track terrorists, a 64% increase does not sound like the current administration has exactly tried to overwhelm the FISA court, but instead work within its legal parameters to balance national security and civil liberties -- and it seems as though the FISA court has chosen to get cranky about it at a very foolish point in time.

Even more curiously, 173 out of 177 of the forced changes and all four of the rejections came after the fall of 2002, after the appointment of Judge George James (Sorry, Cap!--AHF) Robertson, the FISA court member who made a public splash with his resignation earlier this month. Rodney at the Bayosphere deduces that Robertson probably knew more than he let on about the issues surrounding the NSA program and used his position to obstruct it, a deduction that appears sensible, looking at the data and Robertson's actions.
Yes, it's a curious coincidence that Judge Robertson joins the FISA Court and suddenly rejections and ammendment of FISA Court Warrent applications flood the Administration. I wonder why?
James Robertson was appointed a United States District Judge by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Chief Justice William Rehnquist later placed him on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. On December 20, 2005, Judge Robertson resigned his position on the FISA court in apparent protest of the NSA warrantless surveillance disclosure.


From 1965 to 1969, he was in private practice with the law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. From 1969 to 1972, Judge Robertson served with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, as chief counsel of the Committee’s litigation offices in Jackson, Mississippi, and as director in Washington, D.C. Judge Robertson then returned to private practice with Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, where he practiced until his appointment to the federal bench. While in private practice, he served as president of the District of Columbia Bar, co-chair of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and president of Southern Africa Legal Services and Legal Education Project, Inc.
Oh, that's why.

Far be it from me to suspect that a Clinton appointee to the Federal Bench just might have a potential conflict of interest with a Republican President, when that Judge is in a position to help or hinder that president's exercise of his office. Which happens to play to that president's strength. As Mr. Clinton's Democrats prepare for a contentious 2006 mid-term elections, and Mrs. Clinton warms up her '08 bid.

Now, I'm not suggesting that there's proof of disingenuous behavior at play here. I'm just noticing some convenient coincidences. This, and the MSM's mouth-foaming on the NSA electronic surveillance practices, lead me to believe that Reasonable elites within the Democratic hierarchy have made much ado about nothing--for a political loss, no less!
Unfortunately for Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, the American electorate has proven themselves to be quite a bit more concerned with winning the war than with sharing the radical Left's paranoid fantasies:

Sixty-four percent (64%) of Americans believe the National Security Agency (NSA) should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States. A Rasmussen Reports survey found that just 23% disagree.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans say they are following the NSA story somewhat or very closely.

Just 26% believe President Bush is the first to authorize a program like the one currently in the news. Forty-eight percent (48%) say he is not while 26% are not sure.

While almost the entire Democratic Party leadership has accused Bush of high crimes and talked about impeachment, a majority of their own party approves of the NSA program (51%), even as it might be endangered thanks to the NYT's exposure of it. Fifty-seven percent of independents also approve of the program, and combined with the 81% of Republicans, Bush has a solid mandate to continue using all the tools at his disposal to protect the nation.
In other words, the broom closet's open, and everymen have started sweeping. Please keep up the slobbering, my fine Reasonable friends! It'll provide motivation for the rest of us to clean house.

A Trinity of Reasons to Love Catholic Exchange

Need three reasons to embrace Catholic Exchange?

Here's the first: Mark Shea offers penetrating insight into how to live lives of holiness--and it's not based on his, or anyone else's, personal experience!
To be honest, I am not particularly holy. That is to say, I don't usually act holy, understand holiness much, think holy thoughts, or say holy things. I moan and groan, yell at my kids, live half my life by the motto "Me First," mistrust God and generally schlep along the Road to Zion when I could be enjoying a brisk walk. I am, in short, a poor specimen of the new creation.

Why then, should you bother reading any further? There's only one reason: You are in pretty much the same boat, too. So was St. Peter — the one Jesus called "Satan" once. So was St. Thomas — the one who snorted at Lazarus's resurrection and then, after seeing that with his own eyes, went on to snort at the Resurrection of Christ. So was St. Augustine — whose prayer for years was "O Lord, make me chaste, but please don't do it just yet." And so, if we dare to look, were all the folks Jesus has called down the ages. To paraphrase our Lord, the Son of Man came to seek the washouts, oddballs, dweebs, wimps and factory rejects. No one knew this better than St. Paul who, after a lifetime of apostolic service could still say, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the worst" (1 Tm 1:15).

So the plain truth is that none of us is holy. By and large, while the high and heroic calling of Jesus is nothing less than the Supper of the Lamb, the might of the Holy Spirit and the Beatific Vision, our lives often consist of Big Macs, flab and television. What then, can we do?

By ourselves, nothing. So it's no use trying to fake holiness to impress God. The Great Physician has already examined us and the diagnosis is as follows: Due to a dominant family trait known as Original Sin, we are suffering from acute holiness deprivation. The prescription calls for intensive remedial holiness therapy. We need to see what holiness looks like. We need to breathe, eat and wash in holiness. We need a program of holiness exercises to build up our holiness muscles and hone our holiness skills. We need a way to get holiness into our bones, not a doctored X-ray and a phony bill of health.

Jesus is what holiness looks like. And it is surprising what we see when we look. Holiness is not piously ethereal and gooey. It is not necessarily nice and safe and polite, though it is always good. Holiness can pop up among the cow flops of Bethlehem. It can do a good day's work hauling lumber around the hillsides of Nazareth or refrain from work on the Sabbath. It can yuk it up at a good joke or grieve over Lazarus; chow down at supper time or fast in the wilderness; drink a hearty health to the bride and groom at Cana or drink the cup of death at Calvary. Is holiness then a mass of contradictions? No, it is one huge affirmation. For holiness undergirds all its works with a fundamental "yes" to God and His Creation. Such a fundamental "yes" to God is the very essence of holiness.
Next, Eric Scheske explains why he's blessed to be poor.
God bless me, I'm a poor guy with money. Maybe I should explain. I'm an attorney in a small Midwestern town with a regional corporate and estate-planning practice. I work hard and make what most would consider good money, especially since the cost of living in southwest Michigan is redneck low.

I also don't have many debts. My father's ample salary paid for college and law school, so my earnings have always been available for savings and my mortgage.

Monetarily blessed, I am.

But I don't seem to be able to afford a lot of things that other people enjoy.

It struck me last year when I attended a conference on Mackinac Island, a fairly pricey tourist spot in Lake Huron that is accessible only by ferry, just five miles from the Mackinac Bridge. As the ferry moved from the mainland, I saw my 2000 Venture Van sandwiched between SUVs and Lincolns. When I got to the island, I saw lots of people with expensive bicycles and remembered that my well-worn Schwinn is over five years old. I saw people nonchalantly drop serious dollars on over-priced memorabilia and "artsy" stuff, or pay $5.00 for a hot dog, or pay $500 for one night at the Grand Hotel, possibly the most luxurious hotel in Michigan.

Don't get me wrong. I wasn’t dwelling on these things. They just kinda quietly lumbered in the bowels of my mind, like the way my crawling baldness does.

Then on my last morning there, while trying to grab a quick breakfast at a deli, a young couple with their little son and best Tommy Hilfiger leisure look came in and mused over the offerings, including a dozen different types of coffee. After a few moments, the wife asked the worker, politely but with a small air of anxiety, "Do you have mild Starbucks?” (or some such thing).

The closest I've come to Starbucks is that "Glenn, Glenn, Glenn" commercial. I would have thought the twelve different types of coffee on the menu board pretty much exhausted the list (though on reflection I now realize that "Mocha Cow Urine" wasn't up there either).

I shook my inside head. It never would have occurred to me to inquire about a coffee not listed on that board. It reminded me of a friend who dined at a fine California restaurant and commented to the waiter that she didn't recognize any of wines on the list. "Those," the waiter snooted, "are the waters."

The possibility of such a wide assortment of waters wasn't part of her mental landscape, just as the blossoming variety of coffees isn't part of mine.

Since that overheard Starbucks exchange, I started thinking about all the other things that aren't part of my mental landscape: how to stock a 4,000-square-foot house with nice furniture; the hottest vacation spots; what designer clothes will make me look the most with-it; what SUV handles best on super-smooth freeways.

For the most part, I don't think about those things for the same reason my friend doesn't think about gourmet waters: It's simply something she can't afford. And even if a financial windfall made it affordable, she probably wouldn't buy it because she doesn't live in a world where such things have a place.

