Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How can you tell when a politician is lying?

No, no, it's not the lips- after all, even after a trip to the dentist when their lips are numbed by Novocain some of them are capable of lying. No, you can tell by watching them on RealScoop , a site that uses computer analysis of their voices to determine their believability level, with a bar at the bottom of the screen going from green to red. I can see one fly in the ointment: the software can only tell if the politician (or actor or entertainer or pundit- watch the clips, it's fun!) believes what he or she is saying- they could still be wrong. Judge for yourself from the clips.

TechCrunch isn't impressed, and points out other flaws- the party poopers- but they also say that RealScoop is going to cover the Debate Thursday! Accurate or not, it will be more fun to watch it there than on PBS!

A children's song

Enthusiasm for your candidate is a good thing; why would you vote for someone you weren't enthusiastic for? But this? This seriously creeps me out- I cannot believe Senator Obama, in his heart of hearts, would approve of this. It's sweet, reverent, hopeful... just like another children's song from Cabaret.

UPDATE: The song is working again, at the moment. no promises for the future.

An interesting take on what happened with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

This video was forwarded to me today, and I found it interesting. It is a series of CSPAN videos covering Congressional hearings into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, citing irregularities and predicting doom- in 2004. What I found interesting is not as much what was said, but who said it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

More on cultural misappropriation

Steve Caldwell at Liberal Faith Development has more specific examples of cultural misappropriation to discuss, in the form of video clips of "plastic shamans", Native American reactions, and some study questions. This is a major phenomenon; if you go to a national park such as Mesa Verde, you'll quickly find that every third visitor believes themselves to be the reincarnation of Crazy Horse.

Every religion has their version of a "plastic shaman" selling distorted versions of their heritage to the gullible; Judaism has them selling Kabbalah to Hollywood celebrities; Wicca has Silver Ravenwolf, et al; Asian religions have New Age practitioners making such a hash of them that they now rival cheap hotdogs for filler. The seekers who make these people rich are not the problem; they meant to be respectful of those traditions- why else would they pay so much to learn how to do it right? (Or so they thought when they laid out the cash) The problem isn't even the frauds selling made up spirituality- when a vacuum exists, there will always be schlock ready to fill it.

The problem is that vacuum. It has long been noted that there is a god-shaped hole in the human heart that must be filled with something. (Yes, I know that some of you atheists detest that quote, but even if it isn't true of you personally, it's demonstrably true of the vast majority of mankind) Most people have that hole satisfactorily filled before they're even aware of it by the mainstream culture. Even in nations not known to be particularly religious, it's virtually impossible to avoid primer level education in the "acceptable" religions.

But what if none of those float your boat? Your soul is S.O.L.; there is no generally available education in alternative or world religions, in church or in school. (Yes, there is U.U.R.E., but only for children- and UUs are statistically insignificant) Most of those religions, from Wicca to Native Americans to Taoists and more, do not proselytize; there's no Jack Chick handing out tracts for them. The seeker must truly seek- and what will they find first? The ones who do proselytize- the plastic shamans, the fluffy bunnies, the playgans, the one who buy their way to the top of Google lists. The ones who can afford to advertise because of how much they charge; the ones who alter the faith to make it sell better, the ones who, in the final analysis, all worship the same god: Mammon.

So what can we do about it? Actually do, I mean, as opposed to merely adding new language to our principles and Purposes that few UUs- and certainly no one else- will read and understand? I have recommended before that we, as a nation wide program, publicly offer adult R.E. courses. Recognized ministers from well known churches will be trusted over self-taught gurus; good information will drive out bad.

We are uniquely situated to do this. It cannot be done in the public schools; adding more religion there will result in millions of people throwing up their hands, spinning in circles, and going "Eek!" It cannot be done in most mainstream churches; they only recognize a single path to truth. If any church on Earth could feel bringing spirituality to seekers in need, people who are painfully vulnerable to those who would take advantage of them, a calling, it would be us.

We won't do it, of course- we must spend every spare penny on new fax machines for the Washington Advocacy Office. But I can dream.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rate the cultural misappropriation

There has been a lot of discussion lately about cultural misappropriation, sparked by new language in the proposed new Principles and Purposes. Much of the discussion has been largely theoretical; the only examples given were a few songs, and several of those didn't even originate in the culture now complaining of misappropriation. Here is an example tailor made for this discussion- a Pagan Seder . This is a perfect case to examine because the link provides the complete text, music, foods served, venue, and biography of the author.

