Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The New Berkeley Review

The problem is, John Lennon's controversial statement was totally coherent. It was ... the honest challenge of a published author and genuine intellectual who read everything he could get his hands on-including the Bible.
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Many years ago Archbishop Robert Morse (retired), Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK), created a publication that he named The New Oxford Review (NOR). The name was meant to reflect the legacy of the Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism; for though the publication was founded in Berkeley, California where Morse had been a university chaplain since the 1950s, and where he founded St. Joseph of Arimathea Seminary, "Oxford" identified the spiritual heritage that the publication was intended to propagate.

But, Archbishop Morse lost control of NOR when the editor, Dale Vree (a former Marxist who had managed to return to the United States after trying to live his dream in a worker's paradise), in Morse's words, "hijacked it" away from him. Archbishop Morse was explaining these things to me in 2005, when, at the age of 82, he thought to start up a new publication, and was wondering if I would consider the position of editor. After his heart attack in early 2007, however, the whole subject died away.

Someone else summarized the history of NOR to me in an email recently,

"When NOR started it was pretty good and quite High Church Anglican. It even published articles by noted Anglicans of the Low Church variety, such as Philip Edgcumbe Hughes. Its style of Anglo-Catholicism might even be described as having been of the Charles Gore/Lux Mundi type. That's going back about 30 years. It went increasingly Romeward, became a fairly balanced RC magazine for a few years, and then swerved hard right. It lost its finest contributors as a consequence...before that they were publishing pieces by Henri Nouwen, Robert Cole, and other persons they would later regard as dangerous lefties. They really dropped to their lowest when they started attacking Hans Urs von Balthasar and R. J. Neuhaus."

Today, the magazine retains its Anglican name for no apparent reason, unless they contend that their conversion to Roman Catholicism is the natural destination of Oxford Movement thinking (something that had proved true only in the case of Newman, and to none of his fellow tractarians). From much of their advertising, one would imagine that NOR represents some huge movement of Anglo-Catholics who converted along with them, when it seems obvious that Mr. Vree and his son Pieter, who is now the editor, constituted this mass exodus.

Added to their transparently fraudulent grasp of an obvious misnomer, is the descent of the publication from a once respected periodical with intellectually viable substance and true gravitas, to an attempt to create  a Roman Catholic version of Jack T. Chic comic book tracts. It has not yet become as disreputable as the notorious anti-Semitic rag, Culture Wars-not quite and not yet. It has become, however, of the same basic genre.

This brings me to the unpleasant reason for why I am addressing you, readers of The Continuum, about NOR. In their January-February issue, a copy of which the editor mailed to me personally, I saw the terribly embarrassing words, "Fr. Hart has written for us before." To deny this would be pointless, and it is wiser to own up to one's mistakes. I will, however, explain.

Sometime circa 2003 0r 4, I found that one of my articles intended for Touchstone would have been completely redundant. Dr. William Tighe suggested that I send it to NOR (despite the unfortunate fact that they do not pay). Having seen almost no issues that were recent, except for one carrying Dr. Tighe's factual report about Anglican Use Roman Catholicism (having read exactly two of the articles in that issue at the time), I went ahead and took his advice. Why not? Pieter Vree wrote back that they wanted to publish it. Fine, I figured; so I agreed.

But, several months later I saw the issue in which my article appeared, along with bellicose editorials that sent chills up my spine. I immediately wrote to Archbishop Morse to apologize, because I was serving then in the APCK in Arizona, and I thought that having my name in NOR might prove to be an embarrassment to the church. In the following years I thought I had lived down the embarrassment, until their January-February issue this year.

Furthermore, I want to distance myself from the hate speech of the NOR editorial that contains references to me about one of my recently published essays in Touchstone. Not only am I horrified by the angry and hateful tone of the NOR editorial in question, with its hatchet-job character assassination of a well loved artist, John Lennon (as if his actual assassination was not enough for their sanctified blood lust), carried out by an editor all too proud to show himself a cultural Philistine in the process; but, also I feel responsible inasmuch as my writing provided an occasion for NOR's libeling the dead. 1

It was just plain common sense, from a publishing perspective, to prepare an article in time for John Lennon's 70th birthday; The Beatles still sell, and an honest thoughtful look at his controversial 1966 remark ("We're more popular than Jesus now") provided the context needed to make the remembrance suitable for Touchstone. Aside from that, an honest and thoughtful look at the actual quotation was long overdue, 44 years overdue. I had wanted to make the point for about forty years anyway, a long time to sit on a thought (I refer you to the essay itself, linked above and below).