I think it's a blessed state.

Which isn't a stretch. Jesus, after all, blessed the poor.
Finally, Mary Biever illustrates the true meaning of Christmas.
Our greatest gifts to God may come in the dark, barren years when we seem to have so little. Perhaps a child at the Christmas table — a modern Tiny Tim — tells us, "God bless us, everyone." We give what we have — whatever we have. When we do so, God blesses us beyond measure, in ways we could never anticipate.

They may be material blessings, but are just as likely to be blessings of the heart. A single smile can ease the burden of a sorrow-laden holiday season.

The real table of plenty is the one God serves to our hearts and souls. We may discover it when we give what we have — whatever it is — to honor the newborn King.

If your Christmas stocking has more poignant sorrow than happiness this season, take heart. You are not alone, and the Christ Child is still there for you. He already gave you the most precious gift He had — Himself.
To live the Catholic life is to undertake the most exciting and dangerous journey anyone has ever known. We confront reconciling our grief, from the blows we've endured from the world, with the eternal love of God. We struggle to live in communion with our savior and one another while the seductions of mirages gnaw at our attention and resolve. We face our aging and ailing family, and our throat tighten in sorrow as we find ourselves unable to offer a meaningful word of comfort. We bit on mouthfuls of sand as we cross the desert of our prayer life. Living a Catholic life is not for the feint of heart.

We also laugh loudly and proudly with our friends and family over bottles of homemade San Giovese. We feel our hearts sore when we see the child we visited at a Juvenille cancer hospital smile at us. We taste the savior as we place his body on our tongue during Holy Communion. Friends we haven't seen in years arrive at the wake for our desceased with a Mass card. We join our voices in song with dozens, if not hundreds, to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Throughout the world, a billion join us, and countless more in Heaven. Living a Catholic Life soothes our heart as nothing else can.

But to live the life Jesus Christ calls each of us to through his Church, we need each other. We need the encouragement of our brothers and sisters to inspire us. We need the presence of each other to weather the storms of an enshadowed world. We need the companionship of fellow disciples.

Catholic Exchange offers us an opportunity to walk with such disciples. I can't tell you the number of times that the witness of a CE writer has made the difference in my life. I'm sure I'm not alone.

If you're feeling alone and lost, and aren't sure where to turn to find your way, look no further than Catholic Exchange. Find the strength you need in the testimony of these witnesses. You are never alone. None of us are.

NYBG Holiday Extravaganza!

The line was long. Very long.

Too long.

The hordes trudged up the far path to the conservatory, where the famous holiday train lay running. Even a casual glance informed the aware of the obvious: we weren't going to make it. For it was already 4:00 PM. The NYBG would cease allowing visitors into the conservatory at 5:30 PM.

That line would not move that fast. Yes, there were that many people there!

It was a free-admissions Wednesday, after all.

Not that that included seeing the holiday exibits. Like the trains. Oh, no! Those were extra--above and beyond the price of admission.

We stepped onto Perennial Way proper at around 3PM. A stroll along the path had brought us past the conservatory to the awaiting cross path. A cafe and shopping frenzy awaited us on the right. A tram stop and signs pointing to the Children's Adventure Garden stood at our left.

Guess which way we headed?


A brief wait, and our Fine Young Fool posed with each of us by Thomas the Tank Engine. The arduous trek through the Children's Adventure Garden brought us to a Ginger Bread house, which our FYF refused to enter. What a wasted opportunity.

Upon our return to the intersection of Perennial Way, we discovered the hordes lined up for the conservatory. Confident that time would erode their will and diminish the line, we window-shopped at the tourists' La Brea Tarpit gift shop. After a worldwind tour of the premises, we again embarked on our quest for trains.

Unfortunately, our earlier confidence proved to be misplaced. The line hadn't gotten shorter.

It had gotten longer.

Much longer.

We shuddered to think as we took our place among the herd. FYF would soon need diversion. My Blushing Bride took the first turn striding up Perennial Way with him. I took the painfully tentative steps forward our line allowed. That's when hope dawned.

A young woman from the NYBG offered memberships to those awaiting entry. For $90.00 a year, a family could enjoy free entry and parking to the Garden anytime for the next year. Including today.

That meant no waiting in line.

My eyes perked up. Entering the conservatory ahead of the hordes looked real good right then! The trouble is, I had already paid for parking and our tickets to see the train. That, plus another $90 would place me in the doghouse with the BB for a year. Or worse!

She returned a short time later. I hadn't moved much further then when she left. Just as we began to realize that we weren't going to make it, another NYBG associate came by offering membership. By this time, many of us salivated at the very chance we could just walk in. They could have asked us to take out a mortgage and we would have happily signed up! The BB, however, kept her head about her.

"We already paid to come today. How would we work that out?" she asked the associate.

"Well, we would deduct that from your membership, including parking," the associate, a middle-aged woman with a genteel smile, replied, "That would come to $47 for a membership, active today."

I looked at the Blushing Bride. She looked back. We both smiled. I already had my VISA card out.

Seconds later, we dashed past the hordes and entered the conservatory. Ah, the priviledges of membership!

Was it worth it? You decide:

Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall!

St. Patrick's Cathedral!

Coming around past the NYBG Conservatory!

Come on! How nice is this?

Want to see more? Check out my page at Flickr!

Think He'll Like It?

The Blushing Bride and I will soon be off! We're taking our Fine Young Fool to the NY Botanical Garden. Why? To see the annual train show, of course! Behold!

“All aboard” for the magic of the annual Holiday Train Show! Across the Conservatory stretches a wondrous landscape featuring replicas of more than 100 New York landmarks—from the Statue of Liberty to the Apollo Theater to winter scenes from Central Park—made entirely from plant parts like berries, mushrooms, pinecones, and twigs. Garden-gauge trains and trolleys zip through this charming scene, disappearing into tunnels and crossing bridges high overhead. Set amid evergreens and lights, dotted with waterfalls and mountains, it's a fantastic world sure to enchant the whole family.

New this year: The original, 1923 Yankee Stadium and more Hudson Valley mansions, including Van Cortlandt Manor and the Rockefeller estate Kykuit.
I'm betting he'll love it! He hasn't left his new wooden train set alone for more than five minutes.

See you all later!

Sleeping In

Late awakening,
From his crib, "I can, I can't!"
Practicing language!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Christmas-in-the-Trenches Moment

A moment of grace blossomed in the midst of carnage in blood one Christmas in 1914. Men from both sides of the trenches of Western Europe initiated a truce--on their own:
How did the truce start?
It bubbled up from the ranks, with both armies making small gestures of good will in the days before Dec. 25. Near Armentières, France, some Germans suggested a brief, local cease-fire, even sweetening the deal with a chocolate cake. Along the Lys River, a battalion of Welsh infantrymen hoisted a banner reading “Merry Christmas,” accompanied by a sketch of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Then, as temperatures dropped below freezing on Christmas Eve, the guns in many sectors fell silent, and thousands of British soldiers heard something they would never forget.

What did they hear?
It was the haunting sound of Germans singing “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”). Through the gloom, the British could also see the flames of candles dotting the branches of makeshift Christmas trees—“like the footlights of a theater,” said one amazed Tommy. Up and down the line the British, moved by the holiday spirit, responded with carols of their own; following each selection, the other side would cheer and applaud. Soon, greetings of “Happy Christmas!” “You no shoot, we no shoot!” and “Come over here!” echoed across no man’s land. Slowly, cautiously, the two armies crept out into the shell-blasted landscape.

What did they find?
Ordinary men like themselves. Once they had broken the ice with greetings and handshakes, they started talking about their homes, their jobs, their families. Many realized that they bore each other no real emnity, that they were merely pawns in a vast struggle beyond their control. Gifts were exchanged; English corned beef and German cigars were particularly popular. “Where they couldn’t talk the language,” wrote Cpl. John Ferguson of the 2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, “they were making themselves understood by signs. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill!”