Is this:

Perfectly ok, because he mentions that the original is a Jewish custom.

While not the worst ever, he stills falls short by not providing a lecture or handout explaining the context of the original customs, why they are still observed, and how his situation relates. In fact, it wouldn't have hurt to have invited a rabbi to speak.

An abomination- he mixes music and foods and questionable history and rituals willy-nilly, and some of the music even has multiple levels of misappropriation even before he misused it for his ritual.

I don't know from misappropriation- he served venison; he's a Bambi-killing barbarian!
How do you rate it?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The power of the human voice

In this day of computer generated blockbuster movies, we tend to forget the power of a human voice telling a tale of human drama. We forget that the radio play used to affect people as deeply as any movie, except on Halloween, when we are reminded that a radio play drove a nation-wide public panic.

One of my favorite hobby sites is Tales of Future Past , a site that celebrates what people thought 50 years ago our new century would look like in every aspect from space flight down to cooking and family life. (warning: this site is addictive, and can cause many wasted hours) One of the many, many fascinating things on there is a page of science fiction radio plays , from the 30s to the 50s. Two things about them are amazing: the first, how well these outdated stories hold up. These were written in a time when it was felt that good science fiction is first and foremost good fiction.

The second thing is just how well they work. One might think that perhaps a normal drama would still work on radio, but no modern scifi fan would be satisfied; we're just too sophisticated today. Try it and see- I think you'll be surprised. You just might be surprised at how timely these old stories are, too. You think alternative energy and public transportation are new issues? Listen to "The Roads Must Roll", by Robert A. Heinlein. The teaser: "Remember the old days when there were things called automobiles? Before the highways became so choked with traffic back in the 1950s that they literally ground to a halt? And then the Engineers took over and replaced the cars with the Roads; giant mechanised conveyors carrying millions of people across the continent everyday and most of the freight at up to a hundred miles an hour? Today the economy of the 21st century is utterly dependent on the Roads-- and the men who run them. Thank Heaven they are utterly dependable.

They'd better be, because the Roads must roll.

First aired on the NBC radio network on 4 January 1956"

Do you hate commercials? Are you on the no-call list? Listen to "The Space Merchants", by Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth
"Sure, pop up adverts are annoying, junk mail is frustrating, and spam is enough to make you want to tear your hair out, but it could be worse, At least the advertising agencies aren't running the place-- at least, not yet.

In the classic Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth novel, adapted in two parts by the CBS Radio Workshop, you will encounter a future where Madison Avenue rules the world and the morals of advertising are the law of the land. But what happens when one Mitchell Courtenay, Copysmith Star Class, is given the ultimate in sales campaigns: to sell the American people on emigrating to Venus.

First broadcast on the CBS radio network on 17 and 24 February 1957."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Obama should honor McCain's request to suspend

Senator McCain has suspended his campaign to concentrate on the economic fix, and asked Senator Obama to do the same, postponing debates until after an agreement on the economy is reached in Congress. So far, Obama has refused, saying the debates will go on even if he's the only one there. I think Senator Obama would be wise to change his mind.

Was McCain's request made in good faith? President Clinton thinks so . ""We know he didn't do it because he's afraid because Sen. McCain wanted more debates," Clinton said..." Even so, it could still be a trick- any grand gesture in an election cycle is suspect. But I still think he should go along with it.

Why? To do what Senator McCain is doing- to keep his Vice Presidential pick out of the public eye for some coaching. Joe Biden is a walking gaffe machine. If someone doesn't get him a tranquilizer and get him back on message, he could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory all by himself. Here's a sampling from the last ten days:

He angrily denied being in favor of clean coal technology, ranting about how that was something the Chinese did, and "No coal plants for America- let them build it over there,"... when both he and Obama individually as Senators have championed clean coal, and together have it in their campaign energy policy. The gaffe resulted in this devastating McCain ad.

Got their stance on the economic bailout package wrong, causing him to be publicly chided by Obama himself.

