Monday, 31 December 2007

Leaving A Church Behind

Leaving A Church Behind
Congregation Prepares For A New Beginning
By KATIE MELONE | Courant Staff Writer
December 31, 2007

WATERTOWN — - It was the last Sunday service at Christ Church. Unable to go "further in a church that continued in a false gospel," the entire congregation, including the rector and church leaders, will sever ties with the national Episcopal Church and reform under a new name: New Hope Anglican Church.

One of the "Connecticut six," the half-dozen churches in the state diocese that disagree with national leadership on departure of scripture, including the appointment of a gay bishop, the congregation will trade its historic building on the town green for a free community room at the Thomaston Savings Bank around the corner.

The Sunday service will be held at the bank, starting Jan. 6, until they find or build another house of worship.

"We need to celebrate today, but we need to recognize there is a dying," the Rev. Allyn Benedict said in his final homily at the church. Reading off an overhead projector, church members sang hymns enthusiastically, clapping and raising hands in acknowledging their faith. They hugged one another, wishing peace.

The church was founded under the Church of England in 1764. In 2003, Benedict and several other Connecticut rectors clashed with Connecticut Bishop Andrew D. Smith, who supported the naming of V. Gene Robinson as New Hampshire's bishop. Robinson is gay. Benedict and Christ Church leaders also feel the national church is rejecting scriptural authority and traditions of the church.

In cutting affiliation with the national leaders, the congregation has agreed to give up its church buildings and property, estimated to be worth $7 million, and its name, "Christ Church Parish." The congregation also ended its participation with the other Connecticut churches in a protracted legal battle against national leadership over church real estate, deciding that "it's not worth living under this oppression just for the property," said Paul LePine, the senior warden. Four of the "Connecticut six" have also ended their connection to the national church, LePine said.

"It's a tragedy when relationships fail," LePine said. "There's a relief of being free of that dysfunctional relationship we've been in for many years."

LePine's daughter, Rachel, 15, commented that while leaving is the right thing to do, "it is sad."

"That's kind of why we named it New Hope," she said.

"We're just moving on to where we're supposed to be," said Chris Varian, who was married at the church and has been a member for three years. "It's a transition. It's a lot of history and a lot of memories. It's bittersweet."

Contact Katie Melone at

Copyright © 2007, The Hartford Courant

comma chameleon

This Op-Ed piece in the New York Times focuses on the discussion of commas as they relate to the right to bear arms, i.e. the commas used in the second amendment to the constitution of the USA. The official version in the National Archives has three (but versions with two also exist and there may even be one with four):

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The problem judges have been pouring over is how the intention of the writers of this one sentence - whether they meant to saveguard the right to bear arms for militias, as representatives of "the people", or for each individual - can be gleaned from the placement of a few dots with tails.

The really funny part for me came when writer Adam Freedman (bear in mind again that this is a discussion about guns) suggested:

The best way to make sense of the Second Amendment is to take away all the commas (which, I know, means that only outlaws will have commas).

Don't tell me that didn't make you giggle...

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Dear Internet

Dear Internet,

I wish I could tell you something exciting about my night with K, something shocking or even scandalous, but instead we drank some alcohol, took some drugs, had a good time and then went home.



PS. Maybe I could call you Dear Kitty, would that make you feel better?

Friday, 28 December 2007

my kind of ramblings

I can't remember who I promised a link to bj's gay porno-crazed ramblings to over the holidays... What a shame.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

all that glitters

This morning I went to see Edward, my hairdresser, to get some highlights, besides having my hair washed, cut and getting a head massage, of course. I frequently have trouble to stay awake during the latter, they're so relaxing. If you're ever in Amsterdam and feel like any of those things, stop by the Molsteeg.

My sister already remarked how blonde I look, and how that suits me...
(hint: she was not being nice)

Here's the result, front and top views:

Looking at the first picture it strikes me how the parting in my hair looks wrong. I'm used to seeing it on the other side! Perhaps I should flip it just so you can see what I see when I look in the mirror. It's funny how the flash brings out the highlights in the second one. They're not that pronounced in real life.

And yes, I look cold. It wasn't actually all that bad today, though. And yesterday I took a walk with K and Sunshine in just my sweater. (And that scarf I'm wearing in the picture.)

EDIT: Oops, completely forgot the second part of the post! When I got home this was waiting for me:

Not my actual card, obviously...

Monday, 24 December 2007

best wishes

Whichever one(s) you are celebrating. I wish you health, happiness and love.

best wishes

Whichever one(s) you are celebrating. I wish you health, happiness and love.

Christmas stories: Best Xmas Ever by Evil Ganome

After I posted the link to Joe's story earlier, I remembered I meant to remind you of the Ganome's Best Xmas Ever.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Christmas stories: Dance Of The Sugar Plum Lesbians by Joe.My.God

This is one of the sweetest Christmas stories I know. I admire Joe's writing a lot, plus I'm feeling slightly sentimental today.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

deep and crisp and even

I walked home from town late this afternoon. I could have taken a bus in twenty minutes, but I like the cold (as long as I'm wrapped up warmly, of course).

The light sprinkling of snow we've had the last couple of days caused a very nice effect when walking on top of it. During the days, the trees have been dripping onto it and at night it has been freezing, causing a delicate icy honeycomb pattern that makes the most delightful sound when you step on it. It's the essence of the word "crisp", I love it!

I would have beaten the bus - K is right, I am a lot fitter than I used to be - only I stopped at the Chinese takeaway to get a ton of food, this might see me through until after Christmas! And though they're not very good for my figure or my fitness, I got some fried bananas to go with it.

The reason I was in town also contributed to my good mood. I treated myself to the Piquadro bag I've been coveting. It's a work bag, dark brown leather and nylon, businesslike (that's code for plain) but very stylish (did I mention how objective I am?). And it's got so much space!

When I got home I turned the TV back on, it always comes back on to the channel it was at before you shut it down, which in this case was BBC2. The current program was a show called One Man and His Dog, which is about sheepherding competitions. This reminded me of something I saw about a week ago.

There was this Swiss sheperd who had trained each of his dogs to respond to a separate language. If he would use a German command, one dog would respond, if he used French another and there was a third one who was instructed in Latin of all languages. I thought that was pretty funny. But surprisingly just then a Welsh shepard came on the TV show, explaining how he commands one dog in English and the other in Welsh, besides using different whistled signals.

Scissor Sisters Christmas!

no surprise, Tony Blair converts

Breaking news on the BBC right now: the previous UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has become a Catholic. This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows a little about the former first family of Britain.

As I heard the 'news', the thought struck me how great the gulf is between my feelings for individual Catholics and the Catholic church. My mother is completely lapsed, but my grandmother went to church every Sunday and I clearly remember being with my aunt, calling the church, which "oma" looked down on from her apartment for the last few years of her life, to get the priest to administer the last rites. (He was busy somewhere else and we were advised to ask for the priest on call at the hospital if it was urgent.)

This man was pretty unorthodox. Not just for being called later in life, leaving a wife and grown son in the USA (I think she had already been institutionalised for some serious psychological problems), being friends with probably the only TV-priest we have in this country, but mostly for - as she loved to tell me - mowing the lawn in summer, wearing a big fur hat.

My aunt and I went to get a cup of coffee and when we went back to the ward we ran into the priest (we'd never met him, so I decided to ask if he was the one) coming back from the same ward not having found Mrs. So-And-So he was looking for. So I asked "Could it be you were looking for Maria (...) instead?" He was surprised. "Is she here?" "Yes, and she has asked for you, we just called and they said you were busy." "Well if she's here I'll see to her."

He said a Latin mass at her funeral a few days later, infuriating her brothers and sisters because it wasn't in Dutch as she had stipulated, but I thought it was a nice touch to his eccentricity and I know she would have forgiven him without as much as a thought. He had surgery inbetween my grandmother's death and the funeral and he still managed to, leaning heavily and reading with difficulty, say the mass.

Just don't get me started on the church of Rome...

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

sometimes even Paul got it right

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.

Romans 1:22

Monday, 17 December 2007


Today I'm spending some well-deserved "quiet" time at K's after he dragged me from party to party all weekend. Okay, I exaggerate, we only went to two parties in two days, on Saturday and Sunday. Of course K had a party on Friday too, but it was boys only... (Sunshine was there, though, so I assume he behaved.)

But we had so much fun the other two nights that I forgive him. They were completely worth it, even the missed trains, canceled trains and bus-mixups when getting home (both nights!)

On Saturday we were picked up at a train station by Mrs Claus (when she's not playing dress-up she's actually a big-time lawyer, the company bears her name) and taken to another friend's house for a night of carolling; we must have gone through fifty songs! I was surprised how many of them I knew, considering this was of course an American party. Even Sunshine, who had protested he would not sing a word, joined in, which I thought was lovely.

We all made it back to my place eventually, despite being taken from one train station to another by bus only to find out the last train had left and we'd have to get back on the bus and back to the first station to catch another bus...

Then on Sunday we met at K's diplomatic friend's house for a housewarming. Most of the people that were there for Thanksgiving were there again, plus a few extra, most notably our host's lover, of whom he spoke so lovingly at Thanksgiving, calling him the love of his life. They make such a cute couple it's almost sickening. (Please note the big fat wink that accompanies that last sentence.)