Did the camaraderie endure?
For a short time, it spread. On Christmas Day, thousands of unarmed men from both sides again emerged from the trenches, having agreed to use the daylight to collect their dead. This time, the enemy soldiers swapped pieces of equipment and parts of their uniforms. Many shared photographs of their families and took pictures of themselves with their new friends. “We are at any rate having another truce on New Year’s Day,” Lt. Dougan Chater of the 2nd Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, wrote in a letter, “as the Germans want to see how the photos come out.” In some places, combatants even played soccer with makeshift balls. “Our privates soon discovered,” recalled Lt. Johannes Niemann of the 133rd Saxon Regiment, “that the Scots wore no underwear under their kilts so that their behinds became clearly visible any time their skirts moved in the wind. We had a lot of fun with that.”
In the spiritual carnage of the Great Schism that even today lays waste to Christian witness, Catholic Prelates from opposite sides of the trenches offer one another a truce. Catholic World News has more:
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Moscow reached out to Russian Orthodox believers during his homily at Christmas Mass, saying that despite differences in their respective liturgical calendars, Catholics and Orthodox "share the single joy of Bethlehem."

The archbishop's words were a reference to a recent controversy in Moscow, where Catholic and Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas on different days. The Russian Orthodox Church, using the Julian calendar, celebrates the Nativity on January 7. Catholics, along with most Protestants in Russia, celebrate Christmas on December 25. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz also expressed his best wishes to those celebrating the feast on the later date.

Some militant Orthodox believers, led by a prominent Moscow deacon, had threatened to picket the city's Catholic cathedral on December 25, "in defense of the Russian Christmas." That protest was called off when it provoked adverse reactions.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II made his own gesture toward Catholics, and other Christians "celebrating Christmas on December 25 according to new style," with a public statement: "I wholeheartedly wish you radiant joy in the newborn Savior, good health, and God’s help in your lofty ministry. "
The world needs more than a truce between brother Christians. It needs the witness of a family of disciples united in Love. Both Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholics have failed to provide this witness. "Thus have we made the world."

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz and Patriarch Alexei II's mutual exchange of goodwill represents another opportunity for the Church to breathe with both lungs. Pray that Fools of goodwill from both communions work to see that their brothers make the most of it!

Our Foolish Christmas

The Foolish Family enjoyed Christmas Eve and Christmas day. We stayed home with my parents and brother on Christmas Eve, while the Blushing Bride's family gathered at my brother-in-law Tony's house. After we all returned home from Mass, Dad cooked up a traditional Italian feast, the seven fish. Mira had spent the day preparing several delicious desserts, so we were ready to gorge! We ate up a storm and then turned to the main event. That would be Frankie opening his presents, of course. And the rest of us, too, for that matter.

Frankie had already spent most of his Christmas Eve day playing with his wooden train set. He took time off to tear open some gifts, and was soon overwhelmed with toy cars, more wooden train cars, and a toy workbench! Everyone enjoyed their gifts. Especially your humble Fool. You see, my brother gave me Chessmaster 10th edition! As you can already tell, I indulged in several training games. The program rightfully handed me my own tuckus for my inadequate play!

The Blushing Bride, Frankie and I spent Christmas Day at my Brother-in-law's. We feasted on octopus salad, codfish cakes, seafood paela and roasted pork. Tony kept the wine pitcher full at all times. My sisters-in-law provided a caterer's delight of homemade desserts after dinner. What a spread!

Later on, Frankie opened some gifts that the Blushing Bride's family gave him. He ended up with his spring wardrobe, including two pairs of pajamas good for September.

We enjoyed our Christmas a lot this year. How was everyone else's?

Frankie's Moment of Relaxation

Resting on my lap,
Sucking his thumb, then he bolts!
Bob the Builder's on!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Eve Before Christmas Eve

Vigil of the Savior's birth
One more night away!

Merry Christmas!

I finished putting together Frankie's first wooden train set. He will absolutely love it!

Having done that, it's time.

I'm taking off Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

Have a healthy, holy and truly Merry Christmas! May the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ renew your joy! May you rejoice at his continued presence among us in his Mystical Body, the Church! God bless and keep you all.

See you Monday!

Frankie's Big Gift

Raising the table,
Wooden train set awaits the
Final setting-up

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Ordinary time
Returns to City High Schools;
Transit strike over!

SAM and Someguy Sheathe their Swords

There'll be no blood on the streets today. SAM and Someguy have made peace.

Consider these comments:
Thanks for stopping by, S.A.M. FWIW, I think the quality of your prose compares very favorably to Mark's.

I will definitely look at your links. Personally, I would not have brought up the accusations you did that have been used against Jews in the past. I mean, I called the ADL's latest statement a "paranoid delusion." At its worst the ADL comes off like the ACLU of organized religion. Jews realize this too--one of my regular Jewish commenters (who goes by the nick "Son of Sheldon") recently excoriated fellow-Jews who see Christians (rather than Muslims) as the biggest threat to themselves. Then, too, in my sidebar under "Substance," I have a link to an article by Rabbi David Dalin praising Pius XII for his help in saving Jewish lives during WWII, and detailing Hitler's collaboration with Muslims in order to carry out the Shoah.

In sum, after 2,000 years, we're finally starting to treat our older brothers and sisters in the faith the way we should have been all along. I want to do everything I can to contribute to what I see as a work of the God who has chosen and called us all. And that's the truth.
someguy | Homepage | 12.21.05 - 6:54 pm | #


Thanks, "someguy." I probably could have done more on that last paragraph on the ADL than I did. That's what you get when you have a blogging addiction and not enough time to indulge it.

FWIW, and hopefully without sounding pompous, I can say that the background for my views in the ADL piece are mostly in the last part of "The Passion, The Jews, and the Teaching of Contempt." I spent a lot of time on it. There are lots of sources of tension. One of them is a history that's almost too painful to recall for Jews and too shameful to bear for Christians. The other is that Christians have this irritating habit of expecting authentic Christian-Jewish dialogue to assume the truth of Christianity, whereas it really would not take that for granted (or even as a subject under discussion). On the other hand, while the history that prompts it is real and the concerns which underlie it can't be dismissed, authentic Jewish-Christian dialogue can't authentically proceed, as is sometimes assumed, under the assumption that "Christianity" is just another word for "anti-Semite."

I doubt we'll see these problems resolved in the lifetimes of our grandchildren. We Christians bear the greater and primary responsiblity for making that impossible. But we still ought to try, and not be too "offended" at the immediate results.
SecretAgentMan | Homepage | 12.21.05 - 8:56 pm | #
and these:
Thanks, someguy.

I hope this is OK with you, ago.html

I find fault with my country as well. However, as soon as I say that, I realize they're my faults too. I can make her better only by starting with myself. SAM didn't seem to have that mojo going. Maybe I read it through his Veteran's Day post, which, as an actual Veteran, I could have done without.

That's a good point. Honestly, I guess it never occurred to me that it could be taken that way. I was pretty effusive about how much I do love America; but then, as you say, part of love is to accept a shared burden.

Some things may not be our fault (I've never married a gay couple, for example), but all of them sure as heck are our responsibility. I make no claim to be a righetous man, and certainly no claim to be better than my fellow Americans.
SecretAgentMan | Email | Homepage | 12.21.05 - 5:41 pm |


Thank you very much, S.A.M. I apologize again. Even if I disagree with you in the future, I'll respect you as a man. I can't give anyone a compliment much better than that.

OK. The matter's finished. I appreciate your good words and tough criticism.

Move along, now! Nothing to see here!

I may have rushed to judgement on Someguy. As I commented on his blog:
Any chump can foam-at-the-mouth even when he's wrong. Only a man can admit his mistake. Only a Christian man can seek pardon for it, and offer respect to one he disagrees with.
His reconciliation with SAM is more the sign of a Fool than a Kool-Aid drowning Foolable. I hope so. The world needs more Fools. For now, I'm pleased that these two men have made peace. Friendships among Fools is a good thing.

Hat tip to Mark Shea for the link!

Clairity's Place

Clairity has done it again!

Taste a sample!
Light of the cook up late rolling out
the dough, cutting vegetables for
the next day’s soup; light in the oven
for the rising loaf of crusty bread. Lamp
light in the barn for milking cows. Light
of stars over cornfields, twinkling eyes
high up over the farms. Light of
the insomniac who sits up with his book
unable to yield to the shadows of sleep.
Light of watchmen, the lighthouse,
throwing shafts of warnings, offers of
help. Little firelights of bugs illuminating
the night with liveliness.
Does she not have Bard's gift of turning a phrase and enlivening an image so vivid that it haunts you?

Help me make Clairity a household name! Send at least three people to read her latest. After you finish it, of course.

You're still here?

Catholic Pillow Fight watches a Wall Come Tumbling Down!

