Thursday, November 30, 2006

As others see us

A few posts back I asked “Can you write a definition of “religion” that would include the UUA as presently constituted, and not also include a Star Trek club with a socially conscious membership?”. Well, it appears that I was not the first to see an analogy between the UUA and Star Trek- the truly hilarious web comic strip Oh my Gods! likens us to the Borg- the race that was trying to conquer the Universe by absorbing all cultures into their own. Like most humor, it’s funny because it’s so close to true- we have discussed the UU throw-all-theologies-into-the-cuisanart system of spirituality before. CC might want to pay special attention to this episode within the “Borg” sequence, as it confirms her worst fears about how the world sees us.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tis the season

for tacky Christmas specials on TV. But there was a magic moment, nearly thirty years ago, when this duet really reached me.

Monday, November 27, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore et al predicted that 2006 would be a disastrous year for hurricanes- 15 named storms, 9 or 10 being hurricane strength, 3 or 4 or those being major. There is an extensive article from last May here . These predictions had major economic impact, sending gasoline prices over $3.00/gallon as energy experts expected damage to the refining and distributions systems, which were still recovering from Katrina. The Inconvenient Truth? Number of named storms: 9. Number of category 4 or 5: 0. Number of storms formed in the month of October: 0- for the first time in years.

It’s interesting to peruse the NOAA hurricane statistics ; they paint quite a different picture than Al Gore does. You’d scarcely think from the former Vice President’s diatribes that the rate of major hurricane formation was 50% higher in the first half of the century than in the second half, but this chart shows it clearly: number of major storms, 1900-1950: 42; number of major storms 1950-2000: 28. How can this be? After all, there been a major increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes since the 1970s- the same time frame in which temperature increases accelerated- open and shut case, right?

Not exactly. Why is it that the all the figures are based on the period from 1970-1980, rather than any other recent decade? By pure coincidence- surely no one from the Global Warming crowd would try to massage the figures- the decade of the 70s had the lowest hurricane production, both in total number and in number of majors (see the above chart), in a century; returning to normality would be a dramatic increase. Ok, but what about those temperature increases? Warm water fuels hurricanes, so obviously higher temperatures make for more violent hurricanes, right? True enough, according to Mr. Landsea of the National Hurricane Center. From the first article referenced above: “"Models show a 2- to 4-degree temperature increase by the end of the 21st century, and hurricanes will get about 4 percent stronger for every 2-degree increase," he said, citing Princeton's Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory and Tom Knutson for the research in this area. In other words, the 1-degree water temperature increase off the coast of Africa could fuel a Category 3 hurricane at landfall, like Katrina, with 130-mph winds, to increase by about 2 percent. Two or three miles per hour of Katrina's winds could have been the result of global warming, Mr. Landsea said.”

Let me make a prediction of my own, one that will be proven or disproven within a just a few years: Given that the 95-0 Senate vote against the Kyoto accords during the Clinton administration showed that the Democratic party was no more interested in it than the Republicans, if the next President of the US is a Democrat, Global Warming stories will drop right off the radar screen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Holiday musings from an Earth centered perspective

Why does someone with solid nerd-cred (I still own and still occasionally use a slide rule, complete with leather sheath) follow an Earth centered religion, celebrate Earth centered holidays? Because I came to learn that there are eternal verities we are missing by being so separated from nature, and lessons we can learn from the holidays associated with it.

We know Thanksgiving as a secular (or at least non-denominational) harvest festival, and rarely think deeper than that. We get it that the summer’s hard labor is over, and there’s a ton of fresh food to party down with, and yes, they’d want to give thanks for the bounty. But did it ever occur to you that for most of mankind’s existence, it wasn’t until that final harvest and accounting that he knew for sure he’d live ‘til spring? A bad crop, and he’d have to slaughter his animals; a worse crop and... did you ever wonder what kind of stupid, fanatic zealot would volunteer to be a human sacrifice? Look deep into your children’s eyes tonight, and say to yourself, “We’ll never make it through winter- there just isn’t enough. But if I died tonight, these two could make it to Spring...” Feeling like a stupid, fanatic zealot yet?

So, are you giving thanks that those days are gone? Don’t. Yes, it’s been centuries since there was a truly major rust or blight epidemic; but then it had been centuries since the black Death when AIDS struck. Ask a botanist; while unlikely, it’s not impossible that an entire continent could lose a crop. The Wicker Man might yet return- and if he doesn’t, it’s important to remember why he was ever here.

Then Thanksgiving will be closely followed by Yule. Ok, we get it; despite all the promises of his Gods, early man didn’t know, really know that Spring would return until the solstice passed and the days started getting longer again. Of course, he didn’t understand Celestial mechanics; today we can predict Spring to the very hour; we don’t need God’s promises or the evidence of the longer days.