We played my new Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! does Judy! Judy! Judy! DVD at the party and I left it there for them to watch again without so much distraction. Kevin was very funny (but correct) in telling everyone they had to leave because our host was visibly starting to fade as he was still suffering the after-effects of a cold.

Today we were supposed to go eat ox-tail with some other friends but that dinner got called off. I have to admit I am slightly relieved. I know the cook is great, K tells me so and he knows a thing or two himself, but ox-tail has never really been my thing anyway and recently I have eaten very little red meat and I feel better for it.

I talked to my mother about my parents' Christmas plans and they're staying at the other place, so my Christmas Day is still free and, frankly, I don't mind that at all. But I did receive an invitation for a Boxing Day party which should be lots of fun. If there's anyone out there still reading this, I'll keep you posted.

PS. The reason I said "quiet" and not quiet? K just fell asleep on the sofa, and he's snoring.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

le plat pays... qui est le mien

I was sure I posted about Jacques Brel before, but I can't seem to find it. (I could do a more thorough search, of course, but I don't feel like it.) Maybe I just mentioned him in passing, who knows.

The tv was on in the background today as I was trying to get my finances in order by putting everything down on paper (or the screen, in an Excel sheet). This wonderful program was on, it shows clips of great artists from the fifties and sixties. I just saw Glen Miller, Sammy Davies Jr. and others perform; they also show discussions of literature, in particular today the writers Gerard Reve and Harry Mulisch.

But before those last two, there was a stunning clip of Jacques Brel performing Les Flamandes followed by Le Plat Pays. The latter always touches me somewhere deep inside. Geographically there's not really that much difference between Flanders and Holland after all. So much of the song goes for my country just as well. And even if it didn't, it's just such a powerful song.

Here is a YouTube version I found with English subtitles.

Le Plat Pays

Avec la mer du Nord pour dernier terrain vague
Et des vagues de dunes pour arrêter les vagues
Et de vagues rochers que les marées dépassent
Et qui ont à jamais le coeur à marée basse
Avec infiniment de brumes à venir
Avec le vent de l'est écoutez-le tenir
Le plat pays qui est le mien

Avec des cathédrales pour uniques montagnes
Et de noirs clochers comme mâts de cocagne
Où des diables en pierre décrochent les nuages
Avec le fil des jours pour unique voyage
Et des chemins de pluies pour unique bonsoir
Avec le vent d'ouest écoutez-le vouloir
Le plat pays qui est le mien

Avec un ciel si bas qu'un canal s'est perdu
Avec un ciel si bas qu'il fait l'humilité
Avec un ciel si gris qu'un canal s'est pendu
Avec un ciel si gris qu'il faut lui pardonner
Avec le vent du nord qui vient s'écarteler
Avec le vent du nord écoutez-le craquer
Le plat pays qui est le mien

Avec de l'Italie qui descendrait l'Escaut
Avec Frida la blonde quand elle devient Margot
Quand les fils de novembre nous reviennent en mai
Quand la plaine est fumante et tremble sous juillet
Quand le vent est au rire quand le vent est au blé
Quand le vent est au sud écoutez-le chanter
Le plat pays qui est le mien.

For comparison, here is the Dutch version. I may even love this better, it seems more dramatic to me, although I don't know if it's because I grew up with this, because the lyrics are similar but different, because it's in my native tongue or because of the way he sings it. I do know he's got such a cute accent when he sings in Dutch! Sorry that it's not a clip of him performing, but I wanted to show you translated lyrics with this one too.

Soon I'll be heading over to Amsterdam to meet up with K, to celebrate his new job and then we're all setting off to a friend's house in Heemstede (not too far away from A'dam) for Christmas carols.

For reading material on the train (an hour) I was planning to take with me an illustrated Dutch translation of Niccolò Macchiavelli's The Prince with a couple of essays added as background and/or explanation (haven't gotten to those yet) but after all this I will be changing that for Geert Mak's family history and history of The Netherlands in the twentieth century, De eeuw van mijn vader. It's also an illustrated edition, over 600 pages thick, and was bought in the same book-buying spree as the Macchiavelli (and a copy of the Koran). I haven't started it yet, but it sounds - and looks - like it fits my current, ever so slightly nostalgic, mood better as I ride through this flat country.

Coincidentally, Geert Mak also wrote a book called De engel van Amsterdam which happens to be the name of the gay bar I'm meeting K and Sunshine later. I'm sure it was named after the book, since it's only been open since this spring.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


I'm very tempted by all those spam emails promising a big dick. I believe I should've been born with one, but failing that, can't I just have one some of the time?

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Miss Otis is an earworm

Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today

This is another story about puns, wordplay, nicknames and triggers. I’m sure I mentioned Tokyo Rose (Toko Rose) and Cat Stevens (Café Stevens) before, but I’m not so certain about Schindler’s Lift and now, Miss Otis.

There really is a company that makes elevators (and I think escalators, but that’s not really pun-worthy) called Schindler, so it’s not such a big step to call them Schindler's Lifts. Still, someone's got to think of it... In this case it was my former colleague Chris. I’m never sure whether I should feel reassured or not when I get on one of their contraptions.

Miss Otis is the name of the elevators in my office building. I would like to claim I named them, but I don't think that's fair. Miss Otis simply is their name. After all, it says Otis on them, I'm pretty sure they're unmarried and all vehicles are female, aren’t they?

Desmond Morris: Men are made gay

And this time it's not me getting the blame, but Mother Nature.

From The Sunday Times
December 9, 2007

Men are ‘made gay by the child within’

Richard Brooks Arts Editor

DESMOND MORRIS, who became a bestselling author by applying zoology to explain human behaviour, has now utilised the techniques to put forward an explanation for homosexuality.

In his latest book, The Naked Man, he concludes that men are “made gay” because they retain infantile or juvenile characteristics into adulthood – a phenomenon known as neoteny.

According to this theory, gay men also tend to be more inventive and creative than heterosexuals because they are more likely to retain the mental agility and playfulness of childhood.

“Gays have in general made a disproportionately greater contribution to life than nongays,” said Morris, who is also a noted artist. “The creative gay has very much advanced Planet Earth.”

“The playfulness of childhood is continued with certain people into adulthood. This is very much a positive. Adult playfulness means that certain people, often a fairly large proportion of them gay, are more inventive and curious than heterosexuals.”

His theory was, however, attacked by Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London. “It’s arts faculty science to say that gays are neotenous,” he said. “It’s a stupid idea. Where is the real evidence?”

Morris points to work done by Clive Bromhall, who produced some of his television programmes. “Gays do infantile behaviour in the extreme,” said Bromhall, who after gaining a PhD in zoology from Oxford, left academia to form a company making educational films.

Morris, who is 80 in January, long thought that absent fathers led to boys and young male adults becoming gay. “[It is] the dominant and ever-present mother theory,” he said. “But now I’m convinced that is wrong, and that it is neoteny which makes people gay. Gays are using what is reproductive or creatively constructive to non-reproductive ends. This is very much a positive.”

But his argument that gays are more creative than heterosexuals also has its flaws. Steve Jones said: “What of somebody like Pablo Picasso who was a hugely creative man and yet was obviously decidedly heterosexual?” Many other creative individuals such as Vivienne Westwood and Mary Quant, the fashion designers, are also clearly heterosexual.

Morris’ point is proved by gays like Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Tchaikovsky, Cole Porter and Oscar Wilde. TE Lawrence, the author, Arabist and first world war hero, was also homo-sexual and hugely creative.

Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, agrees that many gays are unusually creative, although he suggests they are also characterised by being closely in touch with their emotions.

He added: “I would also think that being gay is very much a mix of genetic factors and hormonal influence in the womb. I don’t really know about this playfulness idea being carried from childhood to gay adulthood.”

Most commentators though, including Morris, Tatchell and Glenn Wilson – co-author of the book Born Gay, published in 2005 – believe that the so-called “gay gene” theory is discredited.

“I argued that sexual orientation is two-thirds prenatal and one-third environmental,” said Wilson, who works at London University’s Institute of Psychiatry. “I suppose the neoteny argument is not incompatible, but I haven’t heard it advanced before.

“I would also say that gays certainly tend to gravitate towards expressive or service occupations, but I have never heard or seen evidence that they are academically better.”

In his book Morris also argues that homosexuality has always polarised societies: “While many countries over the past 30 years have relaxed attitudes and less prejudice, there are eight I know of where homosexuality can still be punished by the death penalty,” he said.

After the success of The Naked Ape, published in 1967, Morris turned to subjects as diverse as city dwellers (The Human Zoo), professional football (The Soccer Tribe) and The Naked Woman, a precursor of his latest book.

I also know totally un-creative, un-stylish gay men and very creative, very stylish straight men. I don't know what to think of this theory, perhaps it is one of the many factors, but I know it's not the factor.

teddybear teacher tells of terror

'I was terrified that the guards would come in and teach me a lesson'

Speaking for the first time of her ordeal, Gillian Gibbons, the woman jailed for naming a teddy bear Mohammed, tells Elizabeth Day of her eight days of fear in a Sudan cell as angry mobs demanded her death for 'blasphemy'

Sunday December 9, 2007
The Observer

Still now, she sees the darkened silhouette of a prison guard every time she closes her eyes. She remembers, too, the distinctive clattering sound each time a guard would doze off in the midday heat, relax his grip and let his machine gun fall to the tiled floor. She can recall the dirt, the sweat, the heat and, through it all, the sheer sense of terror and incomprehension. 'It's hard to describe really, quite what it's like. I was just terrified, absolutely terrified.'