Tony Miller over at Catholic Pillow Fight discovers that the 6th Circuit US Court of Appeals has rendered a Foolish decision!
The First Amendment to the US Constitution "does not demand a wall of separation between church and state," a federal court has ruled.

In a surprising decision this week, the 6th Circuit US Court of Appeals approved the display of the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky county. In writing the decision for a unanimous court, Just Richard Suhrheinrich rejected the arguments of lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU), which protested the display. The judge wrote: "The ACLU makes repeated reference to the 'separation of church and state.' This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome."

The phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear anywhere in the US Constitution, the judge observed. He added that American history "is replete with governmental acknowledgment and in some cases, accommodation of religion."
Excellent! Judges that shed the Judiciarium and actually rule on the law according to the constitution: what a concept! The Reasonable Absolute Individualists must be rending their garments right now. Oh, if only I could have seen the lead ACLU lawyer's face when Judge Suhrheinrich delivered the Court's unanimous decision! I'm already laughing myself out of my chair.

What a terrific early Christmas present! Keep laughing, Fools! Keep laughing!

Cahiers Peguy on "Entreaty: Beyond the Antithesis of Grace/Work"

Fred K. of Cahiers Peguy reflects on Fr. Cantalamessa's recent homily. Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Papal Household, preached on how we all experience a greater communion with Christ through our reception of his Grace, and through living out of that received Grace in service, or "works". He describes this as the goal of the Christian life:
The mystical union with Christ, through participation in his Spirit (the living "in Christ," or "in the Spirit"), is for him the final goal of Christian life; justification by faith is only the beginning and a means to achieve it.[7] This invites us to overcome the contingent polemical interpretations of the Pauline message, centered on the theme of faith-works, so as to find again, underneath them, the genuine thought of the Apostle. What is important for him to affirm before everything else is not that we be justified by faith, but rather that we be justified by faith in Christ; it is not so much that we be justified by grace, as much as that we be justified by the grace of Christ.

Christ is the heart of the message, even before grace and faith. After having presented, in the preceding two and a half chapters of the Letter to the Romans, all of humanity in its universal state of sin and perdition ("all sinned and are deprived of the glory of God"), the Apostle has the incredible courage to proclaim that this situation has changed radically for all, Jews and Greeks, "in virtue of the redemption in Christ Jesus," "through the obedience of one man" ([cf.] Romans 3:24; 5:19).
Fred K. responds:
Although this homily dramatically proposes the Christian faith, I wish it had said just a little bit more. I wish it had stressed the urgency for us to beg for this grace, this salvation, this union with Christ.

As Hans Urs von Balthasar has observed, “’Thy will be done’ does not mean that we offer to God what we are able to do ourselves, but rather that we offer him our willingness to let what He does take over our lives and move us anywhere at will” (First Glance at Adrienne von Speyr, 31).

Between grace and work is entreaty. Grace is a gift, but it is not a neutral one; grace, instead, is the answer to the deepest needs of the heart. The secret of the beatitudes is hungering and thirsting for grace and pleading for God to give what he already has accomplished. Even good works, then, become concrete gestures of asking Christ to make us holy, to draw us closer to Himself.
Without Grace, it is impossible for us to achieve union with Christ, however noble and worthy our works may be. Stoics contributed many excellent works to the world; they did not come into union with the Son of God through them alone. Likewise, without works, we fail to fully receive the Grace that he pours into our hearts, and we quickly let slip from our grasp whatever Grace we had received.

We pray for Christ's presence in our lives; we yearn for the grace of his companionship with us. Then we witness his presence in our lives by showering our neighbors in the charity that comes from him. Our works reflect the union that Christ has initiated with us, and that we have longed to receive. Our works, therefore, should never contribute to the everlasting inflation of our egos. The world offers us flattery enough for that. Rather, our works represent our gratitude to God for his coming into our lives. Christ's presence through Grace satisfies the deepest longing of our very selves. Our works become our lived "thank you" to our savior, for whose coming we rejoice forever!

Vivificat! on Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain

Teofilo of Vivificat! A Catholic Blog of Commentary and Opinion offers us Martin Kochanski's eloquent review of Thomas Merton's masterpiece, The Seven Storey Mountain

Here's a taste:
Probably Merton's greatest work was his spiritual autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain (called Elected Silence in early, abridged UK editions). Here is an appreciation of it:

What people need is somebody who is capable of telling them of the love of God in language that will no longer sound hackneyed or crazy, but with authority and conviction: the conviction born of sanctity.

To summarise the plot of Seven Storey Mountain in a sentence, it is the story of how a rather wild young man settled down to become a Trappist monk. This sounds a little like St Augustine's Confessions but although they are of the same literary genre, the books couldn't be more different. Augustine savours too much of Grand Opera to be readily assimilable. Thanks to an expensive rhetorical education, he spends half his time in bel canto arias to the Almighty and the other half beating his breast starting with his confession of how wicked he was even in the cradle, where he used to yell when he wanted his parents to do things for him. Meanwhile, Merton, a poet rather than an orator, writes of himself that "Free by nature, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born... loving God and yet hating him, living instead in fear and hopeless self-contradictory hungers" altogether more likely in the modern world!

Principally what makes the Mountain worth reading is that as he looks into his past Merton loves himself and forgives himself, and loves and forgives everyone else too. This doesn't mean that he thinks that what he did was good, just that he looks on it dispassionately and sees its proper place in his life. He has drunk of Dante's Lethe and Eunoë, and so remembers his sins "only as an historical fact and as the occasion of grace and blessedness" (Dorothy L. Sayers, introduction to the translation of Dante's Purgatorio).

Thomas MertonMerton starts his narrative by seeing himself in relation to God, and that's how it continues. Everything is seen in terms of its true context within his life and its true significance in the course of it and there are a few surprises, as when we see William Blake and James Joyce leading him towards baptism. If this sounds rather ponderous, it isn't. It isn't ponderous precisely because it is orthodox. The new man that he has become is like the New Law given by Christ: not a rejection of the old but a fulfilment; and so he loves his old self, like all the rest of God's creation, but with clear eyes, distinguishing the good from the bad; seeing good in unexpected places and assessing its nature and usefulness.

Merton's prose style is deceptively relaxed. It looks so effortless that you think there's nothing to it; until you try to reshape one of those laid-back sentences and realise that it's a tautly efficient machine and that it says what it has to say in half the number of words that anyone else would need.
I started The Seven Storey Mountain at least ten years ago. I can't remember now why I didn't finish it, but I'm beginning to think I should resume reading it. Mr. Kochanski's review adds an exclamation point to this idea.

Go read the whole thing!

It's Over!

The TWU has ended New York City's transit strike. The transit workers union will continue to negotiate with the MTA for a contract. Whether they will stay on-the-job remains to be seen.

Yahoo! News has the story here.

The highlights:
The city's crippling three-day transit strike ended Thursday when union leaders — facing mounting fines, possible jail terms and the wrath of millions of commuters — voted to send their 33,000 members back to work without a new contract.

Union board members said the workers would return to their job sites starting with the next shifts. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of returning to work and resuming negotiations with the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority on a new three-contract.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said buses should be running by evening, and most subways should be operating in time for the Friday morning rush. "It can't be turned on and off with a flip of a switch," he said of the nation's largest mass transit system.

Roger Toussaint, the combative president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, had recommended that his union's executive board accept the deal.

"We thank our riders for their patience and forbearance," he said.

The walkout, which began early Tuesday, was New York's first citywide transit strike in more than 25 years. The workers walked out over wages, pension contributions and health benefits, leaving their jobs in violation of a state law prohibiting public employees from striking.

"I'm ready to work the rush hour this afternoon if they let me," bus driver Ralph Torres said from the picket line.

While the agreement ends the strike, it does not settle the underlying contract dispute, which means the city could be hit with another walkout if negotiations fail.

The breakthrough was announced just minutes before Toussaint and two of his top deputies were due in a Brooklyn courtroom to answer criminal contempt charges for continuing the strike. On Wednesday, the judge warned he might throw them in jail.

Earlier this week, the judge, State Justice Theodore Jones, fined the union $1 million a day for striking. And under the state no-strike law, the rank-and-file members were automatically docked two days' pay for each day they stayed off the job.

The walkout sent millions of commuters from the city and its suburbs scrambling to find other ways to get to work, and inflicted a heavy toll on the city's economy in the week before Christmas, when New York is usually packed with tourists and holiday shoppers.