In the NOR hit piece, it is obvious that Mr. Vree would prefer to dismiss my analysis of the challenge contained in Lennon's controversial 1966 statement, and to misrepresent my Touchstone essay as an attempt to rehabilitate John Lennon's image as some kind of devout Christian. Perhaps Mr. Vree was wearing a blindfold when he read my work, if he read it all before feeling qualified to write and publish an editorial about it. Also, he seems to think it is better simply to dismiss Lennon's real statement in favor of the popular and standard misrepresentation of it. He assigns it to drug abuse, and calls it "incoherent." The problem is, John Lennon's controversial statement was totally coherent. It was not the rambling of someone on an LSD trip, but the honest challenge of a published author and genuine intellectual who read everything he could get his hands on-including the Bible.

NOR fails the test of sound journalism.
The problem with writing anything that involves a celebrity, especially a Beatle, is that readers are somewhat overwhelmed by the very name, and any point one is trying to make disappears all too easily from view. I understand. I saw Paul McCartney in concert last year, and, old man that I am, part of me was a kid again, excited to see a Beatle with my own eyes (I didn't even feel that excited when I saw Vladimir Horowitz with the same two eyes). However, my essay was really about what John Lennon said in 1966. Pieter Vree's nasty little editorial, however, was about John Lennon.

Actually, Vree's piece was about some fiction character created in his own mind, a character he named John Lennon, but not accurate enough to qualify even as a caricature. This is important, because if NOR applies such sloppy standards to journalistic accuracy, and if their chief editor is willing to publish without doing any basic research, how can we trust anything they might report about anyone? If they target John Lennon with such venom, and without any regard for truth, what about anything they might say about, for example, Hans Urs von Balthasar or R. J. Neuhaus? Also, why should readers trust their evaluation of current events?

I know what Vree did. He copied and pasted a lot of stuff from the internet, a good deal of which I would have discarded as lacking in verification, or as highly unlikely, especially given the errors in chronology that I could spot for myself. Vree would have his readers believe that John Lennon died confused about his own identity, thinking he was, himself, Christ. He based this idiotic notion on a dubious story about one particular LSD trip supposedly in 1968. Never mind that 1968 was twelve years before the year Lennon died, or that 1968 is simply too late (for, the Beatles went to India because they were getting as far away from the LSD culture as they could. The spokesman for that was George Harrison, summarizing the Los Angelos LSD movement with the lyrics, "There's a fog upon LA, And my friends have lost their way"--a little journalistic research is not all that hard to do).

I encountered the problem with modern journalism during my time writing for The Christian Challenge. I discovered that the method used all too often today is for journalists to wait for the press release, or simply to copy and paste, rearrange a word or two, add their own name as a byline, and hit "send." I was not willing to work that way. As a result, Christian Challenge readers read facts that no one else had bothered to dig up. For example, only our readers were told that many of the parishes of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in their rival Diocese of San Joaquin, in 2008, had merely taken the name of an existing parish from a given city or town, and created a "virtual" church. That is, most of the TEC San Joaquin (as opposed to the Southern Cone San Joaquin) churches existed only on the internet, and had no physical location at all except a P.O. Box (a bit small to hold services, worse than Groucho's state room). Any other journalist could have uncovered these facts, but they did not bother. So, I came out looking very good, when in fact all I did was the most basic work of looking into the details, something they all should have done.

Now, if Vree had wanted to know about a man as famous as John Lennon, he could have read Stawberry Fields Forever, John Lennon Remembered. He could have watched the Music Remastered documentary, or the American Masters production Lennon NYC made for PBS, easily available on DVD. He could have done something other than merely to copy and paste the most damning, and most dubious, internet garbage, all of which any idiot could find.