Until last week Gillian Gibbons was an ordinary schoolteacher from Liverpool; a 54-year-old mother of two whose closest brush with the law had been a parking ticket 20 years ago. But when, in August, she took up a job teaching primary school children in Sudan, she set in motion an extraordinary chain of events. Within months she became the focus of hatred for a machete-wielding mob demanding her execution, while government officials pursued high-level diplomatic negotiations to secure her release from jail. Her crime? To call a teddy bear Mohammed.
It would, perhaps, be easy to dismiss the whole episode as an absurd mis-understanding, an overblown skirmish soon to be rewritten as a series of banal jokes, circulated by email between bored office-workers. But for Gibbons, incarcerated for eight days in a filthy Khartoum cell with no idea when, or if, she would ever be released, it was no laughing matter.

'You start imagining all sorts,' she says. 'You start imagining that maybe some of the guards will come in and teach the blaspheming white woman a lesson.' Asked if she was referring to the fear of being raped she said, ' Yes, but I had no justification for thinking that. I was never mistreated.'

The naming of a stuffed toy by a classroom of six-year-olds seemed an unlikely tinderbox for an explosion of religious extremism. In October the bear was named Mohammed in a vote taken by Gibbons's class of 23 pupils at Unity High School in Khartoum. Sharia law, introduced in Sudan in 1991, states that any physical depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous. And yet for two months, no one complained - not a single child, parent or the Muslim classroom assistant, Dahlia.

'For the children it wasn't an animal, it was a member of the class,' says Gibbons. 'To encourage them to write, I thought it would be really nice if the bear could have a diary and could go home with the children at the weekend. But the parents had to ask, so they'd write and say "Can we borrow Mohammed?", and they're Muslim parents, so you can imagine that I had no idea at all that I'd done something wrong because none of the parents said anything. That's why I didn't twig, you see.'

It was personal animosity that was to prove Gibbons's undoing. Two months after the bear had been named, Sara Khawad, a school secretary who by her own admission bore a grudge against the headteacher, complained to the authorities. 'I was used by the secretary to get at the school,' Gibbons says. 'Otherwise I think I would have been let off with a quiet reprimand. I wouldn't want to offend anybody. It was just a complete misunderstanding, a mistake.'

The school's director, Robert Boulos, called Gibbons into his office. He accepted her immediate apology and her explanation that it had not been deliberate. But the situation had already acquired its own unstoppable momentum. Soon someone tipped off the Ministry of Education, then the police were informed and the school quickly shut down for fear of reprisal. Gibbons, caught up in circumstantial quicksands, was arrested on the morning of 25 November by five armed guards and driven to a nearby police station in a truck with blacked-out windows. 'I had nothing at all,' she says. 'I was wearing a long blue skirt and a blouse and I took a wrap with me to cover my arms.'

After several hours of interrogation, Gibbons was locked up with no explanation, unable to understand the guards' rapid-fire Arabic. 'I'd only had three Arabic lessons and we hadn't got to the bit about "What to do if you're arrested",' she says.

The open-air cell had three grey-tiled walls, a basic squat toilet in a corner and steel bars running across the facade and ceiling. 'I just stood there for three hours, thinking I was going home. It was filthy, there were ants all over the floor and in the corner there were rat droppings. There was a light shining into my yard that attracted all the mosquitoes, so I stood there and got bitten to death.

'It started to get dark about 6.30 and it got quite cold and all I had was my wrap, I didn't even have a handbag because I only thought I was going for an hour.'

At eight in the evening, a guard brought her some cheese-and-tomato sandwiches left for her by staff at the school. 'Nobody actually came to tell me that I wasn't going home, so I just guessed at that point. I was panicking and I was crying. I didn't actually sleep all night. I was so distressed, so uncomfortable and so cold, that at four in the morning I just paced round and round trying to keep warm. It felt like this was happening to someone else. It was just mad, just surreal.'

Gillian Gibbons makes an unlikely felon. A gentle, quietly spoken woman, she is dressed in a baggy black jacket and sensible flat shoes. Her dark brown hair, normally a mass of uncontrollable curls, has been straightened for the occasion and hangs lankly below her ears. Born in Sheffield, she still speaks in a slight Yorkshire accent, with the slow, precise diction of someone accustomed to communicating with children. When, last year, her 32-year marriage broke down and her much-loved older brother Stephen died from pancreatic cancer, she started to re-evaluate her life as a deputy headteacher at Dovecot Primary School in Liverpool. 'It suddenly dawned on me that I could go anywhere and do anything.' She applied to an agency that placed English teachers in foreign schools and was offered a position in Khartoum.

Her two children - John, 25, and Jessica, 27 - were both living independent lives. With nothing to hold her back, Gibbons gave up her job in July and flew to Sudan the following week to take up a post teaching the English curriculum in Unity High School, a fee-paying institution in Khartoum that caters for a mixture of Christian and Muslim middle-class families. Gibbons was given free accommodation in a school apartment and paid around £450 a month.

'People have this image of Sudan, and yes, there is a lot of famine in Africa, a lot of war, but Khartoum is a city just like Liverpool. It's dirty, it's smelly, it's a mess, but it's a wonderful place. It's exciting. It's like being in a Michael Palin film. I had a Bradt travel book and I looked on the internet [before going]. I did know a little bit about the Muslim faith because I used to teach it,' she says, freely admitting that she has never read the Koran.

'When I got there I realised it was the best thing I'd ever done and I was so happy. I'd made some really good friends, I was just settling down, I'd decorated my room, I'd bought some things from the market and hung them on the wall and it was feeling very homely, and then suddenly...'

She trails off and looks blankly out of the window into the grey Liverpool drizzle. 'My head can't cope with it at all - how we got from a teddy bear named Mohammed to people saying they should send the SAS in to rescue me.'

After five days' incarceration, with regular visits from Russell Phillips, the British consul, Gibbons was put on trial at the Khartoum North Criminal Court on 29 November.

'I went into court and I saw one of the parents of one of my children and she was smiling at me and people don't understand how much something like that means to you when you're in such a desperate state because I was terrified.'

Gibbons was allowed to make a brief statement through an interpreter. 'I admitted what I'd done. I told them I was really sorry, I tried to convince them I hadn't meant it. How can a book full of smiling, happy faces, of a photograph of a bear at a birthday party with all the candles, how could anyone construe that as being intentionally insulting?'

At times, Gibbons found herself both terrified by her situation and simultaneously bemused by its absurdity. In a moment of almost farcical surreality, the teddy bear itself made a courtroom appearance. 'This clerk of the court got this carrier bag and produced this bear with a flourish, like a rabbit out of the hat,' Gibbons recalls. 'He put it down on the table in front of us and it flopped over, and the prosecution [lawyer] sat him up. And then he pointed at this bear in a dead aggressive manner and he said "Is this the bear?" It was Exhibit A, you see. You could almost see the bear shivering, as if he was on trial as well, still in his little school shirt, sitting there looking terrified. It made me laugh, but it wasn't funny, you know what I mean?'

After 10 hours of deliberation and witness statements, the judge, Mohammed Youssef, sentenced her to 15 days in jail. Gibbons was taken back to her cell by guards. It was, she says, her lowest point. 'I wouldn't speak to any of the guards. I wouldn't even look at them because I was just in shock. I just felt that I'd been run over by 10 juggernauts.

'Sometimes the guards would come in and say "Why are you crying?", and there were some moments in that week where I would actually find that really funny, because it was the most ridiculous question you could ask. "Well, I've lost my job, I've lost my home, there's a baying mob outside wanting to kill me, I'm in prison and I'm going to get deported and you ask me why I'm crying"? '

But with the arrival at the beginning of December of two British Muslim peers, Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi, to negotiate for her release, Gibbons's treatment gradually improved and she was even given a bed for her last two nights in jail. 'And a loo with a seat!' she adds. 'It's amazing how luxurious a proper loo with a seat can be.'

She was never subjected to the harsh regimes of Omdurman women's prison. For her own safety she was moved to three different holding cells in various police stations around the city.

Slowly, the negotiations continued around her. After eight long days in captivity, the British consul came to tell her she had been pardoned by the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir. She was told that a TV press conference confirming her release would be given at 11am. The guards agreed to switch on a television set in an adjoining room but, with maddening timing, the electricity suddenly cut out just before it was due to air.

'Then there was a phone call from my headteacher [to the consul], but she didn't know I didn't know, she was just saying "Isn't it wonderful?" We were elated.'

Gibbons was driven to the airport, where she boarded a plane to Dubai with the peers who had secured her release. In the plush surroundings of the first-class cabin, she ate a meal of lobster tails and potatoes, toasting her release with a vodka and orange.

'I'm not a drinker but I felt obliged to have an alcoholic drink even though I was with Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi, who are Muslims. I was a bit embarrassed about it, but I thought I'd earned that vodka.'

At Dubai she was transferred to another plane, touching down at Heathrow airport at 7am last Tuesday. Her children met her as she came through the arrivals lounge. 'My daughter burst into tears and we had lots of hugs. They just said they were really glad I was home.'