The bitterness was captured in tabloid headlines. The New York Post screamed: "Jail 'em!" in front of a composite image of Toussaint behind bars.

"I think it was all for nothing," said commuter Lauren Caramico, 22, of Brooklyn. "Now the poor people of the TWU are out six days' pay, and nothing gained."
Earlier this week, I reflected on both sides of the contract dispute between the MTA and the transit workers. I came down hard on the MTA, and deservedly so. However, I'm not completely prepared to give the TWU a pass on this. Roger Toussaint and his union have much to answer for.

While I respect the TWU's effort to not sell out their future membership, they chose the most combative and disruptive strategy to accomplish their goal. The strike inconvenienced over 8 million New Yorkers and at least 5 million NYC commuters. They may have cost the city's businesses over a billion dollars in revenue. This isn't just corporations and big-wigs that the TWU hurt. Mom-and-pop businesses, small retailers and other workers suffered, too. High School students, as I mentioned before, often had no other way to get to school. The Christmas shopping season, which many retailers depend on to show a profit for the year, has all but collapsed in NYC! The TWU bears responsibility for all of this. Could they have chosen another tactic in which to deliver their message?

Sure. They could have "worked to rule":
Instead of striking, workers with demands that the bosses are unwilling to meet can collectively decide to start "working-to-rule".

Almost every job is covered by a maze of rules, regulations, standing orders, and so on, many of them completely unworkable and generally ignored. Workers often violate orders, resort to their own techniques of doing things, and disregard lines of authority simply to meet the goals of the company. There is often a tacit understanding, even by the managers whose job it is to enforce the rules, that these shortcuts must be taken in order to meet production quotas on time.

But what would happen if each of these rules and regulations were followed to the letter? Confusion would result -- production and morale would plummet. And best of all, the workers can't get in trouble with the tactic because they are, after all, "just following the rules."

Under nationalisation, French railway strikes were forbidden. Nonetheless, rail workers found other ways of expressing their grievances. One French law requires the engineer to assure the safety of any bridge over which the train must pass. If after a personal examination they is still doubtful, then they must consult other members of the train crew. Of course, every bridge was so inspected, every crew was so consulted, and none of the trains ran on time.
They could also have conducted a "good work strike":
Instead of a conventional strike, workers with demands that the bosses are unwilling to meet can collectively decide to have a good work strike.

One of the biggest problems for service industry workers is that many forms of direct action, such as Go-slows, end up hurting the consumer (mostly fellow workers) more than the boss. One way around this is to provide better or cheaper service - at the boss's expense, of course.

Workers at Mercy Hospital in France, who were afraid that patients would go untreated if they went on strike, instead refused to file the billing slips for drugs, lab tests, treatments, and therapy. As a result, the patients got better care (since time was being spent caring for them instead of doing paperwork), for free. The hospital's income was cut in half, and panic-stricken administrators gave in to all of the workers' demands after three days.

In 1968, Lisbon bus and train workers gave free rides to all passengers to protest a denial of wage increases. Conductors and drivers arrived for work as usual, but the conductors did not pick up their money satchels. Needless to say, public support was solidly behind these take-no-fare strikers.
Either of these legal or pseudo-legal tactics could have delivered the message. One would certainly have inconvenienced New Yorkers--but would not have violated the Taylor law. The other would have positively delighted strap-hangers--and terrified MTA executives! Unfortunately, Roger Toussaint decided instead to instigate a strike.

In doing so, he hurt not only the citizens and visitors of New York City. He hurt his own workers. The Reasonable MSM, normally a cheerleader for militant unions and socialist-lite associations, mercilessly bashed the TWU from the beginning. Several of the blogosphere's finest jumped on the media bandwagon for a change. It wasn't long before frustrated commuters and New Yorkers parroted the mantras of fiscal conservatives and their breatheren:
"You T.W.U. workers disgust me," said one message. "The benefits/options you're asking for is unheard of in most jobs. People are lucky to get 3 percent annually. Why should you people get paid more than teachers, police and social workers?"

Another posting said: "I am a daily commuter who believes in worker rights. However, your benefits are over and above anything I can ever anticipate in my entire working career. Retire at 55? You must be kidding. I am an indentured servant until I am at least 70."
Moreover, Mr. Toussaint's union militancy is at least two decades too late. The public no longer accepts the "social justice" claims of many unions, and New Yorkers aren't buying the TWU's similar stance. In fact, even pro-union economists acknowledge that unions may actually be harming workers' long term prospects, and many workers may agree:
According to Harvard economists Richard Freeman and James Medoff, who look favorably on unions, "Most, if not all, unions have monopoly power, which they can use to raise wages above competitive levels." The power that unions have to fix high prices for their labor rests on legal privileges and immunities that they get from government, both by statute and by nonenforcement of other laws. The purpose is to restrict others from working for lower wages. As anti-union economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in 1922, "The long and short of trade union rights is in fact the right to proceed against the strikebreaker with primitive violence."

Those unfamiliar with labor law may be surprised by the privileges that U.S. unions enjoy. The list is long. Labor cartels are immune from taxation and from antitrust laws. Companies are legally compelled to bargain with unions in "good faith." This innocent-sounding term is interpreted by the National Labor Relations Board to suppress such practices as Boulwarism, named for a former General Electric personnel director. To shorten the collective bargaining process, Lemuel Boulware communicated the "reasonableness" of GE's wage offer directly to employees, shareholders, and the public. Unions also can force companies to make their property available for union use.

Once the government ratifies a union's position as representing a group of workers, it represents them exclusively, whether particular employees want collective representation or not. Also, union officials can force compulsory union dues from employees, members and nonmembers alike, as a condition of keeping their jobs. Unions often use these funds for political purposes—political campaigns and voter registration, for example—unrelated to collective bargaining or to employee grievances. Unions are relatively immune from payment of tort damages for injuries inflicted in labor disputes, from federal court injunctions, and from many state laws under the "federal preemption" doctrine. Sums up Nobel Laureate Friedrich A. Hayek: "We have now reached a state where [unions] have become uniquely privileged institutions to which the general rules of law do not apply."

Labor unions cannot prosper in a competitive environment. Like other successful cartels, they depend on government patronage and protection. Worker cartels grew in surges during the two world wars and the Great Depression of the thirties. Federal interventions—the Railway Act of 1926 (amended in 1934), the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the Walsh-Healy Act of 1936, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, various War Labor Boards, and the Kennedy administration's encouragement of public-sector unionism in 1962—all added to unions' monopoly power.

Most unions in the private sector are in crafts and industries that have few companies or that are concentrated in one region of the country. This makes sense. Both factors—few employers or regionally concentrated employers—make organizing easier. Conversely, the large number of employers and the regional dispersion of employers sharply limit unionization in trade, services, and agriculture. A 1989 unionization rate of 35 percent in the public sector versus 12 percent in the private sector further demonstrates that unions do best in heavily regulated, monopolistic environments.

After nearly sixty years of government encouragement and protection of unions, what have been the economic consequences? A 1985 survey by H. Gregg Lewis of two hundred economic studies concluded that unions caused their members' wages to be, on average, 14 to 15 percent higher than wages of similarly skilled nonunion workers. Other economists—Harvard's Freeman and Medoff, and Peter Linneman and Michael Wachter of the University of Pennsylvania—claim that the union premium was 20 to 30 percent or higher during the eighties.

The wage premium varies by industry. Unions representing garment workers, textile workers, white-collar government workers, and teachers seem to have little impact on wages. But wages of unionized mine workers, building trades people, airline pilots, merchant seamen, postal workers, teamsters, rail workers, and auto and steel workers exceed wages of similarly skilled nonunion employees by 25 percent or more.

The wage advantage enjoyed by union members results from two factors. First, monopoly unions raise wages above competitive levels. Second, nonunion wages fall because workers priced out of jobs by high union wages move into the nonunion sector and bid down wages there. Thus, some of the gains to union members come at the expense of those who must shift to lower-paying or less desirable jobs or go unemployed.


The monopoly success of private-sector unions, however, has brought their decline. The silent, steady forces of the marketplace continually undermine them. Linneman and Wachter, along with economist William Carter, found that the rising union wage premium was responsible for up to 64 percent of the decline in unions' share of employment in the last twenty years. The average union wage premium for railroad workers over similarly skilled nonrailroad workers, for example, increased from 32 percent to 50 percent between 1973 and 1987; at the same time, employment on railroads declined from 520,000 to 249,000. Increased wage premiums also caused declines in union employment in construction, manufacturing, and communications. As Rutgers economist Leo Troy concludes, "Over time, competitive markets repeal the legal protection bestowed by governments on unions and collective bargaining."