If this low standard of fact checking, and this mad effort at character assassination, is what passes for journalism with NOR, what else should readers dismiss in their periodical? It seems that they not only are eager to trash real human beings, but willing to display the most unprofessional standards in order to libel, defame and mislead. No, this is not about John Lennon, though his image may dominate the conversation. This is about NOR and why no one should trust anything in its pages.

As for John Lennon, of course he was a sinner (who isn't?). I am not writing to whitewash him. He did beat up a man for insulting him early in the Beatles' career. He did experiment with LSD in 1966. He did divorce his first wife and marry a second. He did have Yoko Ono make important decisions based on Astrology. He did consort with radical leftists in 1972, such as Abbie Hoffmann (which Lennon, a genuine pacifist, came to regret). He did hit rock bottom in what he later called his "lost weekend," the 18 month period of drunken anger while separated from his wife, and living in Los Angelos. But, that is not the whole story.

John Lennon 
It is also true that John Lennon had started recording anti-drug public service announcements in the 70s, and in his last six years even the coffee he drank was decaffeinated. He spent his last five years concentrating on his family, endeavoring to live up to the responsibility of fatherhood (the song, "Beautiful Boy" expresses a father's love: It includes the simple words, "Before you go to sleep, say a little prayer..."). At the end, he emerged as a man of genuine character, the man who saved the lives of everyone on board a yacht headed to Bermuda, taking the helm in a storm at sea for several hours when no one else had the strength. It seems that everyone who knew him (including a woman in my congregation) was overwhelmed by his charm and wit, as well as his humility and down to earth approach. He seemed oblivious to his star status, or, when forced to acknowledge it, would not let it go to his head.

Now, if I could find that out, Mr. Vree could have found it out too, and should have rather than publishing his work of fiction. I made sure I was well informed on my subject before writing for publication. Mr. Vree does not accept the same obligation to NOR readers.

Holy hate
My own personal reflections come in the context of having lived through the events, and having run into "holy hate" before. Furthermore, I ran into "holy hate" directed at the same person, not once but many times. Yes, he did write the words, "and no religion too." But, in the context of what armies "kill and die for" the words make perfect sense, even if the Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens dupes of our time want to claim the words for their camp (as the facts show, their Atheist camp has no right to those words).

Before I wrote the essay that was published in the October-November Touchstone, I had written another. I decided not to submit the first one, because it did not address the relevant points with a culturally significant and wide application, nor did it contain that element that ought to be in every Touchstone essay, to make the reader say, "I never thought of it that way before." But, for you who read this blog regularly, you might want to know what I experienced just over thirty years ago that makes me eager, ever so eager, to distance myself from the NOR editorial. I see a Roman Catholic version (not to blame Roman Catholicism itself) of the same thing I had experienced before among Fundamentalists of another kind. So, here is the essay I did not submit:


The Ugly Christian
In December of 1980, when I was 22, along with millions of people in my generation, I had a very difficult time focusing on work, which was for me passing final exams. An old friend had reemerged from self-imposed seclusion only long enough to give us a few new songs, and some unexpected words of hope, before he was taken from us by a violent mad man. In one class at the university, a Professor listed stages of grief, among them, “obsession with the image of the deceased.” I looked down at the paper on which I should have been writing notes, and counted the pictures I had drawn instead, all of them the face of John Lennon.