That echoed an earlier gaffe on the economy when he said that he didn't know a single economist who had said that raising taxes on the rich would hurt the economy during our present crisis- after Senator Obama had said that very thing himself.

And while we're on the economy, he criticized Bush's lack of public discussion by saying "When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed." FDR wasn't President when the market crashed, of course, and commercially available television wouldn't be offered to the public for another ten years...

Called one of his own campaign commercials terrible , saying, “I didn’t know we did it, and if I had anything to do with it, we’d have never done it.” This from the man who says the other candidate is "out of touch".

Said that raising taxes on the rich- you know, that thing that Obama said would harm the fragile economy- was patriotic . How can Obama complain about the Republicans wrapping themselves in the flag when his running mate is doing the same thing?

I'm not even counting a myriad of lesser gaffes, like "You need to work on your pecs", or "Stand up and let them see you", or "She might have been a better pick". These are harmless in themselves, although if he keeps it up the cumulative effect could be toxic.

Senator Obama has nothing to fear in his own debates, but he'd better start worrying about the Vice presidential ones. Governor Palin is no Jefferson or Adams in the intellect department, but she is a savvy politician with a true talent for snark. Biden has already given her enough ammunition to turn the debate into a celebrity roast if she so chooses. Or she could take just one- use his coal gaffe as a launch pad for her only area of expertise, energy, for example- and make herself look presidential. And that's assuming he doesn't make another gaffe during the debate- something i wouldn't bet on.

Senator Obama should listen to Senator McCain and take the bye week- and use it sending Biden back to political boot camp.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Of symbols and Chaos Magic

Doug Muder has an interesting article in the UU World entitled Assembly of a lesser god , and discusses it further in his blog . The concepts he uses are, as he notes, Pagan, derived from Choas Magic . The question is whether there is anything to it, or is it all New-Age gobbledygook that should be disdained any rational modern?

I am a Pagan and, amongst other things, an animist. I believe that we, and everything around us, is made of the stuff of gods, (and vice-versa), and that everything has (to whatever minimal extent it might be) a soul and a level of understanding. And no, I cannot prove it; it just feels right- I know the difference between faith and fact. But I do know that good things come from behaving as if it were true.

One part of such animist belief is trying to understand things as their own souls perceive themselves. People have noted that cats seem to have an affinity for me. Perhaps that's because I perceive them differently than many, as I explained in a post I wrote for Ms. Kitty : "The lesson is to learn to love things as they are, not as we would like them to be. Cats are not small dogs, nor fuzzy children, nor animated stuffed toys- they are the most ferocious killing machines Mother Nature has ever unleashed into the underbrush, their ecological niche. We must remember that their affection for us, while genuine, is a perversion of their pack (pride?) instincts- we haven't tamed nor civilized them, we have merely stepped into one or more roles that would otherwise have been filled by elder cats in a pride."

The same holds true for "inanimate" objects; you have to find what a tool "wants" to do. I once had a pocketknife that I liked, even though it wasn't good for anything. It was awkward and near useless whittling; I couldn't even cook with it. (Yes, I use pocketknives and a small hatchet for cooking rather than kitchen cutlery- I learned a lot of my cooking outdoors, ok?) Then one day I got frustrated while trying to sculpt "The Hound of the Baskervilles"; it was going nowhere, and in my anger I threw the sculpting tools across the room and drew my pocketknife... and it came alive in my hand. Every stroke was sure and true, smooth and accurate, without hesitation. This was what the knife was meant for- I never used it for mundane cutting again.

How does this relate to Doug's article? Many Pagans will search for a deity with a known affinity for the subject they're addressing (I often appeal to Calliope), just as I searched for the proper role of that knife. A Chaos Magician may decide to create such a deity, imbued with the attributes needed, and appeal to that god(dess)- like Doug's Olly. And it works, if he can control his perception. Why? Because none of us- not Pagan nor Christian nor Muslim nor Jew- addresses the true deity; we address what our mortal limits allow us to perceive.

It's a political axiom that perception is reality. They mean that cynically; Chaos Magicians- and many other Pagans- mean it literally. Materialists dismiss that claim as self delusion; there is only objective reality and fantasy. But what is "objective reality"?