She retains a remarkable lack of rancour about her ordeal and hopes to take up another foreign teaching post, possibly in China. 'I don't regret a second of it. I had a wonderful time. It was fabulous.'

Does she blame anyone for what she went through? She pauses. 'I blame myself because I shouldn't have done it,' she says finally. 'Ignorance of the law is no defence.'

Audio: listen to the interview with Gillian Gibbons

close your mouth, Michael, we are not a codfish

I can't help it, I'm in love with Mary Poppins. She is after all practically perfect in every way. That's the good thing about the holiday season, all the channels bring out the classics. I'm sure this won't be the only time I get to see it before the new year. But now I must get back!

I want to be like her!

Anger management? Anger manage this! Haiyaaa!

Listen to an exclusive interview with Miss Piggy talking frankly about her relationship with Kermit, plastic surgery and the stars she worked with on the Muppet Show.

Source: The Times

Chasing Charlie

From The Sunday Times
December 9, 2007

The Britpop star of Blur boasted he had spent £1m on champagne and cocaine. A trip to Colombia opened his eyes to the ruinous legacy of the drug

Alex James

[Related link: an excerpt from Alex James' book, an account of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle.]

I thought he was going to cry, and more bizarrely I thought I was going to laugh: laugh because I was quite scared and possibly because he was wearing a Burberry baseball cap. That gave the whole episode a faintly comic dimension. There was nothing funny about it, though, really. He was a contract killer and he’d come straight from work to meet me at my boutique hotel in Bogota.

“It was a young kid. He borrowed a gun and he didn’t give it back. Then he went out on a bender. He was a liability,” said the killer, still possessed by the atrocity he’d just perpetrated.

Surely only mad people kill in cold blood, and he wasn’t mad. Heavy, heavy black bags under his slow, stoned eyes, he was the ghoul doppelganger of the man that I’d got to know a few days earlier.

I’ve met a lot of people I’ve liked less. He was good-looking and bright. I’d asked him how many people he’d killed and he said you’d have to be mad to count, but that he was busy.

According to a recent poll, Colombians are the second happiest people on earth. I fell in love with the place in the two weeks that I spent there at the invitation of the president, Alvaro Uribe. The invitation was extended to me because in my recently published autobiography I claimed to have spent £1m on champagne and cocaine. That’s all behind me. I’m a farmer now, and it was as a farmer that I wanted to go there.

My heart beat faster from the moment I arrived. We were bundled through the airport with armed security into a bombproof brick of a car that shot along white lines and hard shoulders with great speed and finesse.

I’ve had armed security in South America before, but these guys were on the edge of their seats, eyes probing mirrors and fingers twitching on triggers.

They were Holman’s guys. Holman’s a journalist and human-rights activist (which often amounts to the same thing in Colombia) and he’d just had a death threat that was being taken seriously by everyone except himself.

“If they’re going to kill you, they don’t warn you,” he said. “They just kill you.”

He told me this when we arrived at the hotel, which was tucked away in what might have passed for a quiet enclave of Madrid. The guards watched the doors while we sipped milkshakes.

Journalists are treated like rock stars in Colombia. I’ve been to South America as both now and I can say with confidence that journalists there receive and deserve more respect.

The big story in Colombia is cocaine. There are many intricacies, back stories and subplots, but cocaine is at the beginning, middle and end of all of it. Eighty per cent of the world’s cocaine is produced in Colombia. It’s an industry worth more than Kellogg’s, Microsoft and Coca-Cola combined. It’s big, big business in a developing economy. I wanted to try to understand exactly what’s happening on both sides of the law.

Early in the morning I flew south in a twin turboprop to a narcotics police air-base in San Jose del Guaviare. It was nice there. Think South Pacific: all technicolour and songbirds. The Colombian rainforest has greater biodiversity than anywhere else on the planet. There are thought to be undiscovered small mammals under the canopy as well as many birds, plants and insects unknown to science. It’s very precious, the proverbial lungs of the earth.

Cocaine is manufactured from the coca leaves that thrive in this climate and I’d come here to observe the destruction of the coca plantations that proliferate throughout the jungle. The vast amounts of cash generated by the drug fund a confusing number of paramilitary organisations and factions throughout the wilderness.

From the air, the beauty of the rainforest is breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything as beautiful: a vast, cosmic Eden of moundy, feminine hills, but it’s a very masculine struggle that’s raging there.

Three spray planes flew low and neat like skaters, dusting the easy-to-spot coca fields with herbicide – glyphosate – as I circled above in a heavily armed Black Hawk helicopter.

The US Treasury currently gives Colombia more than $700m a year in aid to fight cocaine production – more than it gives to any country outside the Middle East and Afghanistan – and 80% of that money goes to the military, to spray herbicide on rainforest.

Last year was a record year for spraying, yet production was up for the third year running. The Colombian government estimates at least 388,000 acres of national parkland is being used for growing coca. There was an obvious flaw in dumping weedkiller on this much rainforest. Avoiding deforestation is at the top of every eco-warrior’s shopping list. And it seems that every time a coca plantation is sprayed, another one is hacked out of the jungle.

It’s more effective to pull the plants up by hand but that’s time-consuming and risky: 10% of the manual eradication work-force died last year. We landed at a coca plantation that had been secured by the army in the Macarena national park, in the heart of rebel country, and was now being pulled up by hand.

The area was heavily mined and we had only a 10-minute safety window. I wondered if they were being overcautious, but the next day one of the policemen in my helicopter was killed on a similar mission at another coca plantation nearby.

I watched farm workers toil to pull up a crop that had probably been planted by their relatives. I was starting to get a feel for what an intractable situation Colombia finds itself in. From Britain, it’s easy to see cocaine as a problem that starts in Colombia. When you’re standing on Colombian soil, it looks a lot more like a problem generated by the vast markets in the West.

Next day I went to see Vice-President Francisco Santos, who was kidnapped by the former cocaine king Pablo Escobar and held for eight months. Others taken with him were killed, but he survived.

A warm and gregarious man, he has recently been to London to promote the idea of shared responsibility, the suggestion that trying to eradicate coca production is fairly fruitless in the face of the worldwide demand and the unsinkable glamour of a bag of charlie among customers to whom cocaine goes hand in hand with yoga and organic vegetables.

The vice-president showed me maps of rainforest with thousands of red dots representing deforestation by coca fields. I asked him why it’s illegal. It’s been legal before and civilisation didn’t collapse.

“I think once the door is opened, you can never close it again,” he said. “No government in the world is seriously considering legalising it anyway.”

Having seen how much the American government is spending here, I personally don’t think America would allow any other government to legalise it.

“If we don’t find a solution,” said the vice-president, “if we can’t work it out together, it doesn’t really matter what happens here – production will move to the African rainforest. The climate there is perfect. They have weak governments and corruptible police.” He’s absolutely right.

I went back to the hotel and met a gangster, a dealer. It was hard to hate him. He wasn’t an obvious jerk. He offered me some of the “national product” and produced a large bag. He never took the stuff himself. As in any other business, people who take coke are seen as a bit of a liability by the suits.

He was a two-dimensional character, happiest, he said, hanging out at casinos with prostitutes. There was nothing else to him. He said he made people happy and he obviously believed it.

“I never offer people cocaine,” he said. “They ask me for it, and if they want it I will sell it to them.”

Think of the smell of coffee and try to imagine what the place that it comes from looks like. Medellin is about the prettiest city I’ve ever seen, surrounded by green mountains in brilliant sunshine. I will always remember it for being the place where I discovered guanabana.

Colombia has many fruits, but guanabana was the nicest one that I found. It’s a cross between vanilla and banana, and when it’s mixed with milk it’s nicer than chocolate. It was hard to believe, as I blissfully gurgled down just one more guanabana shake in the Medellin sunshine, that 10 years ago this was the murder capital of the world.

There are still walk-in hire-a-hitman agencies, but things have calmed down a lot since Escobar was killed. Killing Pablo was a massive operation that took the combined might of the SAS, American special forces and intelligence, the Colombian police, army, government and all the other cocaine cartels put together.

In the last few days of his life, when he was on the run from absolutely everybody, Escobar was looked after by his aunt, Luz Mila. He is such a key figure in the story of cocaine in Colombia, I wanted to know more about him, and since she was the last woman to see him alive, she merited a visit.

All these very grown-up struggles were peppered with the sweet drinks of my childhood. Pablo’s auntie served a pink fizzy pop similar to Tizer and told me what a lovely boy he was really, and that people shouldn’t have made him so angry.

She lived modestly in an upstairs flat with a statue of the Virgin Mary and a couple of photograph albums. She was a nice lady and she clucked away about the good old days. So many of the people in her photograph albums were dead now, murdered.

We went to Pablo’s grave, which was drawing a crowd, and said farewell. I was more confused than when I arrived.

From Medellin, I flew to Cali and then by light aircraft to El Charco, a settlement in Nariño, the biggest coca-producing region in the country.

El Charco was charming, an enchanting place. I sat around slurping sugar cane with Sotero, a farmer, before going to take a look at his crops. His farm was sprayed a month ago and three-quarters of his harvest had been destroyed. A little before that, the entire settlement had been displaced by rebel fighting.

All of Sotero’s food crops had had it from the spraying. But some of his coca had survived and was being harvested; the leaves can be cropped up to six times a year.