The degree of union representation of workers has declined in all private industries in the United States in recent decades. A major reason is that employees do not like unions. According to a Louis Harris poll commissioned by the AFL-CIO in 1984, only one in three U.S. employees would vote for union representation in a secret ballot election. The Harris poll found, as have other surveys, that nonunion employees, relative to union workers, are more satisfied with job security, recognition of job performance, and participation in decisions that affect their jobs. And the U.S. economy's evolution toward smaller companies, the South and West, higher-technology products, and more professional and technical personnel continues to erode union membership.

In the United States union membership in the private sector peaked at 17 million in 1970 and had fallen to 10.5 million by 1989. Moreover, the annual decline is accelerating. Barring new legislation, such as a recent congressional proposal to ban the hiring of nonunion replacement workers, private-sector membership will fall from 12 percent to about 7 percent by the year 2000, about the same percentage as a hundred years earlier. [Editor's note: this prediction was made in 1992.] While the unionization rate in government jobs may decline slightly from 35 percent, public-sector unions are on schedule to claim an absolute majority of union members a few years after the year 2000, thereby transforming an historically private-sector labor movement into a primarily government one. Asked in the twenties what organized labor wanted, union leader Samuel Gompers answered, "More." Today's union leader would probably answer, "More government." That answer further exposes the deep, permanent conflict between union members and workers in general that inevitably arises when the first group is paid monopoly wage rates.
Finally, the TWU strike may encourage the MTA to fire the provocateurs and initiate productivity members that cost the TWU even more jobs. How? Three words: Remote Control Operation (RCO):
Like many other industries, railroads have undergone dramatic restructuring over the past few decades. Advances in radio, telecommunications, computers, and other forms of technology have decimated the ranks of the nation’s railroaders, from brakemen and switchmen to clerks and car inspectors.

For train and engine crews, perhaps the biggest threat comes from Remote Control Operation (RCO) in the rail yard and from single-person operation of over-the-road trains. In fact, with a technology known as “positive train separation,” it may soon be possible to begin limited operation of some trains with no operator whatsoever.


RCO was implemented on a broad scale on most of the nation’s major railroads in 2002 (see Labor Notes, May 2003). Once in place, RCO eliminates the need for an employee at the controls of the locomotive, thus reducing crew size (and saving the employers money in wages and benefits).

The employees on the ground, who couple and uncouple the rail cars, join the air hoses, and perform a host of other tasks, are now able to operate the locomotive by manipulating the buttons and switches on their “belt-pack” devices.

A myriad of other technologies now conspire to make single-employee operation of over-the-road trains a possibility. First attempted—and then backed away from—by the union-busting Wisconsin Central in the 1990s, the practice has been waiting on the back burner. Various states, including Wisconsin, have adopted two-person crew laws in a union-sponsored effort to protect their membership and provide a safe work environment.

No single technology is responsible for the shift towards single-person crews. Centralized Traffic Control, whereby a train dispatcher has control over the entire piece of railroad (including remote control track signals and switches), eliminated the need for a head brakeman and rear flagman in many cases.

Automatic trackside detectors contributed greatly to the demise of the caboose, and made train inspection by an on-board crew stationed at the end of the train no longer mandatory. Advances in radio have allowed the dispatcher to speak directly to the train crew through base stations, so that s/he can communicate immediately with the crew regardless of the train’s location.

Taken together, these and other technologies have reduced the responsibilities of the train crew.

The national freight carriers appear poised to attempt to force the rail unions to accept the elimination of the road conductor. They are pushing for trains run with a single-person crew, a “transportation employee” who will not only run and take charge of the engine but will also assume the conductor’s duties (see page 3).

Rather than call signals to each other across the cab, the lone employee will call them over the radio. Rather than have the conductor handle necessary switches in front of the train, the employee would now dismount from the locomotive and throw them, or have an all-purpose “utility employee” tend to the switches.

The lone employee would no doubt also be expected to handle all of the paperwork for the train, keeping track of waybills, orders, hazardous material information, and more during his/her tour-of-duty.
The Paris Metro already utilizes some driverless trains. The MTA has a $1 billion dollar surplus and a labor problem. You do the math. Between this and the possibilities of EZ Pass technology for the transfer of fares, the MTA could butcher the TWU, save costs and hold the line on fares for strap-hangers. Exactly how do transit workers win in that scenario?

They don't. Thanks to this strike, they won't even have public support from arguably one of the most pro-labor cities in the United States. Meanwhile, they've ended their strike after three days and they still don't have a contract. The TWU has done a tremendous disservice to its workers ,and its city. They may also have added a nail to organized labor's coffin--if not hammered home the final one.

Three-year-old Caesar

Temper tantrum thrown,
Toddler's rage pours out in vain,
leaving him quiet

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

At a Wake

Ashes in the Urn
Farewell, my family friend,
You parted too soon.

The Morally Broken Brokeback Mountain

Jimmy Akin weighs in on the Brokeback Mountain review debacle. He links to Steven Greydanus's review of the film. Mr. Greydanus accomplished what the USCCB Film review office failed to do: evaluate its aesthetic and moral attributes accurately in the light of the Faith:
As you might guess, he gives it significant marks for artistic merit (three and a half stars) but gives it a -4 moral/spirital rating (which is as bad as it can get on his scale), resulting in it having no appropriate audience and an overall recommendability of F.

He thus was able to separate the artistic craftsmanship of the film from its moral content, which is a very important distinction to make. Something can appear beautiful and even moving and still be gravely immorally.

"And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14).

That's the thing about sin: If it wasn't in some way attractive to people, they wouldn't do it.

Steve also bring out a point that I had been thinking about: When a morally offensive movie has artistic merit, that makes it MORE dangerous, not less, because it is better able to draw the viewer into the immoral worldview of the film than a ham-fisted, low-quality film.
Why isn't Mr. Greydanus running the USCCB Film review office again?

The willing and unwitting Agents of Evil have long penetrated the former strongholds of reason. Cultural institutions such as higher education centers and various art movements now promote as fashionable the usual, Reasonable nonsense. Thus, Reasonable elites from these institutions genuflect before the wisdom and awe of the One Thing that Matters (2.0). Their Foolable sympathizers play Lenin's "useful idiots" and help spread this ridiculousness. Thus, when elites find an artistic and beautiful expression of art that praises homosexual activity, they celebrate its daring and salute it's artistic merit and courageous theme. Unfortunately for Fools, at least one Foolable on the USCCB payroll. That's why a film like Brokeback Mountain receives such accolades even though its subject matter contradicts the truth.

Thank God at least one Fool has the eloquence and courage to point out the naked Emperor.

Let the Reasonable pout and stamp their feet! Keep laughing, Fools! Keep laughing!

A Wednesday before Christmas

Daylight fades away,
Solstis, day of waning light
Prelude to his birth!

Mouth-Foaming Foolables Slobber SAM!

Where do they come from? Why do they insist on splattering every corner of cyberspace they can reach?

Mark Shea rises to SAM's defense when this Blogosphere Voltaire spews all over his carpet.

Here's our brilliant satirist in all his eloquent glory (warning: language alert!):
Two exceptional examples from the latter category written by this piece of shit impel me to break my silence.

Dale Price, one of the good guys of the Catholic blogosphere, and who I consider to be one of my blogfathers, recommended a post by the p.o.s. blogger (a.k.a., SecretAgentMan--no kidding) that left Dale with the impression that said blogger had expressed "clear-eyed gratitude for America and being American." If you want, follow the link from Dale's post and let me know if you think it expresses gratitude. In the meantime, I made the mistake of going to his main page and browsing the rest of his November output. And that was when I stepped in read the two posts that are the subject of this one.