Or do we? The Sun is a raging nuclear inferno, and we need every erg it’s pumping out to maintain our steady seasons. One microscopic fraction of one percent of reduction in that output and we have another Ice Age. We don’t have the interior of the Sun mapped out, we cannot predict exactly what it will do at any given moment... it’s well within the realm of possibility that even as I write this, a shift is occurring deep inside the Sun, and Spring will never come next year. We need just as much faith today to believe that Spring will come as our ancestors did; the only difference is that modern man places his faith in science instead of Mithras- usually without realizing that science, in this case, deals only with probabilities, not certainties...

Now do you get why a nerd would follow an Earth centered religion? By studying nature’s rhythms, I regain my humanity; by studying my ancestors’ mythologies, I understand my own. When I understand how much I have in common with a malnourished primitive in a mud hut, I understand how much I have in common with all men, everywhere today.

How important are your dreams?

Do they mean as much as this kiwi‘s?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A modest proposal

A rich tradition of both religion and politics has been lost over the years: the formal debate. Yes, we have what are called “debates” in the presidential races, but they are not actually debates; they are joint press conferences. Most denominations have “debates” over doctrine and practices at their General Assemblies, but once again they are not truly debates- a few arguments are made- often heatedly- with no formal citation, no rebuttal, and none of the rigorous logic and rhetoric of debates past.

I offer the services of CUUmbaya to reclaim the great tradition of religious debate for UUs. I propose that people send to me various topics of interest to the UUA for debate, be they GA statements of past or present, or issues likely to come up. It shouldn’t take that much discussion to frame the “resolveds”, and get volunteers to argue the sides. If there are no volunteers to argue an unpopular position, I will take it on- I’ve done “devil’s advocate” before.

The two champions would then email me their arguments, which I would post on CUUmbaya for comment. I propose each side go a maximum of four specific points, to a maximum of 250 words each, formatted thusly: the first post would be the two opening points. The second post would be the rebuttals, then another point, etc., until done. The champions may answer comments if they wish- but it will count against their 250 words for the post.

When all points have been made and rebutted, readers would vote a winner in the comments section. In order for the vote to count, they must score each point as either made, rebutted, or a value judgment not subject to rebuttal, and then declare a winner. I would require this because I have seen arguments in which each and every point made by one side was completely rebutted, and yet that side was still declared winner because they or their position were more popular; that would keep it honest.

So what do you think? Anyone ready to put their logic and rhetoric where their hearts are? Ready to show that UU is really where reason and religion

Monday, November 13, 2006

Catchup potpouri

Item 1: Dem victory not all good.
The first issue to be tackled by Indiana's new Speaker of the House, Pat Bauer, will be the repeal of Daylight Savings Time! After a brief sojourn into the 21st Century, Pat will lead Indiana back to a time when nobody changed their clocks. *Sigh* Fair warning, Pat- nobody brought it up during the campaign, but if you're planning to make Indiana the butt of every late-night comedian once again, be prepared for jokes about that nylon carpet remnant stapled to the top of your head.

Item 2: Happy Cindy's
TV Meme

Do you have cable? No.

Do you have a television in more than one room? Yes- a newer one in the front room, an antique that refuses to die in the kitchen, and a portable in the computer room.

Do you watch television on your computer? No, my one-lung Emachine isn't up to it.

What are your favorite shows? Nova, Secrets of the Dead, McLaughlin Group, Week in Review- and, of course, Football.

What old[er] shows do you love to watch in re-run? Simpsons. (the new episodes, except for Treehouse of Horror, are getting lame.) I would watch any generation of Star Trek, but without cable they're unavailable.

What are favorite shows you hate to admit to? After Mclaughlin Group and Week in Review on Friday night, I watch the second hour of WWE.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Quo Vadis

The election is over, the people have spoken- so where do we go from here?

Democrats: Time to ashcan the following words and phrases: racist, fascist, Hitler, nazi, war criminal, selected not elected, cronyism, moron. Two reasons: A. It will be a new slate you’ll be running against in two years, and Bush won’t be there to kick around; you need to learn how to run a positive campaign. B. You have a diamond opportunity to prove to the American people that you can govern, and so consolidate your victory and gain the White House in two years, but you don’t have a filibuster proof majority; don’t push the Republicans into a corner where they’ll feel that they’ve nothing left to loose. By the way, add “culture of corruption” to the list of banned words; the Republicans managed to eliminate most of their problems in the act of losing, but you reelected someone who keeps $100,000 bribes in the freezer.

Republicans: You lost. Don’t blame the media- they were just as biased when you were winning. Don’t blame Bush alone- he’s the same Bush that was there when you were gaining seats rather than losing them. It’s disingenuous to spend money like a drunken sailor, than try to blame Bush for it because he didn’t veto it. It’s disingenuous to blame Bush alone for the way the war has been handled, when you’ve punted your oversight duties. Face the truth- you had lousy candidates, you didn’t govern well, and you didn’t campaign well. Ashcan the following words and phrases: Ten Commandments, gay marriage, flag burning, Christian Nation, prayer in school, abortion on demand. Tell the Religious Right the same thing the Democrats always tell African Americans: we sympathize with you, but we can’t afford your issues right now- it’s not like you’ll get anywhere voting for the other party.