When I asked him why he grew coca, he said that no one would buy his bananas, but there was a big market for coca leaves. He started growing coca six years ago. Prior to that he earned $132 a month; now he earns $500 a month. Not exactly a fortune. His house had no plumbing or electricity.

Farmers here process their own base cocaine, cocaine sulphate, known as pasta, to sell on to middle men and illegal jungle factories that turn it into cocaine hydrochloride: coke. We made our way upriver and then swashbuckled through thick jungle to a pasta laboratory.

The going was hard and heavy. This dense tropical forest is the battleground of the civil war that has been raging here since the 1960s: the only war in the Americas. On the left is Farc, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, evenly matched and opposed by the ELN, the National Liberation Army. Both groups are being fought by the Colombian army, funded by American money. Then there are paramilitary organisations fighting everybody, and the cash generated by cocaine continues to feed the war machine.

It’s impossible to imagine living and fighting in terrain like this. The spiders were scary enough. After half an hour we arrived at the lab. These makeshift huts known as chongosexist throughout Colombia by the thousand. This particular one belonged to the mother of one of the boat crew.

The extraction of the alkaloid from the leaf is a grotesque and extraordinary process. First the leaves are mixed with cement and ground up. Then petrol is added. This releases the active compound, which is captured in solution by the addition of cold water and sulphuric acid.

At this point, the chef nearly passed out and had to sit down. He discarded the petrol, which left a paste, which is boiled and added to another reactive to make the pasta basica that is sold on to the larger cocaine factories for further processing into the end product. The yield is high. A big sack of leaves makes about 50g of cocaine.

Back in Bogota I met the hitman for the first time. He picked me up from the hotel in a Noddy taxi with a whiff of slapstick about it. The sicarios, as they are known, often use taxis for cover when gathering intelligence.

As I said before, he was no cockroach. He was slick and handsome, in his early thirties. These guys are usually dead by the time they’re 35.

“Sure I’ll die, but I want to leave a legacy for my family,” he said. His story begins in the barrio, the neighbourhood.

The patron picks out the best boys, they work for him and all the work is linked to cocaine. There’s no money in kidnapping any more. His work involves debts, respect and territories. Errant wives and their unfortunate lovers also form quite a big slice of the pie.

“Not one gram of cocaine leaves this country without the right people knowing about it,” he said.

It was all very plausible and straightforward. I started to relax as we sped around in the taxi. He was an excellent driver. Then I asked him if he was carrying a gun, and he’d drawn it before I’d finished saying “gun”, and I remembered who I was talking to.

The saddest thing about the women’s prison, Buen Pastor – Good Shepherd – were the visitors, devastated despite their inculpability, and the children who were locked up with their mothers in the high-security wing that also houses the child-killers. A high percentage of the inmates are there because of drugs, one way or another.

I met an American called Angela, or maybe it was Sarah, and she told me her story, or maybe it was a story about how she'd been caught the first time she’d tried to smuggle cocaine, in a customised suitcase. She said she wouldn’t do it again, but it all seemed a bit hopeless – there’s just too much money involved for it not to be a very addictive gamble. If it’s not her, there are hundreds more like her willing to take the risk. The men’s prison was even darker and more hopeless.

I went straight from there to a Louis XIV-style state room in the presidential palace for an audience with the boss man, President Uribe, whose father was murdered by Farc.

“The Uribator”, as the newspapers dubbed him during my stay, Photoshopped into a kind of Arnie-style super-hero, was an otherworldly presence, monk-like, almost. A man of great dignity, he’s at the wheel of the most difficult to drive economy in the world. He was way above one-line soundbites. He spoke in flowing oratory. “We need to support our farmers,” he said.

“Yes, I spotted that,” I said. I just thought I’d check in with the hitman before we left. I didn’t expect to find him in such a bad way. “I want to get out,” he said. “You know I’m good at taking orders. I’m loyal to my boss. I’m professional. I’ll do a good job.”

He would, too, whatever it was. And he was echoing what so many people involved in this business seemed to be trying to tell me. Nearly everybody would rather be doing something else. Anything else.

I brushed with the human side of what comes across as a cold and distant problem in a far-off country – although wherever cocaine is available, it’s not really very far away at all. The purpose of my visit was not to moralise, merely to observe, but it’s transparent that every single line of cocaine is tainted in blood. If legalising it isn’t an option – and synthesising it about as far off as cold nuclear fusion – then we need to start buying more bananas.

Colombia is a uniquely wonderful place. Any less remarkable nation would have been completely torn apart by the terrible virtue of being the place where the best cocaine comes from. But it has a problem in selling its other wonderful produce, particularly in Europe.

There is a saying there: “A French cow is paid better than a Colombian farmer”, referring to European farm subsidies. Colombia produces the world’s best coffee and chocolate, in my opinion, and I can’t help thinking that if Colombian farmers were given a glimmer of a chance, and more of their amazing produce was available in Europe, they wouldn’t need to grow coca and we’d be well on the road to peace in Colombia. Something they deserve.

© Alex James 2007

A documentary of Alex’s trip, Alex James in Colombia, by Back2back Productions, will be broadcast on BBC1’s Panorama in January

I can't believe the news today

Before I throw out the newspapers from the last couple of weeks:

DAG had a WANTED poster on the front page on Tuesday, with the face of European Parliament member Sophie in 't Veld. For no apparent reason, she is having a lot of trouble travelling to and from the United States. She's always picked from the queue, having her luggage searched and questioned. Apparently together with almost 900.000 other individuals she's on a so-called watch list for possible terrorists. Other 'listees' include Teddy Kennedy (although no longer, if Homeland Security is to be believed), Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) and several children.

Britsh teacher Gillian Gibson was pardoned from her 15-day conviction for allowing her students to name a teddybear Mohammed after intervention from the (only two)muslim peers in the House of Lords, Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi.

There will be no internet on NS trains for the time being, the deal with KPN fell through because the scale of the plan was too grand and the cost too high. Shame, I would love to have a free service for Precious during train journeys. I could blog! (I try to sometimes, usually with rather poor results.)

Erik van Ree, a professor of Eastern European history at University of Amsterdam called for legalisation of all drugs and says that he does a line of coke or pops a pill once in a while too. It's all perfectly normal to him. His remarks come following statements along the same lines by former Amsterdam police chief Nordholt and law professor De Roos last week. Another voice comes from Gust de Wit, former councillor, public health employee and now director of an addiction clinic. "If heroin becomes available, you wouldn't go to the store to get it. Neither would I. It's really like cars, you can go 180 km/h, but when you crash, you're dead. So most people slow down."

The same paper tells us that in 2005 almost 19.000 people in The Netherlands died from the direct causes of smoking, 800 died directly from alcohol, with another 1.000 indirectly. That's over 20.000 deaths. Compared to 122 from drugoverdoses.
Also, compared to other European countries, The Netherlands have a very low mortality rate among drug users.

Great pictures in all te papers, a truck drove into a gas station and... nothing happened. No great balls of fire, just tickets for those who stopped across the highway to snap some pictures.

Johns are putting more and more pressure on whores not to use condoms. Hookers from Eastern-Europe and Africa are "undercutting" the others by accepting unsafe sex. Also the punters are asking for more and more extreme acts thanks to the internet.

Sp!ts reported a couple of weeks ago on the Mr. Bear Germany contest, won by Dutchman Ringo Nannings. On the front page they referred to the story thusly: "Hairy, fat men are 'hot' in the gay world".

Sports reporters from all over Europe are happy when their local soccer team draws Dutch side AZ because their hometown of Alkmaar is so close to Amsterdam and its nightlife.

Thousands of chicks were dumped in parks around Brussels after the crates of baby chickens had to be left off a flight to Ethiopia for fear of overloading the plane. They should have been gassed, but employees of Zaventem airport took pity and took the animals home. Apparently many spouses were less than impressed, causing the park epidemic of chicks.

And from today: Former foreign minister Ben Bot says (in NRC Handelsblad that he still stands by his 2005 statements that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, despite having been forced to retract them by the prime minister at the time.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

wise friends

Here's a quote for you:
So Said . . . Mother Teresa

"We are all pencils in the hand of God." -- Mother Teresa

". . . not red pens." - he gay

I love finding wonderful people like him on the internet.

At first I wrote "It sounds like such a UU thing to say." but then I realised that it's simply a normal, human thing to say. I have to confess that finding Unitarian Universalism was such a warm, comforting bath, that it's not always easy to remember that tolerance is also the norm to a lot of people "on the outside".

Of course, don't attack me when I fail in my non-judgemental objective, which I no doubt will. (In fact you can probably see my struggle in the previous paragraph.)

I love Saturday mornings

But Saturday afternoons will be the undoing of me some day.

This morning was just like heaven: woke up late, snoozed, masturbated, snoozed some more, what else can a girl want? (Guys, I know what you're thinking, and no, that's just too much like work on a lazy Saturday morning.) Then I came downstairs, made some buttered toast, played around on the computer, reading my favourite blogs etc. and by the time I finally took a shower it was already 3PM.

Only after that did I realise that I had called my favourite CD store yesterday and asked them to hold the new Rufus Wainwright CD (I already got the Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! does Judy! Judy! Judy! DVD from them earlier in the week but the CD hadn't arrived yet) and the new Scissor Sisters DVD - which I almost forgot also came out this week...