As an active duty military man, I can't find the words to express how moved I was by his Veteran's Day post. Check out this gem:
I saw that the Curt Jester put up a hymn for Veterans' Day. I appreciated that sentiment and his apt choice. Inasmuch, however, as Veterans Day has been employed in my neck of the woods as an occasion to drape red-white-and-blue bunting around the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq and some of its more dishonorable attempts to fight (the other guy's) terrorism, here's my selection:

Well, bless me! And here I thought that ALL of our country's wars had "red-white-and-blue bunting draped around them." Because, you know, they're led by the President. Commander-in-Chief, and all that sort of thing. And did you get the part about "the other guy's terrorism"? As in, "theirs" instead of "ours"? Hold that thought, because I'll be coming back to it in a bit.
What brilliant oratory! What esquisite use of rhetoric to fairly criticize a man's errant view while not violating his person. This "Italian Catholic" really demonstrates the heart of Christian Charity hear. I'm all goosy from the love I'm feeling! And all this because SAM dares to take John Paul the Great's considerable wisdom on just war seriously. How dare he place his Catholicism before his nationalism! I'm surprised Someguy didn't just tar him as a hopeless papist and be done with him, like his "good friend" did!

And, to our radiant Voltair, SAM is obviously an irredeemable anti-semite. After all, he has the audacity to observe that fallen man may act fallen when others force an agenda upon them that's not to their liking. O the humanity! Behold:
As for the terrorism that isn't "(the other guy's) terrorism," I can only guess what that might mean. And my guess is based on another post by S.A.M. that points a long, bony finger at you-know-who:
Jews have not "always fared badly" in systems where religion is allied with the government. The Lutheran Church, it's interesting to note, is the official, state-supported religion of Sweden and Denmark.(emphasis his)
The context is a post on the ADL's recently published paranoid delusions about American Christians trying to turn the good ol' U.S.A. into a theocracy. He supports his statement with the example of the State Church of Denmark helping Jews escape to neutral Sweden during WWII. That the citation he quotes to support his example begins, "Denmark was the only occupied country that actively resisted the Nazi regime's attempts to deport its Jewish citizens" makes me think that this is one of those exception-that-proves-the-rule deals. "Always," except in one case. Really nailed Rabbi Korn on that one.

Ahh...but there's ANOTHER exception!
Israel is another counter-example that comes to mind rather handily -- Israel is a good day's walk from the ultra-secular model of Church-State separation being touted by Mr. Foxman as the be-all and end-all of human civilization. It would be interesting -- and perhaps will be interesting -- to see the secularist ideals promoted by the ADL's campaign met by some pithy comparisons between Evangelical political influence in America and Jewish religious influence in Israeli politics, or between the supposedly-malign project of "Christianizing" America and the supposedly-benign project of "Zionizing" Palestine.
What would really be interesting would be to see this ignorant doofus wake up and realize that an actual theocracy can only be founded by the "Theos." And only one county in the history of the entire world can lay claim to that sort of founding. Guess which one? So how does S.A.M. propose to ally the fears of the ADL and their fellow-travelers?
There have been times when Jewish attempts to build a liveable society through secularism goaded Christians into demonizing them as a culture-destroying race bent on undermining wholesome values. Let's not invite that old, vile rhetoric to emerge -- on either side -- again.
By threatening them with a pogrom! Way to go, S.A.M.! You showed that old fox, Foxman, that he can't provoke any heated rhetoric out of you!
Yet again, I'm flushed. What a precise and insightful analysis of an obvious Jew-haters screed. Brilliant!

Maybe if Someguy would quit drowning in Kool-Aid and stop putting Mussolini to his left, he might see what an idiot he's made of himself. SAM notes the contrast between the ADL's curious promotion of secularism in America and Jewish politicians' religiosity in Israel. Someguy babbles some incoherence about only God can found a theocracy.

Yeah, tell that to the Iranians, the Swiss calvinists and the Puritans of Plymouth, for that matter.

SAM then observes that Christian Traditionalists may resent Jewish Secularists' efforts to force secularism down their throat--and may regrettably behave in ways history has witnessed before. Someguy immediately convicts SAM of threatening the ADL with a "pogrom." He either demonstrates a complete inability to comprehend English or a total willingness to craft a legion of straw men. I'm still trying to figure out which one it is.

My old neighborhood had a great word for a paragon of virtue like Someguy: Disgratzia!

Mark Shea had this to say in SAM's defense:
One of the best and wisest people in the blogosphere, Secret Agent Man, gets screamed at by an orc for failing to pass the orc's test of 100% uncritical mindless endorsement of everything American. It's not enough that SAM love his country. He must love his country's sins too. And he must agree that the war in Iraq was just or he hates America and freedom and goodness. Then, for good measure, SAM gets hysterically tarred as an anti-semite for not bowing and scraping to the latest manufactured panic of the ADL.

But then, all you really have to do is read the words "my good friend Joseph D'Hippolito" and you know that the orc is not going to be a paragon of grace or sober rhetoric.
And this:

I don't get the insistence that everybody has to respond to you on your blog. You felt quite free to call a good man a piece of shit on your blog and not write in his comment box (or indeed contact him in any way before maligning him). Why is everybody obliged to jump in the snake pit with you and Joe and your various toadies? You're quite free to make a spectacle of yourself sliming a man whose sandals you are not worthy to untie. But I don't see why that obliged anybody else to contribute to your blog.
When Foolables foam the carpet, they truly make a putrid mess of themselves and everyone they reach. It's sad that such mouth-foamers trade their discipleship for the toxins of extreme partisanship. To paraphrase St. Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons: Scripture admonishes us that it profits a man not to inherit the whole world and lose his soul. The whole world, Someguy! But for extreme GOPism?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

An ASCR Victory!

Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) has a good reason to be happy today. The ASCR bill he's promoted since 2001 passed both houses of Congress, and today President Bush signed it into law!

CNS has the STORY: Pro-life official hails signing of bill on stem cells from cord blood
An official of the U.S. bishops' pro-life secretariat hailed the Dec. 20 enactment of legislation establishing a national program to promote the use of stem cells from umbilical-cord blood.

Richard M. Doerflinger, deputy director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said the signing of the Stem-Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 by President George W. Bush "is wonderful news for the many thousands of suffering patients who can benefit from umbilical-cord-blood stem-cell treatments."

The House had approved the legislation in May by a 431-1 vote. The Senate passed it by unanimous consent Dec. 16 with one amendment; the House concurred with the amendment by voice vote Dec. 17.

"As Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, how appropriate that we can also celebrate the medical miracles made possible by cord blood retrieved immediately after live births," Doerflinger said. "Congress and the president have given a wonderful Christmas present to patients in need."

Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, had backed passage of the legislation in a July letter to senators, saying that stem cells obtained from cord blood had properties similar to embryonic stem cells.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chief sponsor of the legislation in the House, said after the signing that he had been working on the legislation since 2001, "and I am thankful that treatments will now, finally, be made available to patients in need."

"We will now be able to turn medical waste -- umbilical cords and placentas -- into medical miracles for huge numbers of very sick and terminally ill patients who suffer from such maladies as leukemia and sickle cell anemia," he said in an earlier statement.

The legislation authorizes $265 million in federal funding for research and therapy involving cord blood and bone marrow. Of that total, $79 million would go toward the collection of cord-blood stem cells, with the goal of reaching a genetically diverse inventory of 150,000 units.

It also reauthorizes the national bone-marrow transplant system at $186 million over the next five years and combines the cord-blood and bone-marrow programs to provide a single information source for doctors and patients.
This is a great victory for Fools, the chronically ill and the unborn. The Federal government will now finance the same research that venture capitalists have backed for some time. Umbilical cords will now provide core blood for the development of morally licit stem-cell lines. More treatments for difficult diseases may soon become available.

Be kind to our Reasonable, Moloch-worshipping brothers today. They must be terribly disappointed. The State failed to support the New Sacrifice to the God of the One Thing that Matters. That can't be an easy thing to accept. Now all those frozen embryos will not add Ka-Ching! to promoters of Absolute Individualism. That's gotta hurt.

Be easy. Try not to laugh too loud!

America Magazine Eats Crow

Apparently, the production staff at the magazine had no idea that condoms are made of latex.

Catholic News Agency has the embarrassing details:
America magazine will publish an apology on Today’s edition about an ad for a offensive Virgin Mary statue.

The ad which was published in its December 5th edition, was for a “Extra Virgin Mary” statue. It appeared on page 36 of the December 5 edition which displayed a virgin covered with “delicate veil of latex”, in English: a condom.

Editor Fr. Christiansen said to CNA he was “deeply offended” by this ad. It first appeared in the magazine "because black-and-white copy of the ad didn’t make it evident" it was a condom. He said the magazine will take further steps to be more careful these adds don’t appear anymore in the magazine.
Quick! Somebody check the temperature in hell! The Foolable staff at America have actually done something Foolish! Could a seal have been broken already? Get thee to confession, Fools! The time is nigh!