Democrats: you have earned the right to change the agenda, and the country expects you to act quickly. But don’t make enemies in the process; although the cumulative victory was huge, each seat was narrowly run, and will be precariously held.

Republicans: life exacts a price for incompetence, and you’re paying it now. Be generous in defeat- make the transition smooth, don’t whine about how committees are organized, don’t play parliamentary games to needlessly hinder the Democratic agenda.

Both parties, new members and old: understand that most of the votes cast this election were against either Bush or Pelosi, not for you; all of you are on probation. In 2008 the voters are going to want to hear arguments over who gets the credit for things done, not who gets the blame for things not done. If there was ever in your lives a time for compromise, this is it. Yes, force a change in the way things are done in Iraq, but remember that if Iraq is allowed to fall the victorious terrorists will flood into Afghanistan and Pakistan, creating bloodbaths that will make the killing fields of Cambodia pale in comparison. Yes, reform the Patriot Act, but realize that we cannot return to the days when agencies couldn’t talk to each other and no one could “connect the dots.” Yes, make comprehensive emigration reforms, but realize that we must also gain control of our borders in the process- not for fear of terrorists, but simply to screen for drug lords and to give inoculations; we are starting to see outbreaks of diseases we had thought eliminated in America, such as polio and whooping cough. It's a rare thing to have a major election without any real, specific campaign promises; you have a free hand to do almost anything- use this opportunity well.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Important discovery

I spent the second half of the day with family matters, and could not watch any election results all night; and as a result, I have made an important discovery: the world still goes around even if I'm not cranking.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Nice quote

"When I was told that my lost pearl necklace had been turned in, my first thought was that I must be living right. It occured to me later that the person who found my necklace and turned it in was the one who was living right."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The best explanation

of the difference between Theists, Atheists, and Mystics I’ve ever seen. Lots of other cool stuff there, too.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The question of evil

CC posed a fascinating question for this month’s UU Carnival : Can people be evil? If so, what are the theological implications? If not, how can we account for all the evil that some people commit? My answer is yes, people can be evil- but first we must discus what evil is.

Life is always a balance, for man or nature; balancing the demands of the individual with the demands of the race. It’s a far more complex equation than merely quoting Spock: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few- or the one. It’s more complicated because you must assess the intensity of the need, and the intensity of the harm. Just how complicated the social algebra can be can be seen in some Eminent Domain cases- I recall a case where the state’s case for immediate eviction was quite compelling: every month delay cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in penalties and interest. But so was the homeowner’s case for staying: he had only six months to live (cancer), and he wanted to die in the bed his children had been born in and his wife had died in. How do you balance the relative harm?

Evil lies in the deliberate upsetting of this balance for your gratification. Great wealth is not evil, if you earned it; Sir Paul McCartney may have more money than God, but he received that money from millions of people who paid it in exchange for the hours of entertainment he gave them. On the other hand, a single dollar is evil if it’s stolen for any reason other than the support of life. A petty evil, granted... but then, serial killers often begin by pulling the wings off flies.

So far, I can’t imagine many UUs disagreeing with me. Where I differ with many is that I believe there are absolute evils, acts that no ‘situational ethic” can whitewash. I can start with an example from the book 1984: Winston was asked by the revolutionary (or so he thought) if he would be willing to throw acid in the face of a baby, if that would win the war. He answered “Yes”... and that answer cost him his soul, for he was forced to admit later that he had the same morals as “Big Brother”. I do not, can not believe in “situational ethics” if that means answering the question above “Yes.”

I do believe that there are evil people- those for whom personal gratification is dependent on the suffering of others. Many rapists don’t do it for the physical satisfaction (evil enough in itself), but just to see that look on the victims face. Schoolyard bullies (the kind who grow up to have careers in gangbanging) beat their victims for the same reason. A large percentage of dictators are like that; there is reason to believe Saddam Hussein is one of those- certainly his eldest son, who watched torture sessions as a kind of cabaret entertainment, was.

The theological implications, for me, are few. The Divinity I believe in does not compel, She only persuades, and any human occasionally allows mundane distractions to drown out that voice we hear with our souls rather than our ears. But the evil person is totally deaf to Her. Although a mental defect rather than a physical one, being deaf to the Divine’s pleas and the victims’ alike is a birth defect as surely as if he had been born without eardrums. My Divinity does not inflict birth defects as a test, or punishment unto the seventh generation; neither does she use evil people to inflict punishment upon sinners. To me, the only theological implication is whether the victims will listen to Her whispers and forgive evil, acting only to safeguard mankind and not to gain revenge.