A physicist will tell you that we don't live in Newton's world; we live in the universe of Einstein, Schrodinger, and Dirac. That is "reality". But in truth, unless you're a nuclear physicist or a former citizen of Hiroshima, you do live in Newton's world. Everything you will ever do or see follows his rules; even the supersonic jets and missiles that would deliver an atomic bomb obey his laws- that, too, is "reality". You could build a rocket and send men to the Moon without ever doing business with Einstein.

It is also "objective reality" that anything dealing with the human equation- which is virtually our entire lives, even if you're an engineer- is dealing with human perceptions and human understanding. All our loves, hates, happiness, despair, success, failure, joy, misery- everything that matters- is utterly dependant upon how we perceive and understand our world... and those perceptions and understandings are controlled by our symbols. Manipulating those symbols- even your own- means controlling those perceptions- even your own- and thereby controlling your reality. Is life "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.", or is this "the best of all possible worlds", with any hardships being just a foible in a thing of beauty, like getting a flat tire on a Lexus? Both are equally true, for by believing them, you make them so.

As Doug noted, followers of Rita really do find parking places, and followers of placebo really do get well. And, as Doug also noted, one can create all kinds of explanations as to why that might be so. If you demand a definitive answer- "Do witches and magicians affect objective reality or not?", I will quote Louis Armstrong: "If you have to ask the question, you wouldn't understand the answer." But I will note one thing in passing: Rita's followers are happy when they find a parking spot; aggressive atheists like Dawkins find happiness in proving everyone else fools- I know whose company I'd rather keep.

I felt a sense of deja vu reading the blog discussions of cultural misappropriation,

and I've finally realized why; I'd heard the same arguments from one of my brothers:

He: It's not their ritual; they have no right to it. It can't possibly have the same meaning for them.

Me: They draw their own meaning from it. And anyway, what skin is it off your nose? It doesn't affect your use of it.

He: But it does! It distorts the whole concept, makes it meaningless!

The only difference is that my brother was referring to gay marriage.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I got a call from a pollster...

A quick aside- dontcha just love how when the "No-Call List" legislation was written, the politicians exempted themselves from it? Anyway... here's how it went:

Her: Do you intend to vote in the Presidential election this year?

Me: Yes.

Her: Are you going to vote for John McCain or Barack Obama?

Me: Neither one.

Her: Then you're undecided?

Me: No, I've decided.

Her: Then are you going to vote for John McCain or Barack Obama?

Me: There are five Presidential candidates on the Indiana ballot, you know. And eight more allowable write-ins. I'm not going to vote for either McCain or Obama; I'm voting for one of the other eleven.

Her: That's not a choice on my sheet.

Me: Well, it should be.

Her: I'll put you down as undecided. Does supporting abortion rights make you more or less likely to vote for that candidate?

Me: It's not a consideration.

Her: What do you mean?

Me: I mean abortion isn't one of my issues. I don't care where they stand. Put me down as undecided.

Her: Undecided isn't one of the choices for this question.

Me: Imagine my surprise.

Her: Then what do I put down?

Me: I don't care; pick one.

Her: Ummm...

It kind of went downhill from there. I actually did try to cooperate with her as best as I could- but given the nature of her questions, my best wasn't very good. I couldn't help wondering as she continued if this was one of those polls that would determine that Obama would have 75% of the vote if it weren't for racism.

Simple answers to global warming

One of the biggest problems in dealing with any complex question is that many simple, common sense measures are dismissed because they are not a complex, comprehensive solution- a corollary of the axiom "the perfect is the enemy of the good enough". There are always people who, when your house is on fire, want to debate the root causes of house fires, and create blue ribbon panels to draft legislation about home building codes and materials- putting the fire out would be "too simplistic".

I have written here before about one such simple partial solution: giving tax breaks to encourage people to replace their black or dark colored roofs with white or light colored roofs. I have been talking about this program (and many other similar ones) since the days of the first gas crisis thirty years ago, when the issue was just saving energy. I've even put it on the internet before- when I was a guest on a radio show to discuss school vouchers , the host suggested before the show that I ought to put it on a website, and he would give out the address on the show; to flesh out the site, I included many of my other proposals, including some on passive solar energy .