In those years I had gone from what has proved to be (now as a graying grandfather) a lifetime of Anglicanism, on a seven-year excursion into a kind of Charismatic Evangelicalism. In fact, I was briefly involved in what was called by some “the Discipleship Movement” (anyone remember Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, etc.?). Sadly, it became the kind of church body that resorted to telling its members what they should think and how they should feel to the smallest detail, and what they ought to like or dislike. It never became a cult, but, neither was it quite orthodox (sooner or later, every thinking member left it).
During that time, in a social gathering with other twenty-somethings from that church, I was approached by a young lady who said, with a smile: “So, are you rejoicing at the death of John Lennon?” The horror of those words from that attractive young face is unforgettable. But, I was not angry with her, because I understood all too well what that church had been doing to her mind. All I could feel was compassion as one might feel for the blind.
I answered, “No. Certainly not. Why would I be rejoicing? Why would any Christian rejoice because someone has been murdered by a lunatic? And, what about his five year-old son? A little boy was waiting for his Dad to come home that night.” I needed to say no more, because I could see the scales fall from her eyes, inasmuch as deep down she really was a Christian, and suddenly knew, with a little help from a friend, the horror of what she had just said. She knew the Bible, and the words of the New Testament saints, including, “Now abideth faith, hope and charity…” She knew that Christ from the cross forgave even his persecutors, and that even if Lennon really had been the devil so many, so foolishly, had made him out to be, he was nonetheless the object of God’s love.
Of course, I had not forgotten that since 1966 John Lennon was still, by some, cast in the role of a devil, mainly because he had once said about the Beatles, “We're more popular than Jesus now." In fact, he was speaking only about England and the decline of Christianity in that one country, and said later that he may as well have said that it was “television” that had become more popular than Christ with British youth. He explained it many times, saying, for example in 1969, “It's just an expression meaning the Beatles seem to me to have more influence over youth than Christ. Now I wasn't saying that was a good idea, because I'm one of Christ's biggest fans, and if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ's message, then that's what we're here to do."
(Apparent, and often real, contradictions remain part of the legacy of this man, who combined his work as a musician and a poet, a man who every group tries to claim for one of their own. Much is floating around about him having been everything from an Evangelical who wrote letters to Oral Roberts, to an atheist-which was never true; I seriously doubt much in those stories, except for the correspondence with Roberts, if only because the chronology does not fit. One example is the TV movie Jesus of Nazareth supposedly aired in 1972; in fact, it was completed in 1976 and first shown in 1977-as well as other impossible things you may read on the internet, little stories that simply don't fit known facts.)
It had seemed to me, and still does, that the reaction to his 1966 remark was really because he had, in his fairly naïve way, told a little too much truth about the shallowness of respectable religion, and where it was headed at the time, all too apparent today. Nonetheless, I knew where the young lady in the church was “coming from.” With preachers always saying things like, “the Beatles sang about revolution”- even though what they sang was Lennon’s own song, written to distance himself from violent revolutionaries so they could not use his name and reputation. (In fact, he explained that the meaning of the simple refrain, “don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?” meant, “God is going to save us.”)
I am glad, however, that the girl said her horrifying words to me, because it opened my eyes to the ugliness I was surrounded by. This came at the end of a semester in which I was finally learning the facts about the history of Christianity by studying under Dr. Aristides Papadakis. Even so, one hypothetical question would have been obvious anyway: Since when are Christians supposed to regard individuals with hatred? What, in light of the Summary of the Law, could turn anyone from love of neighbor to rejoicing at the murder of a perceived enemy, or even a real one for that matter? This question is even more penetrating if the enemy, real or perceived, is perceived to be lost.
What can manufacture an ecclesiastical culture in which such an idea could find open, almost seemingly innocent, expression? Rejoicing at the death of anyone who was murdered is appropriate to radical versions of Islam, but never to Christianity. But, I have heard recent murmurings that seem to be of the same spirit. I have been told within the last year, “If we must pray for the President of the United States, let us at least not say his name.”
Frankly, I do not agree with all of the policies of President Barak Obama, and am especially troubled by his stand favoring the most “liberal” policies on abortion. Nonetheless (if not all the more), I will pray for him, and by name. Not only does he need our prayers, having the burden of the Presidency on his shoulders; but also, the Scriptures command us “to pray for kings and all in authority” quite specifically. Or, as I tell people in my congregation, “You are free to criticize those in government; but, for every one word of criticism, you should have two words of prayer.”
If we presume to identify any individual as an enemy of God and of righteousness, our response to that perception ought to be one of compassion, with prayer. Who would need it more? “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds,” St. Paul tells us (II Corinthians 10:4). That is because our only real enemies are not flesh and blood, even though many people consider us to be their enemies. Though Christ had many enemies, he was no one’s enemy, but had come to save the world from its captivity to sin and death. Even Judas, after his kiss of betrayal, was addressed by Jesus with the word, “friend.” (Matt. 26:50)
Listening to J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, that word, “friend” struck me as if I had never heard it before, perhaps due to the musical setting. Judas, on his own part, was no friend; but God’s love never fails. This was Christ’s perspective as He went through His human life; this was Christ’s perspective while He was on the cross, giving His life for friends and enemies alike; but from His Divine perspective laying down His life for His friends, that is, for those He loved, all mankind.
And, unless we cultivate that same love that is placed within us only by the Holy Spirit, we cannot serve Christ. We may indeed be right about many things, but not of the right spirit. Whatever we may think we are accomplishing in terms of a “culture war,” once we have identified any human person as an enemy, we fail to the same extent in the Mission of the Church.

