Missed Your Senator’s Town Hall? Mine’s Having a Teleconference!

This will make communication so easy! No doubt the good senator will have a good sense of how his constituents are thinking after this. If you’ve ever participated in an audio conference over the phone, then you also know just how easy it is to get your points across. The senator will have people across the entire state on the phone, all at once!

Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkley
September 28th, 2009
The Oregon Update: Working for Health Care Affordability

Sign up Today to Join Senator Merkley for a Telephone Town Hall Meeting

Deadline to Sign Up is Tuesday at 10:00 am PT

As Congress continues to tackle the challenge of fixing our health care system, Senator Merkley wants to hear your thoughts, what’s working and what isn’t, and how we can best make it work for Oregon’s families and businesses. Senator Merkley knows that not everyone can make it to his town hall meetings, and that’s why he wanted to make sure Oregonians have every avenue available to them to reach out to him and make their concerns known.

This Wednesday, September 30th at 5:50 pm PT, Senator Merkley will hold a Telephone Town Hall, where Oregonians can ask questions and share their views about the current effort to reform health care. The deadline to sign up for the health care telephone town hall is tomorrow, September 29th at 10:00 am PT. Hurry and sign up today!

Join Senator Merkley for a Telephone Town Hall and make your voice heard.

Please note that any reply to this email address will be sent to an unmonitored email address. To contact Senator Merkley, please visit his website.

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For Whom Is that Church Bell Tolling?

This Wikipedia article on the ringing and tolling of church bells says:

Ringing them occurs in three basic ways: normal ringing, chiming, or tolling. Normal ringing refers to the ringing of a bell or bells at a rate of about one ring per second or more, often in pairs reflecting the traditional “ding-dong” sound of a bell which is rotated back and forth, ringing once in each direction. “Chiming” a bell refers to a single ring, used to mark the naming of a person when they are baptized, confirmed, or at other times. Many Lutheran churches chime the bell three times as the congregation speaks the Lord’s Prayer, once at the beginning, once near the middle, and once at the “Amen”. “Tolling” a bell refers to the slow ringing of a bell, perhaps once every four to ten seconds. It is this type of ringing that is most often associated with a death, the slow pace broadcasting a feeling of sadness as opposed to the jubilance and liveliness of quicker ringing.

Customs vary regarding when and for how long the bell tolls at a funeral. One custom observed in some liturgical churches is to toll the bell once for each year of the life of the deceased. Another way to tell the age of the deceased is by tolling the bell in a pattern. For example if the deceased was 75 years old, the bell is tolled seven times for seventy, and then after a pause it is tolled five more times to show the five.

At Concordia Lutheran Church in Hood River, the bell is rung before church every Sunday, but we do not observe the custom of chiming. On the other hand, we do toll for funerals and on Good Friday. Those who can recognize a tolling bell might easily wonder who has died: “For whom is that bell tolling?”

A tolling bell is only one example of the way a church bell communicates to the community. I realize that some community members may think a church bell to be a nuisance, because they would rather continue sleeping (or whatever they are doing) unmolested. Yet the very purpose of having a church bell is to help rouse our earthly neighbors from their slumber of doubt and unbelief to find the immortality that God has prepared for them through Jesus Christ alone. Many of them should find it a nuisance, since they do not wish to have any reminders of their sins and mortality.

Since the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary included the hymn “Wilt Thou Forgive that Sin,” a poem by John Donne, I have been more interested in Donne’s works. I find them devotional and provocative in the best possible way. Today, a passing reference on Cyberbrethren reminded me of a certain test-taking time in college, and connected it with John Donne. I had taken my seat, expecting a rigorous test, and the bell rang as the professor began passing it out. I said something about the bell tolling, and he said (as if quoting): “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” Ominous, if you understand the whole tolling thing.

A little digging on this wonderful Internet has turned up a fuller context of that quote. It’s not really from a poem, though some consider it so. Rather, it’s from a meditation by John Donne, in which he would have the reader consider his connection with all of Christendom in the body of Christ. Every time the church bell tolls, it marks the passage of one of our members into eternity, and so every toll is personally relevant to each Christian. In a similar way, every human being is connected with every other, so that we should recognize that the humanity we share with those who die means that we also participate somehow in all those deaths.

Another point of interest about this meditation is Donne’s now-familiar statement “No man is an island.” It’s good finally to know the original context of those words, and see how the author put the metaphor to a salutary use.

Here is the text of the meditation:

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

Mexican Civil War: Could US Be to Blame?

Here is a veiled propaganda article about a supposedly new development in the Mexican civil drug war. American women with clean records are being paid to buy firearms for soldiers of Mexican drug cartels. Here’s an example of the propaganda, couched in weasel words.

Some of the largest and most deadly gun smuggling operations in the country have involved women. The development highlights the key role straw buyers are playing to keep what Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., once characterized as the “Iron River” of guns flowing from the U.S. to Mexico.

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden has described the role of straw purchasers as the spark which has led to “horrific acts of violence.”