So I headed out into the rain, deciding on the bus rather than the bike (it's free on Saturdays between 11AM and 6PM, thanks to the local council) into town to pick them up. Getting on to the bus I realised I didn't have my bus & train pass with me, but that wasn't exactly a problem, was it?

I got off the bus and walked underneath the train overpass, where they had just set up the Christmas trees they sell there every year. It smelled nice and I realised that for the first time since I can remember I wasn't thinking of the holidays as a period I had to endure, to somehow get through as best I could. No dark thoughts for me anymore, at least not extreme ones or for long periods of time, I don't want to get paranoid over every time I feel a bit down.

Walking through the rain wasn't too bad, my hair was still damp from the shower (I hadn't bothered to completely dry it since I was going out into the rain anyway) and the temperature was pretty good for the time of year. It was already getting dark and the lights were on (they're having a "City of Lights" thing on the 11th which should be even more impressive, public transport is free that night too).

Okay, so what exactly is my problem with Saturday afternoons? Remember I set off to get those disks? Upon arriving at the store I discovered not only did I forget my public transport pass, I also forgot my debit card. Since I don't own a credit card (although I guess with a steady income I could now get one) and I didn't have enough cash on me, there was no way I could pay for them.

The gentleman at the store was very nice and said I could pick them up some other time, but I was terribly embarrassed.

However on my way back I noticed a store with purses, bags, wallets and other leather goods and found this wonderful bag for "only" 225 euros. It's got very clean lines, pretty businesslike but still feminine, comes in either brown or orange leather with some synthetic details, loads of pockets, two detachable etuis and green lining. I may have to play Santa to myself and pick one up when I stop by for my CDs...


Whilst visiting Catholic Online for the gossip on Saint Nick, I checked out their images to see if they perhaps had any more good snaps of him besides the one I already posted before.

Worryingly, they seem not to be able to spell the word "church", or at least not the plural, "churches", correctly. I'm not trying to go all spelling police on their behinds, but they're a religious website, aren't they?

At least they're consistent. Click the picture to see for yourself in a larger image.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Saint Nicholas

Happy Birthday, Saint Nicholas/Saint Nick/Sinterklaas/Santa Claus! Just for fun, here's his hagiography from Catholic Online:

St. Nicholas
Feastday: December 6
Patron of Bakers and Pawnbrokers

St. Nicholas, called "of Bari", Bishop of Myra (Fourth Century) 6 Dec. Feast day. The great veneration with which this saint has been honored for many ages and the number of altars and churches which have been everywhere dedicated in his memory are testimonials to his holiness and of the glory which he enjoys with God. He is said to have been born at Patara in Lycia, a province of Asia Minor. Myra, the capital, not far from the sea, was an episcopal see, and this church falling vacant, the holy Nicholas was chosen bishop, and in that station became famous by his extraordinary piety and zeal and many astonishing miracles. The Greek histories of his life agree that he suffered imprisonment of the faith and made a glorious confession in the latter part of the persecution raised by Dioletian, and that he was present at the Council of Nicaea and there condemned Arianism. The silence of other authors makes many justly suspect these circumstances. He died at Myra, and was buried in his cathedral.

This summary account by Alban Butler tells us all that is known about the life of the famous St. Nicholas, and even a little more; for his episcopate at Myra during the fourth century is really all that seems indubitable authentic. This is not for lack of material, beginning with the life attributed to the monk who died in 847 as St. Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople. But he warns us that "Up to the present the life of this distinguished Shepard has been unknown to the majority of the faithful", and sets about enlightening their ignorance nearly five hundred years after the saint's death. This is the least unreliable of the "biographical" sources available, and a vast amount of literature, critical and expository, have grown up around them. Nevertheless, the universal popularity of the saint for so many centuries requires that some account of these legends should be given here.

We are assured that from his earliest days Nicholas would take nourishment only once on Wednesdays and Fridays, and that in the evening according to the canons. "He was exceedingly well brought up by his parents and trod piously in their footsteps. The child, watched over by the church enlightened his mind and encouraged his thirst for sincere and true religion". His parents died when he was a young man, leaving him well off and he determined to devote his inheritance to works of charity. An opportunity soon arose. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and had moreover to support three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. This came to the ears of Nicholas, who thereupon took a bag of gold and, under cover of darkness threw it in at the open window of the man's house. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals Nicholas did the same for the second and third; at the last time the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed him with his gratitude. It would appear that the three purses represented in pictures, came to be mistaken for the heads of three children and so they gave rise to the absurdstory of the children, resuscitated by the saint, who had been killed by an innkeeper and pickled in a brine-tub.

Coming to the city of Myra when the clergy and people of the province were in session to elect a new bishop, St. Nicholas was indicated by God as the man they should choose. This was at the time of the persecutions at the beginning of the fourth century and "As he was the chief priest of the Christians of this town and preached the truths of faith with a holy liberty, the divine Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with many other Christians. But when the great and religious Constatine, chosen by God assumed the imperial diadem of the Romans, the prisoners were released from their bonds and with them the illustrious Nicholas, who when he was set at liberty returned to Myra." St. Methodius asserts that "thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison", but says nothing of his presence at the Council of Nicaea in 325. According to other traditions he was not only there but so far forgot himself as to give the heresiarch Arius a slap in the face. Whereupon the conciliar fathers deprived him of his episcopal insignia and committed him to prison; but our Lord and His Mother appeared there and restored to him both his liberty and his office. As against Arianism so against paganism, St. Nicholas was tireless and took strong measures: among other temples he destroyed was that of Artemis, the principal in the district, and the evil spirits fled howling before him. He was the guardian of his people as well in temporal affairs. The governor Eustathius had taken a bribe to condemn to death three innocent men. At the time fixed for their execution Nicholas came to the place, stayed the hands of the executioner, and released the prisoners. Then he turned to Eustathiujs and did not cease to reproach him until he admitted his crime and expressed his penitence. There were present on this ocfcasion three imperial officers who were on their way to duty in Phrygia. Later, when they were back again in Constantinople, the jealousy of the prefect Ablavius caused them to be imprisoned on false charges and an order for their death was procured from the Emperor Constantine. When the officers heard this they remembered the example they had witnessed of the powerful love of justice of the Bishop of Myra and they prayed to God that through his merits and by his instrumentality then might yet be saved. That night St. Nicholas appeared in a dream to Constatine, and told him with threats to release the three innocent men, and Ablavius experienced the same thing. In the morning the Emporor and the prefect compared notes, and the condemned men were sent for and questioned. When he heard that they had called on the name of the Nicholas of Myra who had appeared to him, Constatine set them free and sent them to the bishop with a letter asking him not to threaten him any more but to pray for the peace of the world. For long this was the most famous miracle of St. Nicholas, and at the time of St. Methodius was the only thing generally known about him.

The accounts are unanimous that St. Nicholas died and was buried in his episcopal city of Myra, and by the time of Justinian there was a basilica built in his honor at Constantinople. An anonymous Greek wrote in the tenth century that, "the West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in the isles, in the furthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. Images of him are set up, panegyrics preached and festivals celebrated. All Christians, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, reverence his memory and call upon his protection. And his favors, which know no limit of time and continue from age to age, are poured out over all the earth; the Scythians know them, as do the Indians and the barbarians, the Africans as well as the Italians." When Myra and its great shrine finally passed into the hands of the Saracens, several Italian cities saw this as an opportunity to acquire the relics of St. Nicholas for themselves. There was great competition for them between Venice and Bari. The last-named won, the relics were carried off under the noses of the lawful Greek custodians and their Mohammedan masters, and on May 9, 1087 were safety landed at Bari, a not inappropriate home seeing that Apulia in those days still had large Greek colonies. A new church was built to shelter them and the pope, Bd. Urban II, was present at their enshrining. Devotion to St. Nicholas was known in the West long before his relics were brought to Italy, but this happening naturally greatly increased his veneration among the people, and miracles were as freely attributed to his intercession in Europe as they had been in Asia. At Myra "the venerable body of the bishop, embalmed as it was in the good ointments of virtue exuded a sweet smelling myrrh, which kept it from corruption and proved a health giving remedy against sickness to the glory o f him who had glorified Jesus Christ, our true God." The translation of the relics did not interrupt this phenomenon, and the "manna of St. Nicholas" is said to flow to this day. It was one of the great attractions which drew pilgrims to his tomb from all parts of Europe.

It is the image of St. Nicholas more often than that of any other that is found on Byzantine seals; in the later middle ages nearly four hundred churches were dedicated in his honor in England alone; and he is said to have been represented by Christian artists more frequently than any saint except our Lady. St. Nicholas is venerated as the patron saint of several classes of people, especially, in the East, of sailors and in the West of children. The first of these patronage is probably due to the legend that during his life time, he appeared to storm tossed mariners who invoked his aid off the coast of Lycia and brought them safely to port. Sailors in the Aegean and Ionian seas, following a common Eastern custom, had their "star of St. Nicholas" and wished one another a good voyage in the phrase "May St. Nicholas hold the tiller". The legend of the "three children" gave rise to his patronage of children and various observances, ecclesiastical and secular, connected there with; such were the boy bishop and especially in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, the giving of presents in his name at Christmas time. This custom in England is not a survival from Catholic times. It was popularized in America by the Dutch Protestants of New Amsterdam who had converted the popish saint into a Nordic magician (Santa Claus = Sint Klaes = Saint Nicholas) and was apparently introduced into this country by Bret Harte. It is not the only "good old English custom" which, however good, is not "old English", at any rate in its present form. The deliverance of the three imperial officers naturally caused St. Nicholas to be invoked by and on behalf of prisoners and captives, and many miracles of his intervention are recorded in the middle ages.