Back then, when people wrote my proposals off as "too simplistic to have any real effect", I didn't have the resources to put numbers to it. But now some researchers have, and the numbers are even bigger than I had guessed. According to these stories from Science Magazine and The LA Times , replacing black roofs with white ones and replacing black asphalt roads with white concrete would offset 44 metric gigatons of greenhouse gases!

One of the best things about this proposal is that it can be done immediately, and we don't have to wait until it's finished to reap some benefits- even the smallest beginning will yield big results right away. "According to Hashem Akbari, a physicist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a 1,000-square-foot roof -- the average size on an American home -- offsets 10 metric tons of planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere if dark-colored shingles or coatings are replaced with white material."

Is this a solution in itself? No. But this, (any many other similar, easy programs) can have a huge effect, can be done immediately, and require no new scientific breakthroughs, no new research programs- it's all off the shelf stuff, using materials already in mass production. But will any of our politicians adopt them? No, they're too simplistic. They don't buy votes in wavering congressional districts. They don't result in new government plum jobs to hand out to supporters. They won't get your name put on a new government office building in your home district. Better to just keep debating Kyoto.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

One last time...

I had intended to let this matter drop, but since I have been addressed directly by Rev. Sean , I'll take one more stab at what I meant.

There's an old joke that rewritten for this situation might help explain how I see it. There's a long line at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and people are starting to grumble. A conservative says, "Typical government inefficiency- they should contract this out to private enterprise." A liberal says, "Typical of this miserly administration- they should raise taxes on the rich and hire more clerks." A Unitarian Universalist says, "They're just stalling to avoid waiting on the black man in line- typical of our oppressive society."

Any of their theories might be true. Or maybe the Bureau is having computer problems. Maybe someone is sick, and they're shorthanded. Maybe it isn't the clerk's fault at all- the people in line don't have their paperwork in order. It doesn't really matter what the truth is. All three of the complainers, with no objective basis for their opinion, using only their predisposition to believe certain things, have constructed a scenario that "obviously must be true". This is what the author of "This is your nation on white privilege" did.

He took ordinary political hypocrisies, (some of which weren't even true, but that's beside the point), rewrote them as racial hypocrisies, then criticized the nation for what were, after all, his own assumptions. Example: "White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter,..." Four years ago, Howard Dean ran as Governor of Vermont- a state with a smaller population than Alaska, much smaller in fact than the city of Indianapolis- and a much smaller Gross State Product than Alaska. He had no political experience prior to his election as Lt. Governor, (He became Governor when Richard Snelling died in office); not even as Mayor of a small town- not even as community organizer. Not only did people not piss themselves laughing, he was the early front-runner. There is no objective basis for the charge of "white privilege".

The Eclectic Cleric did much the same thing. He set up a series of hypothetical situations, presumed to know what our reactions to them would be, then presumed to know the motivation for those presumed reactions, then said "This is what racism does." Doesn't anyone see anything wrong with that?

Of course, all the hypotheticals of both authors exist only to set up their basic assumption: the only reason that Senator Obama isn't 20 points ahead is racism. That's possible, of course- but what is the objective reason for believing so? As I pointed out in my previous post , Senator Obama is polling as well as or better than every other Presidential candidate has in the last twenty years at this point in the cycle. There's simply no discrepancy to explain away.

Rev. Sean doesn't accept that answer. "And sorry Joel, “Other elections were close too” is NOT a logical argument. It’s possible that if Obama were a white man the polls would be showing a landslide in his favor. We’ll never know." He's right- we'll never know. But since we don't know, why are you assuming that an unknowable possibility is more logical than a known history? It's also possible that if Senator Obama were a white man, he'd have lost the primaries in a landslide and Senator Clinton would be the nominee. We'll never know.

Rev. Sean also said, "See, there is one huge fallacy in Joel’s response: He argues that pointing out systemic racism is itself an act of hatred. He thinks uncovering and talking about racism is the same as “an ugly desire to see the worst in the other side.”" He has two fallacies of his own there. The first is that his "quote" is not my words. But more importantly, he has the concept wrong. I applaud pointing out systemic racism. What I object to is inventing systemic racism when there's no objective reason to believe that it's an important factor in a given situation. I object to assuming that a given situation must exist, and then when it doesn't, assuming without evidence that the reason for the discrepancy is not a flaw in your own logic, but rather a flaw in other people's character. I do believe that you must have a deep contempt for your fellow man to believe that the reason half of them disagree with you is racism.