I do not consider John Lennon to have been a devil. Neither do I consider him to have been orthodox. His religious beliefs were syncretic, including some kind of faith in Jesus Christ, but what that meant in his mind we cannot know. It appears that when he spoke, in 1966, he fell into the "great moral teacher" fallacy that C.S. Lewis warned against in Mere Christianity (though Lewis was never forgotten, the C.S. Lewis renaissance came a bit too late for John Lennon). I wish I could say for sure that he had understood and held the same Creedal Faith we have. It would provide comfort in light of his tragic and early death.
Objectively, in the eyes of the Church, Lennon was a Christian because baptism is an indelible sacrament. One day at an hour when the Germans were not dropping their bombs on Liverpool, he was baptized, and years later he was confirmed in the Church of England. I know also that, as a teenager, his religion was very important to him, and that he was deeply hurt when the local Vicar told him not to come back to church because in one service he had been laughing nervously. He reflected on that, recalling it in 1969:

"I wasn't convinced of the vicar's sincerity anyway. But I knew it was the house of God. So I went along for that and the atmosphere always made me feel emotional and religious or whatever you call it. Being thrown out of the church for laughing was the end of the church for me."
Nonetheless, he had been baptized into Christ. When I think of him I pray, “that he may go from strength to strength, in the life of perfect service” in God’s heavenly kingdom. I prefer that to becoming the ugly Christian who thinks himself qualified to judge the state of a man’s soul, or rejoice at the idea of anyone’s violent death. One may object: “Wherever the tree falls…” It appears that some acquire the ability to cut off all love for a person who dies. They mistake it for a religious duty. I hope never to be like them.
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I hope I have sufficiently distanced myself from the hate fest in Pieter Vree's NOR editorial. I hope too that I have corrected some of his defamation, for which I felt somewhat responsible, inasmuch as my essay provided the occasion. I would have ignored NOR altogether; but Mr. Vree wrote my name all over his thoroughly objectionable editorial.
As for the New Oxford Review, a more honest name would be a step in the right direction. I was thinking maybe, with apologies both to Tom Lehrer and to the pope, a good name would be The Vatican Rag.
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1. Whether or not NOR publishes my letter back to Mr. Vree, I will here make it an open letter for all to see.

New Oxford Review

1069 Kains Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94706
Attention: Mr. Pieter Vree, Editor
January 26, 2011
Dear Mr. Vree:
Thank you for reacquainting me with the New Oxford Review by sending me a copy of your Jan. Feb. 2011 issue, with a cover letter personally addressed to me.
In your letter you mentioned your “Note” called “Wisdom from the Walrus” and said it was “a tongue-in-cheek piece, nothing too serious.” I am glad to hear that it was intended to be humorous. Otherwise I would find the mental image of half the sole of wit in cheek, as it were, entirely appropriate. As it is, I am relieved to consider it excellent satire on anti-intellectual, knee-jerk reaction.

You perfectly satirized shallow analysis, capturing the tone of a writer who would have fired off a column in the heat of rashness, the sort that a young person might think of as “inspiration.” What comes across, in your satire, provides a perfect contrast against the thoughtful pieces by Charles Colson and Terry Mattingly, who clearly read my Touchstone essay carefully enough to understand it. 