Curiously enough the greatest popularity of St. Nicholas is found neither in the eastern Mediterranean nor north-western Europe, great as that was, but in Russia. With St. Andred the Apostle he is patron of the nation, and the Russian Orthodox Church even observes the feast of his translation; so many Russian pilgrims came to Bari before the revolution that their government supported a church, hospital and hospice there. He is a patron saint also of Greece, Apulia, Sicily and Loraine, and of many citiesand dioceses (including Galway) and churches innumerable. At Rome the basilica of St. Nicholas in the Jail of Tully (in Carcere) was founded between the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh centuries. He is named in the preparation of the Byzantine Mass.

This is the Sint Nicolaas Church in Amsterdam. It's strange, it's right there in front of Central Station, but when you try to use it as a landmark when giving people directions, it's as if it's invisible. "Head for the left, to the side with the big church." "Which big church?" Even people who've been in Amsterdam for ages don't know about it.

I posted a close-up of his statue on the façade of the church above, it, the picture of the church and the rose window were taken from the Sint Nicolaas parish website, the other illustration was taken from Catholic Online.

The text in the rose window comes from John 13:1
Ante diem festum Paschæ, sciens Jesus quia venit hora ejus ut transeat ex hoc mundo ad Patrem: cum dilexisset suos, qui erant in mundo, in finem dilexit eos.

Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

Bible and Koran

In a little under four hours from posting, a joint website by the two Dutch broadcasting companies Wereldomroep and IKON will go live. Bijbel en Koran will provide us with the texts of both the Bible and the Koran in Dutch, English and Arabic and hopes to create a better understanding.

I'm not sure - since it's not there yet - if and what this will add, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Some links I have already gathered in my favourites:

The Internet Sacred Text Archive
Christian Apocrypha and Early Christian Literature
The Bible Online
Chinese Classics
The Holy Quran

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Cardinal Tells of Assault Over Sexual-Abuse Cases

Cardinal Tells of Assault Over Sexual-Abuse Cases
Published: December 5, 2007
New York Times

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 4 — Cardinal Roger Mahony, the leader of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told fellow priests that he was assaulted last summer by a man who yelled angry statements about the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests.

Cardinal Mahony first spoke about the attack at an annual gathering of local priests in October, according to priests who attended the meeting. The cardinal described being approached last July by an unidentified man outside Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, said the Rev. Michael Gutierrez, who was at the meeting.

“He went down there to drop something off at the mailbox when this guy approached him, saying some stuff,” said Father Gutierrez, pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church in Santa Monica. “Then, boom, the guy was on him.”

The attack, according to Father Gutierrez and others, occurred days after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge approved a $660 million settlement between the archdiocese and more than 500 local victims of abuse by the clergy. The settlement is the largest of its kind in the country.

No report about the assault was filed with the Los Angeles Police Department, a police spokesman said. “We don’t know if the assault did or did not happen,” said the spokesman, Sgt. Lee Sands, who said Tuesday that he was trying to get in touch with Cardinal Mahony.

The cardinal could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese, Carolina Guevara, said, “The annual pastoral meeting with the priests of the archdiocese is a private meeting, and whatever conversation that might have taken place was between the priests and their bishop and was not meant to be public.”

Priests at the meeting reported that Cardinal Mahoney said it had taken him a month to heal from the assault. “The cardinal is fine,” Ms. Guevara said when asked about his condition.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that “violence against anyone is abhorrent,” but that “there are citizens who feel anger about the way Cardinal Mahony has handled this case for years and years.”

“If he was assaulted,” Mr. Clohessy said. “I feel for him.”

So do I, but I'm not surprised someone snapped.

Episcopalians split and sue

A Church Is Divided, and Headed for Court
Published: December 5, 2007
New York Times

SAVANNAH, Ga. — For 274 years, there has been one Christ Church here, and it is a congregation with a proud history.

Started with a land grant from King George of England and led by famous names like John Wesley and George Whitfield, Christ Church has been the spiritual home of some of this city’s most notable residents, including Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts.

So it was unsettling, to say the least, for some longtime members when Christ Church, which is believed to be the first church established in Georgia, voted recently to part ways with the Episcopal diocese it had been a part of for more than 200 years to join an Anglican diocese in Uganda.

“I just feel a tremendous loyalty to this church, and I am confused about this situation,” said Frances R. Maclean, 85, a member of Christ Church for 55 years who saw her children baptized and then married in its century-old chapel. “What is this business about Uganda?”

Since 2003, when the Episcopal Church affirmed its first openly gay bishop, roughly 55 parishes nationwide have split with the denomination to affiliate with more conservative Anglican dioceses in Africa, according to records kept by the national church.

At issue for these breakaway parishes is whether churches that condone same-sex relationships are still following the Bible, and the Episcopal denomination is not the only one affected by the debate.

The mainline Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has also seen a number of its congregations vote to leave in recent years to join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

The religious rifts, including the one here, have flooded courts nationwide with civil lawsuits over church property, an area of jurisprudence where courts, as they try to navigate First Amendment separations of church and state, are notoriously uncomfortable.

“As a state body we have to abstain from any involvement in religious disputes,” said John Witte Jr., director of the study of law and religion at Emory University in Atlanta, and “every property dispute has a doctrinal dimension that a court can’t touch.”

Judges must decide if individual parishes own the buildings where the members worship, or if those parishes are holding their property in trust for the larger church hierarchy, an arrangement many denominations have codified in their canons.

At Christ Church, the split has created two congregations, both of which are claiming the name and assets of the parish.

The newly Anglican congregation, with about 300 regular members, continues to meet in the stately chapel with its tall, white-columned facade, which is parked on the edge of Johnson Square like the grille of a giant Rolls-Royce.

The 75 or so members of Christ Church who continue to be affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia are meeting, for the time being, at the more modest St. Michael and All Angels Church on Washington Street.

Both are using pictures of the historic church building on their Web sites.

“There are some members of Christ Church who are going to services at both places,” said Mark C. McDonald, executive director of the Historic Savannah Foundation, the institution that has worked with the Women of Christ Church to put on a tour of historic homes for the past 72 years. “That’s how they perceive themselves. Not as Anglicans or Episcopalians, just as members of Christ Church.”

The split at the church, which has divided families and friends, has reached a level of rancor rarely seen in this city, where disputes are often mollified, or at least forgotten, with the help of a well-attended cocktail party and where some tour guides still refer to the Civil War as “that late unpleasantness.”

Speaking to her congregation on Oct. 14, just before congregants voted on the decision to disaffiliate with the Episcopal Church, Janet Stone, 63, a member of Christ Church since 1975, pleaded for unity.

“I beg you to stop this fight and seek reconciliation,” Ms. Stone said. “It would be a powerful witness.”

Moments later, 87 percent of the congregation voted to support the split.

In November, the Diocese of Georgia filed a lawsuit to keep control of Christ Church’s assets, which include a $3 million historic building and an endowment estimated at $2 million to $3 million.

Its claim is based on a church law, adopted in the 1970s, called the Dennis Canon, which says that all parishes hold their property in trust for the diocese. But Christ Church, which was established in 1733, asserts that it has firm legal footing to keep control of its building and property because it existed before the Episcopal denomination, which was established in the United States in 1789.

“That would make the case a pure property case rather than a religious liberty case,” Mr. Witte said. “They will have to argue that their church is closer to the values of the late 18th century” than the Episcopal Church is today.

And that, he added, is “an argument that hasn’t been tested in federal courts.”

Subsidy for party that excludes women reinstated

The Dutch Raad van State (Coucil of State) has judged that the political party SGP (Reformed Political Party) was unjustly denied state funding for its discrimination of women.

The Clara Wichmann Institute, which strives to improve the position of women in society, had originally won a test case against the State of The Netherlands in 2005 on the grounds that political parties were only eligible for state funding if they discriminated against women. The SGP allows women to be active within the party, but on religious grounds refuses to put them up for election to public office.

The ruling in the appeal in the civil procedure is expected on January 17, 2008, but in the meantime the Council ruled that women were not discriminated against because there were many other political parties which do allow women to be elected. I heard a comment on tv this afternoon comparing this to a restaurant being allowed to bar blond people because there were ten other restaurants who would serve them.

At the time this all started payment to the SGP was stopped, so they will now receive their funds for 2006 and I presume for 2007 as well.

good news

I just got back from lunch with someone from the agency, during which he handed me two copies of a contract for unlimited duration.

Unless something really crazy happens I'm going to sign them.

Until now I have only ever had contracts for fixed periods or the duration of a project but at the grand old age of 35 I have finally found some long-term security. Hey, I could even get a mortgage!

The first person I called was K, then I called my parents. What do you mean that's the wrong way round?

Saint Nicholas, this was your Best. Present. Ever.