In all seriousness, how could any thinking adult actually promote any advertizement that involves a statue of the Virgin Mary and a "delicate veil of latex"? I'm pleased that Fr. Christiansen has not even dared to qualify the "art" that the controversial ad features. I only wish he wouldn't have to apologize period. Nothing like this should ever make its way into a Catholic journal. Period.

"The worm has turned and he's packing an uzi!" At least, for the moment...May this clear-thinking continue!

The Transit Workers' Strike Hammers NYC

Oh, yes. The Apocolypse has come. The Horseman flank each side of the Big Apple. New York City bleeds while hapless New Yorkers and Commuters struggle to get around.

Yahoo! has the story of the Transit Workers' Strike
Commuters trudged through the freezing cold, rode bicycles and shared cabs Tuesday as New York's bus and subway workers went on strike for the first time in more than 25 years and stranded millions of riders at the height of the Christmas rush. A judge slapped the union with a $1 million-a-day fine.

State Justice Theodore Jones leveled the sanction against the Transport Workers Union for violating a state law that bars public employees from going on strike. The city and state had asked Jones to hit the union with a "very potent fine."

"This is a very, very sad day in the history of labor relations for New York City," the judge said in imposing the fine.

The union said it would immediately appeal, calling the penalty excessive.

The strike over wages and pensions came just five days before Christmas, at a time when the city is especially busy with shoppers and tourists.

The heavy penalty could force the union off the picket lines and back on the job. Under the law, the union's 33,000 members will also lose two days' pay for every day they are on strike, and they could also be thrown in jail.

The courtroom drama came midway through a day in which the walkout fell far short of the all-out chaos that many had feared. With special traffic rules in place, the morning rush came and went without monumental gridlock. Manhattan streets were unusually quiet; some commuters just stayed home.

The nation's biggest mass-transit system ground to a halt after 3 a.m., when the TWU called the strike after a late round of negotiations with the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority broke down. The subways and buses provide more than 7 million rides per day.

New Yorkers car-pooled, shared taxis, rode bicycles, roller-skated or walked in the freezing cold. Early morning temperatures were in the 20s. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said the strike would cost the city as much as $400 million a day, joined the throngs of people crossing the Brooklyn Bridge by foot.

"Hey, can I get a ride?" Jay Plastino asked a neighbor near his home in the northern tip of Manhattan. Plastino, who was headed to his midtown job, was angry at the union: "This is a big city. Don't they realize that?"

Gov. George Pataki said the union acted illegally and "will suffer the consequences." But union attorney Arthur Schwartz accused the MTA of provoking the strike.

No negotiations were scheduled between the two sides, although a mediator from a state labor board was meeting with both union and MTA officials Tuesday afternoon.
Pajama Media is all over this story:
The leading union in the New York transit strike was fined a massive $1 million per day for its illegal action as New Yorkers begged for taxi rides and people gave rides to strangers, Reuters reported. Ed Driscoll has tonight's icily inconvenient weather report, Instapundit cheers for burbs and sprawl, goes hard on union greed and China's laughing...
You can imagine the commentary from that side of the board. On the other hand, Steve Gilliard of The News Blog offers a different perspective:
The TWU called a strike at 3:00 AM

While you're at home or trying to get to work a week before Chistmas, remember that the City and State allowed the MTA to spend their surplus with no consideration for workers needs, or the needs for the city.

The media has done little better, constantly harping on the Taylor Law and the responsibilities of the TWU and forgetting the rank and utter dishonesty of the MTA.

In any dispute there are two sides, but keep in mind that the TWU has stood with workers for basic protections in the system, like booth clerks and conductors in the face of the MTA's constant opposition.

There is no reason for this strike, but the MTA was not interested in meeting the union or the needs of New Yorkers even half way.


Anyone who thinks these people make too much ought to consider why much of New York is thriving and not a ghetto wasteland. Those salaries build homes, pay taxes, buy cars. In short, while you tour Harlem and live in Billysburg ii is because people with stable jobs and good salaries buy homes and live there. The dollars paid by the MTA to the TWU's members go to the city, support the city, unlike the suburban based police and firefighters.

Yet, Bloomberg and Pataki disregarded that and the effect on business and backed the union into a corner. And they deserve the blame as much as the union or MTA for this. They tried to bully these people like Giuliani did, but that leadership lost their jobs because they buckled.

For all the halfwits calling for these people to be fired, do they know how to lay track or fix a subway car? No...
Well, one of Steve's commentators offers this analysis:
MTA workers earn between $47,000 and $63,000 per year; they pay nothing for their own healthcare, and can retire at 55 for 1/2 of their pay for the rest of their life... It is high time that these workers fall in line with what corporate America (and New York) face everyday - REALITY.

In the terms of their strike, they asked for an 8% year-on-year raise for next 3 years, to retire at 50 years old, and to prevent (only new members) from paying a paltry 2% of their gross income for their own healthcare.

Let's look at some hard numbers here... The average New Yorker, outside of Wall Street financial companies, earns $49,000 per year. The average American pays 8% of their gross salary on health care costs, and a 3% cost of living raise in a year in considered generous my most standards.

We're talking about workers that don't need a college education, are not particularly skilled, and would basically just assume spit on you as help (think about a transit booth worker) a rider.

I hope that the Taylor laws punish the TWU harshly, that they can stuff their whining about “dignity”, etc. This is about one thing – MONEY. Their 8% year-on-year raise means that those over-paid $60/year conductors will be making $75k per year. The City can not support that.
So again, the usual suspects utter the usual idealogical innanities past each other. Conservatives will sneer at the TWU members that walked off the job. They'll bemoan their gross overcompensation for their lack of qualification, making sure to genuflect to the Great God of Efficient Markets as they wax nostolgic for Smithian realism. Meanwhile, their Liberal counterparts will immediately play the race card, canonize the Taylor Law violators that have cost NYC $400 million, completely villifying the MTA/City/State for "union-busting."

Meanwhile, the everyday New Yorker suffers. Like the students of NYC's public High schools. Like my kids. I taught a grand total of nine students in at least four classes today. Yes, that's nine--out of a roster of 34 students per class! Guess why they weren't there? Yup! NYC high school students take mass transit. And guess what? Because of the absenses, my school may lose $1.8 million in Federal Title I money. That's income that pays for after-school and week-end tutoring, among other things. The TWU and the MTA just contributed to the decline of NYC's future. What a surprise!

Neither side has the market of justification cornered here. The TWU workers are well-paid, established middle-class wage-earners. They're average salary--without a college education--is $55,000 a year. They're making hand-over-fist more than their private sector counterparts could command. Having said that, they live in one of the most expensive cities in the nation. They contribute to the economy of the city. Their last contract gave them no raises for two years, even a cost-of-living increase. Now, they're offered a deal that gives them little more than 1% over inflation, and in exchange, they have to sell-out their young workers by two-tiering their pension system.

On the other side of this ugly equation, the MTA currently sits on a budget surplus of $1 billion. This is after they sweet-hearted MTA-owned land to land developers for a song. This is after they cried poverty in 2002, when the one increase they owed their workers came due after two years of no increases. This is after they've raised fares without justification and demonstrate their finances to no one. MTA management has no credibility on the financial issues as far as I'm concerned.

Regarding the pension issue: my brother teachers sold my generation out long ago. The TWU doesn't want to repeat the UFT's mistakes. And, by the way, when NYC and the UFT have agreed to lobby Albany to reduce the retirement age from 62 (for Tier III and IV teachers) to 55, why does the MTA suddenly decide new hires must retire at 62? They face an $8 million shortfall in 2008 just as they're about to negotiate a new contract? When they're sitting on a $1 billion surplus? Maybe I'm a little too superstitious, but I find these coincidential circumstances are just a little too convenient.

I've learned not to trust authorities that hold themselves accountable to no one. While I decry what the strike has done to the city--and the students--I can't help but think that the MTA instigated this whole, sad business by holding entirely unserious negotiations. The Mayor and Governor's tough-talk approach may push their poll numbers up. It won't get the TWU back on the job.

Neither will forgetting Catholic Social Teaching. Workers deserve a wage that honors their human dignity and provides support for their family. Any salary that can't keep up with inflation will cease to have value, no matter how many digits. Perhaps the MTA can remember that before they experience their next financial crisis. Maybe New Yorkers could, too.