“It’s a nationwide problem,” Ogden said, “that requires a nationwide commitment.”

In a case outlined in court documents unsealed here last year, an organization of 23 buyers, including at least one woman, was linked to purchases of 339 guns during a 15-month, $340,000 buying spree across the region.

As you can see, the author (Kevin Johnson from USA Today) is advancing the notion that we need some kind of federal solution to this problem. That would mean that the United States is to blame for Mexico’s civil war, because we allow these morally defenseless women with inexplicably benign legal records to break the law brazenly by buying firearms on behalf of someone else, who works for an illicit foreign army.

Do you understand the point Mr. Johnson is advancing with his careful sentences and selective quotes?

Now consider this. The legitimate Mexican army apparently has organizational and supply problems. Can that be blamed on the United States?

Another article states (in what may have been translated into English by the sound of it) “The weaponry occupy Mexico‚Äôs towns and cities and include grenade launchers, TNT, machine guns, rifles, anti-tank rockets and other heavy arms used to equip a military during a civil war or conflict.” Do you think that the weapons bought through morally-defenseless Texas women includes grenade launchers, TNT, machine guns, and anti-tank rockets? (Why did the author, Tala Dowlatshahi, include rifles among “other heavy arms” in that list?) The fact is, it would be impossible for those poor women to buy such things here, because it’s illegal in the United States, and perhaps unlike Mexico, we tend to enforce those laws consistently. (On the other hand, I understand it’s much easier to buy such things in Mexico.)

Consider that the same article claims that some of these “heavy arms” come into the hands of the illegitimate drug armies through the legitimate (but corrupt) Mexican army, and that an estimated 90% of firearms imports come from the United States, through a federal attempt to arm and train the Mexican military (called the Merida Initiative).

Now, do you suppose that 339 privately American-bought rifles or pistols over a 15-month period are more or less of a problem for the legitimate Mexican army than grenade launchers, TNT, machine guns, and anti-tank rockets? Bear in mind that most of those rifles or pistols must have come from either capturing or killing the illegitimate soldiers that carried them. Also bear in mind that these 339 traced firearms represent a miniscule number of weapons actually chosen in Mexico for tracing, the weapons more likely to be successfully traced than the thousands of weapons that were not chosen. Also bear in mind the difference in scale between the reported $340,000 “buying spree” and the reported $1.6 billion budget of the Merada Initiative. (Let’s see… $1.6 billion divided by $340,000 equals… 4,705.)

The latter article mentions that the United Nations will be having a conference on disarmament in Mexico. No doubt there will be propaganda about how the United States is to blame for the warfare in Mexico, because we allow our own law-abiding citizens to obtain, keep, and even bear arms. Some of this propaganda has already been floated in our own federal government. But finally, consider this: if the Mexican problem arises from the constitutionally-protected freedom we enjoy in the United States, then why is that problem manifested in Mexico? If our freedom is the problem, then shouldn’t we be the ones in a civil, shooting war? After all, the freedom exists here. Maybe instead of focusing on disarmament, the UN should help the Mexican government to arm and train all of its own law-abiding citizens. That might result in more peace south of the border, like we have now in the United States.

Python Imaging Library: easy_install or setup.py makes a difference

Chances are most readers of the Plucked Chicken will have no idea what I’m writing about here. That’s OK. Just move along.

For anyone who may find this post when searching for Plone and an Import Error, when it claims that the Python Imaging Library is not installed because it can’t import PIL, read on.

I’m just now getting a handle on installing Plone via zc.buildout, with a view toward a migration path from a current install on a somewhat critical web site to the next great thing (TM). I decided to install a custom Python in a custom location, so that zc.buildout and easy_install would be able to do their thing without messing up my system Python installations. So far so good.

The problem came after easy_installing PIL (which isn’t as easy as one might hope), running buildout, and starting Plone. Plone complained that it couldn’t import PIL, implying that PIL was not installed. I first made sure that the Zope instance was running the correct Python install, and then I was baffled. I could verify that PIL was installed by a successful “import Image” in the Python shell, but Plone does not import Image directly. Instead, it imports PIL, or perhaps imports through PIL, as “from PIL import Image”.

Two different ways to import PIL, giving access to the same code. Two different ways to install PIL, with the “easy” one being a little more complex than usual. Putting two and two together, I removed my PIL installation, downloaded a tarball, and ran “python setup.py install”, which uses setuptools without easy_install. Everything worked smoothly. I started a Python shell and tried “import PIL” (which hadn’t worked before). This time it worked. Tried starting the Zope instance. It worked too.

Conclusion: Python Imaging Library and easy_install don’t work together the way PIL and setuptools do, resulting in two different ways to import the PIL code. This may be a PIL bug, or it may be that the egg-creation mechanism in easy_install doesn’t handle the requirements of PIL as it should. Either way, if you intend to use PIL with Plone, you’ll have to install it via setuptools. If there’s a better way, I’d appreciate hearing about it.