Bishop John Shelby Spong, RIP

I was saddened to learn today of the death of John Shelby Spong, Bishop Emeritus of the Newark, New Jersey diocese of the Episcopalian Church. Though I can’t claim to have known Bishop Spong very well, he was a close friend of my parents’, and a constant presence in our family home. He was for decades Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Christ Hospital in Jersey City, where both of my parents worked–my father for forty, and my mother for thirty years. So we knew Bishop Spong less as a bishop than as a hospital trustee. The stories–or legends–I heard about him for decades were about health care, not theology.

Spong speaking in England; photo credit: David Gibson/RNS

Christ Hospital started its life as an Episcopalian institution. It later merged (or attempted to merge) with St Francis Hospital across the city, a Catholic institution. The merger initiated an apocalyptic sectarian battle for the mortal souls of both hospitals, a battle in which (I’m told) Bishop Spong did a fair bit of the fighting. Eventually, after a series of Jesuit-worthy legal complications I’ve never been able to grasp, Christ Hospital was consumed by the godless and soulless CarePoint Health System. By then, Bishop Spong had had the good sense to leave the hospital behind; Jesus Christ may or may not have been resurrected, depending on your theology, but Christ Hospital was not going to be resurrected, at least not in the form it originally took as an urban community hospital in the Episcopalian tradition.

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Coronavirus Diary (42): Should the Parks Be Closed in Jersey?

Feel free to believe this or not, but just about everyone who knows me well–friends, wives, ex’s–knows of my long history of altercations with the cops. Many of these altercations have taken place during my nocturnal rambles in local parks. Cops often claim that the parks “close,” and are willing to hassle anyone walking in the park “after hours.”* In doing so, they will often (falsely) insist that “there’s a curfew,” and ignore the blackletter of the laws they claim to be enforcing. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (31): The Dark Side of South Jersey

When all this is over–whatever that even means–I hope no one tells me that things like this never happened. I know how tedious it is to see another post on this much-belabored issue. But hard experience with the 9/11 celebration rumors taught me that if you don’t rigorously document something in real time, people will deny its existence after the fact. Actually, some will deny its existence as it’s happening, and others will deny its existence no matter how rigorously it’s documented. Unfortunately, not every disease has a cure. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (28): The Fifth Amendment Under Quarantine

The Attorney General (of New Jersey) needs to explain whether the Fourth and Fifth Amendments have literally been suspended in Essex County, where enforcement actions have been stepped up considerably (especially in Newark, Irvington, Orange, and East Orange).

In order to be stopped by the police, there must be reasonable suspicion of the commission of an infraction within the jurisdiction of the officer doing the stop. The mere presence of a person in public cannot constitute reasonable suspicion of any infraction, including Executive Order 107.* So we need to know: do Fourth Amendment strictures still apply, or have they been discarded for the duration of the order? Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (26): New Jersey Under Siege

Most of the national media reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic has focused, understandably, on the catastrophe taking place in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic. A student in one of my classes, with friends and family in Queens, told me that he knew personally of fifteen COVID-19 deaths in Queens alone (Elmhurst). New York City essentially leads the world right now in COVID-19 cases.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle as it always is, is the second-place case of New Jersey, where, apart from graduate school, I’ve lived all my life. You can turn on the TV to see what things are like in New York, but whether you see it there or not, things aren’t much different in Jersey: like New York, New Jersey is under siege. And “siege” is no metaphor. COVID-19 is an invading army–much more so than the Japanese, the Nazis, the Soviets, Al Qaeda, Saddam, or ISIS ever were–and we’re losing the battle to it. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (2): Against Ageist Fascism

I shouldn’t have to make this point in this, our post-Auschwitzean age, but just a quick PSA, FYI: age-based genocide (or even malice or discrimination) is immoral. And PS, a pandemic is not the time to be wishing death on the elderly. Call me crazy, but there’s no good time to be wishing death on anyone. And yet I’ve seen more than one instance, on Facebook and elsewhere, of people’s expressing genocidal or near-genocidal sentiments about the elderly. Genocidal sentiments aside, there’s been no shortage of ageist malice for “Boomers,” or “old people.” Paraphrase of a rant I saw in the comments section of a local newspaper:

The Boomers raised our rents, gouged us on tuition, saddled us with debts, dragged us into unwanted wars, pay us crap wages, and vote the wrong way: so good riddance to them; may they all drop dead.

Substitute “Jews” for “boomers” or “the disabled”  in rants of this sort, and you have the logic of the Final Solution-by-viral-proxy. Continue reading

Stop, In the Name of Dog (Before You Break Your Leg)

I just saw some guy walking two beautiful golden retrievers down Witherspoon Street in Princeton, New Jersey. He crossed the street without really looking where he was going, then nearly collided with a car turning into the intersection. I repeat for the nth time that if American crosswalks were designed like the crosswalks of Barcelona, none of this would ever have happened. But they aren’t, and no one ever listens to my pro-Barcelona urban planning rants anyway.* Continue reading

“Issues in Local Government”

(THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELED DUE TO THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK. I’M HOPING TO RE-SCHEDULE IN THE FALL.)

I like democracy. Democracy is perhaps best exemplified in local government. Hence, I like local government.

You might quibble that that’s not a valid argument, and suggest that the conclusion is a reductio, but hey, democracy is messy.

Anyway, I’m interested in local government. To that end, I’m organizing and moderating a panel discussion at Felician University that you might want to attend if you’re in the neighborhood. Sponsored by the Felician Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs. Continue reading