Dank u, Sinterklaasje!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

A visit to the museum

In Northern Kentucky you can find the Creation Museum, which explains how evolutionists are wrong and which has lovely models and dioramas showing us just how dinosaurs walked the earth in biblical times. Being carnivores, including T-Rex, they didn't harm the humans.

The author of this blog went to the museum, posted pictures here and finally challenged people to make their own LOLcat based on these pictures. But first here's a short quote from his report:
In the first room of the Creation Museum tour there’s a display of two paleontologists unearthing a raptor skeleton. One of them, a rather avuncular fellow, explains that he and the other paleontologist are both doing the same work, but that they start off from different premises: He starts off from the Bible and the other fellow (who does not get to comment, naturally) starts off from “man’s reason,” and really, that’s the only difference between them: “different starting points, same facts,” is the mantra for the first portion of the museum.

The rhetoricians in the crowd will already see how a card has been palmed here. The Museum is casually trying to establish an equivalence between science and creationism by accrediting them both as legitimate “starting points” for any discussion of biology, geology and cosmology. This would cause any scientist worth his or her salt to have a positively cinematic spit take, because it’s horseshit, but if you don’t know any better (say, if you’ve been fed a line of crap your whole life along the lines of “science is just another religion”) it sounds perfectly reasonable. And so if you buy that, then the next room, filled with large posters that offer on equal footing the creationist and scientific takes on the creation of the universe and evolution, seems perfectly reasonable, too: Heck, we can both have our theories! They’re both okay.

I'm not sure where I stand on these pictures in relation to the first principle. I guess they are ridiculing creationism, but then I can't help but think sometimes things (and people) are so patently wrong they're almost asking for it. Perhaps I should learn to be more tolerant, but in the mean (hmmm...) time here are some of the ones I preferred.

I loved the graphics on this, the simplicity and the haiku:

The following two are in a similar vein and I'm not sure if you could call them LOLcats, but I likes 'em! So there:

And finally this one, using the more traditional cat images:

See more entries here.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Stanley Fish: Monkey Business (NYT)

Stanley Fish - Think Again
blogging for the New York Times
December 2, 2007, 6:13 pm

In a case now pending in a federal court in Brooklyn, Mamie Manneh of Staten Island stands accused of having brought smoked bushmeat – known colloquially as monkey meat – into the United States without proper permits, in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Ms. Manneh’s defense is that in her religion the eating of bushmeat has both a cultural and a spiritual significance. In an affidavit, 17 of her co-religionists declared, “We eat bushmeat for our souls.” Manneh’s lawyer, Jan Rostal, has analogized the African-based practice to the consumption at a Passover seder of foods like bitter herbs “that might have some reference to the Exodus.” In a motion to dismiss, Rostal said that the case, while apparently novel, “represents the sort of clash of cultural and religious values inherent in the melting pot that is America.”

No, it doesn’t. It represents a more fundamental clash: between the imperatives of religion and the rule of law. The question raised by the case is whether the fact of a religious belief is sufficient to exempt the believer from the application of generally applicable laws — laws (like driving on the right-hand side of the road) that apply to every citizen no matter what his or her religious, ethical or moral convictions. Is religious belief a special case, so special that the devout practitioner gets a pass?

John Locke posed that question in “A Letter Concerning Toleration” (1689), and his analysis of it remains relevant today. Locke asks if it is lawful for Meliboeus (a name borrowed from pastoral poetry) to slaughter a calf and offer it as a sacrifice at a religious meeting. It depends, he says, on whether slaughtering a calf in order to put food on his family’s table is lawful. If it is, then killing the calf for ritual purposes is perfectly allowable, for “what may be spent on a feast may be spent on a sacrifice.”

But the logic also holds in the opposite direction. Suppose, Locke imagines, a disease had destroyed a large number of cattle and the government decreed that no more could be slaughtered. The prohibition would surely extend to religious rituals, not as a specific target of state action, but as a practice swept up in the wake of a general law.

That law, Locke observes, would not be “made about a religious matter, but about a political matter.” It would be true that some people would no longer be able to engage in behavior they considered central to their religious life, but because that would not be the result aimed at — the good of the commonwealth would be the concern — the government could not be accused of contriving to harm religion, even if that were an unintended consequence of its action.

Nor would it be wise to exempt persons of certain beliefs from the general prohibition; for that would amount to bending the law to the preferences and desires of particular citizens, and once you begin to do that there is no logical place to stop and the rule of law would be destroyed.

The upshot of Locke’s argument is that religious practices flourish only at the sufferance of the state. In theory you have the right to worship in the manner dictated by your faith, but should an aspect of that worship run up against a duly enacted regulation, the regulation, provided it is neutral in intention, trumps the demands of worship.

This same line of reasoning can be found in religion clause cases stretching from Reynolds v. United States (1878) to Employment Division v. Smith (1990). (There is an alternative tradition of “accommodating” religion in cases like Sherbert v. Verner and Wisconsin v. Yoder.)

In Reynolds the court considered the argument made by a man convicted of practicing polygamy that it is the religious duty of male members of the Mormon Church to engage in plural marriage, and that the penalty for failing to do so “would be damnation in the life to come.” The court observed that the prohibition against polygamy was general and not directed at any sect, and asked, “can a man excuse” his illegal practice of an interdicted behavior just “because of his religious belief?”

The answer is swift, firm and Lockean. “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” In such a circumstance, the court concluded, “government could exist only in name.”

The same logic rules in Smith. Here the issue was the ingestion at a Native American religious ceremony of peyote, deemed a “controlled substance” by the laws of Oregon. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, notes that the Native American celebrants “contend that their religious motivation for using peyote places them beyond the reach of a criminal law that is not specifically directed at their religious practice and that is concededly constitutional as applied to those who use the drug for other reasons.” In short, the demand is that the law be applied differently to persons with different beliefs — you can’t use peyote as a recreational drug, but I can use it because I consider it sacramental — and this Scalia refuses to do.

The intention of the Oregon law, he points out, was not to curtail anyone’s free exercise of religion, and the fact that the free exercise rights of some people happened to be impacted negatively is “merely the incidental effect of a generally applicable and otherwise valid principle.” If the affected believers are unhappy, Scalia concludes, let them turn to the “political process” and try to get laws passed that will address their concerns.

That is exactly what happened on two fronts. Congress passed a law making the use of peyote in religious ceremonies an exception to the controlled substances regulations. And the same Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), which transferred the burden of proof from the religious practitioner to the government.

Where the assumption in Reynolds and Smith is that the state need only be innocent of the intention to impede free exercise, the distinction between intentional effects and what Scalia calls “incidental” effects is RFRA’s first casualty: “Laws ‘neutral’ toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise.” Whatever the source and pedigree of the burden, whether it is designed or accidental, those who suffer it must have a legal recourse.

Accordingly, in any instance where the burden is “substantial,” the state must demonstrate that the law in question “(1) is in furtherance of a compelling government interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” In other words, the fact of a law duly passed by the appropriate bodies is not enough; with respect to a particular class of persons – religious believers – that law cannot take effect unless it can be shown that the highest state considerations require that it be applied without exception.

While RFRA was hailed as a victory for religious freedom by many, others saw in it the realization of the fear expressed by the Reynolds and Smith courts, the fear that any law could be lawfully disobeyed by someone who asserted that it interfered with the free exercise of his or her religion. In effect, they complained, the rule of law was being subordinated to the private convictions of an ever expanding set of citizens. For, as Scalia observes in Smith, who can tell another that a certain practice is not central to the free exercise of his religion? Prison inmates can claim that their religious requires them to eat porterhouse steak every day. And Meliboeus must be allowed to slaughter his calf even when his non-religious neighbors are prevented from doing so.

This brings us back to Mamie Manneh and monkey-meat. How will she fare in the courts? Her attorney is mounting an RFRA defense, but the act was weakened in City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), when Justice Kennedy challenged Congress’s ability to pass it. Congress, he said, has the power to enforce rights, not to create them: “Legislation which alters the Free Exercise Clauses’s meaning” – by creating a special right of exemption from general laws – “cannot be said to be enforcing the clause.” Moreover, said Kennedy, “if Congress could define its own power by altering the Fourteenth Amendment’s meaning, no longer would the Constitution be ‘superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means.’” In short, saying what the Constitution means is our job, not yours.

That might have seemed the end of it, but in a 2006 case (Gonzales v. O Centro), the Roberts court interpreted Boerne as invalidating only the application of RFRA to the states. Given that Ms. Manneh’s case is being adjudicated in a federal court, an RFRA defense is at least plausible, although the fact that bushmeat is associated with diseases like ebola will likely be enough to satisfy even the “compelling interest” test and give the government a victory.

But no matter how the case turns out, we can be sure of one thing: it won’t be the last, because the issues Locke identified and analyzed will never be resolved. In her dissent in Boerne, Justice O’Connor wrote, “Our Nation’s Founders conceived of a Republic receptive to voluntary religious expression, not a secular society in which religious expression is tolerated only when it does not conflict with generally applicable law.”

Yes, that’s the question. Do we begin by assuming the special status of religious expression and reason from there? Or do we begin with the rule of law and look with suspicion on any claim to be exempt for it, even if the claim is made in the name of apparently benign religious motives? From Reynolds to the present moment, everyone has had an answer to that question, but I predict that no one will ever have the last word.