Also, you satirized the tendency of modern writers to believe every anecdote placed among the canon of internet lore, to copy and paste the same as if they had done genuine research into a topic. The idea of such a shallow, lazy and superficial approach is doubly absurd when it involves a man as famous as the late Mr. John Lennon. You satirized that bad writing habit with exact precision. 

I trust you will continue to publish “nothing too serious,” “tongue-in-cheek” pieces. You will forgive me if I do not seek to contribute, however, as that kind of writing is not my forte.
Yours truly,
Rev. Robert Hart

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I did my senior sermon at Nashotah House on the Lennon quote. People seemed to like it. (The sermon, that is.)

I mentioned that Lennon did not say he was happy that Christianity would "go" or "vanish and shrink" but that he was simply calling it like he saw it. What I believe he was saying was that if, on any given evening in Britain at the peak of Beatlemania, both an Anglican liturgy and a Beatles concert were held in the same town, the Beatles concert would be the bigger draw, among teenagers at least. Who could dispute that claim?

I asked the congregation to consider whether his prediction has turned out to be fairly accurate, considering that England now has more practicing Muslims than Anglicans.

I challenged the seminarians simply to keep their ordination vows as a measure to help prevent the shrinkage and vanishing of Christianity here in the U.S.

I don't know if any of them read NOR.

Brendan said...

A great post, Fr Hart. Well said. John Lennon was brought up by his grandmother and aunt (not fully sure of facts) but I do know that his mother walked out at a very early age.
When attending a church in a neighbouring area one Sunday, the locum Anglican priest, whined "can anybody name the disciples?" He was not having much luck getting the full 12 and (given my bizarre sense of humour and finding the priest so overbearing) I was going to sing out "John, Paul, Ringo and George". I did refrain, but part of me regretted not saying them!!
The lyrics and music of "Happy Christmas (War is Over)by Lennon still brings tears to my eyes, and it is a sobering reminder to Christians each time we hear them at Christmas.



So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear......

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Brendan:

When I hear that song, and the words, "war is over, if you want it," I think, "I wish it really were that easy; but, it's not." Nonetheless, I prefer its idealism to the usual Hedonism of today's songs.

As for naming the Apostles, the one everybody always forgets is Bashful.

Anonymous said...

I've pretty much given up on reading NOR after its defect from Anglicanism years ago. Its the worst of conservatism, and really besmirches the name of true traditionalists.

Thanks, Fr. Hart, for the clarification.

New "Oxford" Review, indeed.

S. Augustine
ACC Churchman
Church of the Guardian Angels

Ed Hopkins said...

"when it seems obvious that Mr. Vree and his son Pieter, who is now the editor, constituted this mass exodus."
I suppose one could include the late Sheldon Vanauken among the writers of the NOR who left Anglicanism (TEC) for Rome. Excellent article.

Canon Tallis said...

I remember a conversation with Archbishop Morse in which he went on and on about what glories the NOR would rise too. I had within the week meet Dale Vree and when I learned from his own lips that his wife was Roman Catholic something almost immediately told me that he would not remain with in Anglicanism long. I tried to warn the bishop but he would not hear it. He was far too sure of his abilities to manipulate any and all with not so subtle flatterys. If I had not spent the previous decades working with leftist Democrats, I might have been taken in as my parish in San Francisco had been taken over by the homosexual wing of Anglo-papalism and more than anything else I wanted a parish where I could raise my children in the faith and practice of our American Book of Common Prayer. I and others soon realized that such would be as impossible in St. Peter's Oakland as it was going to be anyplace in the Episcopal Church. But before I left with my family I managed a long and very interesting conversation with the Reverend John Cahoon who was later to fall victim to Morse's vanity.

I regret that you, Father, fell victim to the Vree's and their journal. But it is the good fortune of all of us who work and pray for a better day for classical Anglicanism that you have come through that as well as 'le affaire Morrison' with faith and sanity intact. What frightens me is that I see a continuation of the attitude, the flirting with a high camp version of Anglo-papalism far too alive and active in the Continuum overall although, thankfully, not in this blog which is a rock of Anglican sanity.

+David said...

What a wonderful article. The most perceptive common sense on the subject I have read for a long time!