Orbiting Dicta

Monthly Archives: October 2010

Bone Head?

According to John Boehner, the House minority leader and representative from Ohio, now slated by some pundits to succeed Harry Reid as Speaker of the House, President Obama failed to deliver on any of his campaign promises.  I don’t recall that Rep. Boehner actually missed the votes on the Health Care Reform Bill, the flagship of the Obama administration’s legislative agenda, but perhaps he forgot.  American memory is notoriously short, especially, it would seem, among Republicans.  Granted, the eventual result was a battered, bruised, nipped, tucked, and compromised version of the original bill, but it did effect the most sweeping changes in the American health system since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid (features of our system that, like Social Security, the Republican Party opposed tooth and nail and succeeded in hamstringing at every turn they could find but now seem to be sacrosanct – go figger).

Even if the Republicans carry off the House and Senate, it is highly unlikely that they will roll back the vote on Health Care Reform.  In the end, they may even help to fix it.  I am more concerned about their taking aim at the environmental initiatives reintroduced by the Obama administration after the devastation wrought under the previous regime.  Like the sub-prime mortgage debacle, the Deepwater Horizon disaster was a long time a-building.

Things may change drastically for the Democratic majority on Tuesday.  The American public is understandably impatient to see a quick and solid recovery from the collapse of the economy patiently engineered under the watchful eye of the eight-year Bush administration. Blaming the Obama administration for not recovering fast enough is like Russians hollering because it took too long to raise the Kursk.  It’s a lot easier to sink a ship than raise one.

Still, Tuesday is a long ways off as such things go.  Especially given the number of attack ads the viewing public still has to endure.


There’s nothing like a big whistle-blower leak to quiet the loose talk among politicians about “transparency,” which for a while was the principal buzz-word around Washington and in state capitols and corporate board rooms.  That seems to be especially important when it comes to “overlooking” war casualties (AKA atrocities), child sexual abuse, and the source of funding for political campaigns.

Divulging critical information kept secret for security purposes is a different matter, especially when the safety of military personnel and civilians is at stake.  That includes revealing the identity of intelligence agents such as Valerie Plame, whose story is portrayed in the new film Fair Game.

Knowing where the difference lies between the right to know and the need for secrecy is a crucial if challenging task.  But not one to leave solely in the custody of those who have most to gain from keeping the electorate in the dark.

True enough — what we don’t know won’t hurt them.  But it’s pretty hard to bamboozle an informed electorate just as it’s not too difficult to manipulate one that gets what information it has in sounds bites and attack ads.

Along those lines, I am vastly enjoying Charles Seife’s new book, Proofiness, in which he shows with admirable clarity how dishing up a few impressive-looking “statistics” persuades the naive, innocent, and uncritical that the claims attached thereto must be true, when in fact they very frequently aren’t.  Political candidates and demagogues (not always a distinct subset of the former category) are particularly adept at this fine art – and growing more so, it would appear.

It might be a good idea to check out Seife’s book before election day.  Otherwise, welcome to Teapot Dome Redux….

Death of a Jesuit Zen Master

Earlier this week I noted with sadness that William Johnston, the wonderful Irish Jesuit and long-time resident of Japan, died on October 12th in Tokyo at the age of 85.  Bill was a pioneer of inter-religious dialogue and the author of a number of superb books on Christian mysticism, especially the interplay of Christian spirituality and Zen.  His 1971 book Silent Music became and remains a classic in the field, not least because of his discussion of the scientific study of meditation comparing Zen and yoga practitioners with Christian adepts.

I was privileged to make a retreat with Bill early in my professional career and in 1985 met him again in Tokyo, where we spent a delightful afternoon and evening together touring the city and exchanging insights.  I was especially happy to share a birth date with him.

He will be greatly missed, but his accomplishments will endure and his memory will be blessed around the world.

Here are some links about the life and death of this wonderful man:



Unclogging the Blog

It has been a while, as was recently pointed out to me.  The view from “there” was helpful.  Returning to the US at the end of August was less so, as the economy seemed even more stagnant than when I left in July and pretty much on a par with that of Ireland. Observing the country’s electorate sliding to the right was not surprising but it is worrisome.  Replacing the architects of our malaise with more of the same hardly seems like a way to secure a steady recovery, much less a lasting one.  But the American political memory is notoriously brief. Why does it feel downright nostalgic to remember the Clinton administration, which left office with a big surplus in the kitty and no ruinous wars to sap the treasury?

The weather has been terrific here in the Midwest, however, considering the hurricanes and droughts people have been experiencing elsewhere in the country.

And if anyone out there is looking for a terrific film, search out any theater showing WAITING FOR SUPERMAN and rush to see it.  Noticing that the local Libertarian candidate wants to cut education funding is a wake-up call about priorities – as is the film.

A lot of my university students have indicated that they are not going to vote in the November election – apathy is less an issue than disillusionment.  The spate of attack ads on television has clearly fed into their cynicism about politics and the political process.  But copping out is not a solution.  It’s the problem.