Rev. Sean also says, "Neither of the essays accused people of racism. They did, however, look at some of the ways systemic racism (the preference for white folks over black that is built into our culture and systems) may be affecting the election." That is sheer sophistry. This whole discussion is about why Senator Obama isn't as far ahead as his supporters think he should be. Well, cultures and systems don't answer pollsters. Cultures and systems don't vote. Oppressive laws and corporate practices don't vote. People do. It's not possible to blame racism for poll results without accusing the people who answered those pollsters of racism.

Nobody is arguing that racism isn't a pervasive problem. Although they do argue about whether it's "white privilege" or "class privilege", no one is arguing that unearned privilege isn't an obstacle to raising people out of poverty. Racism is a factor. But it is A factor, not THE factor. I believe that today- not in the days of slavery, not in the days of lynching and Jim crow, but in 2008- there are other "isms" of equal and even greater importance.

Sexism: Does anyone seriously doubt that sexism- and the cover-up of the Edwards affair- is the reason Senator Clinton isn't the nominee? Polls showed that even in the deep south, men preferred a black man to a white woman in the White House- and an amazing number of women agreed. Women have always ridden in the caboose of the civil rights train. I remember hearing Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, say at a convention that he got more complaints over Lt. Uhura, a woman, giving orders to men than he got over having Capt. Kirk being court-martialed by a black admiral.

Lookism: I could never be elected to a position much higher than City Council because I'm fat. Despite being an overweight nation, it's been nearly a century since we've had a portly President. Even Governors have to be slim- you can count on one hand the number of overweight governors there've been since the invention of television. People simply won't vote for a fat person unless they know them personally. You have to be tall, too- there have only been a couple Presidents under six foot tall in the history of the United states, and none in the last hundred years. President Bush stands unique in the modern era for having defeated a taller man. And these qualities are very nearly as important in the corporate world as the political. People who go above and beyond in the recruiting of minorities still have no problem with telling fat jokes, and hiring, firing, and promoting by weight.

Able-ism: there has never been a candidate from either party with a widely known handicap (Roosevelt and Kennedy concealed their infirmities) except for John McCain and Bob Dole- and they're special cases in that their ailments were received in the process of becoming war heroes. Even so, they can still get around on their own in public. I don't believe we'll ever see a wheelchair in the oval office, because medical science will develop cures and life-like powered exoskeletons faster than the public will get over this prejudice.

CORRECTION: The Eclectic Cleric is not the author of the quotes I mistakenly attributed to him; they were emailed to him, and he just posted it. The authors:

Mary M. Gaylord
Sosland Family Professor of Romance Languages andLiteratures
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Undergraduate Adviser for Romance Studies
424 Boylston Hall, Harvard YardCambridge MA 02138

Jane R. Dickie
Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies.
Hope College.
Holland, MI 49423

Friday, September 19, 2008

Enough of discord

Seek your bliss, soothe your spirit with Loops of Zen

Real change in campaign '08:

"Stop hating the other party.", says Seth Freeman of The Christian Science Monitor. "As angry and politically active as I am this presidential election, I'm starting to notice a problem as I fight for my side: The more engaged I am and the more the polls seesaw, the more I find I have an ugly desire to see the worst in the other side. The technical term for this condition is hate."

Did anyone out there just wince? I pray that many did, because I don't know anyone who is truly involved in politics who is wholly immune to this, myself included. I have seen the faces of thoughtful, considerate people- the kind who, when discussing a mass murderer, would try to understand the terrible childhood traumas that must have driven him to the act- harden as they spit venom at anyone who would vote for the other party.

"Hate has the annoying tendency to turn into hypocrisy. I laugh with glee when my side catches the other's lies and follies. To a point, that's healthy and cathartic.
But you don't hear me laughing when the other side returns the favor. Then I discount the point and quietly fume at the attack itself. Don't they understand our side is the good one?"

Still haven't winced yet? How about this:

"Hate also kills thinking. In 2004, my wife and I did a simple exercise with some of our liberal and conservative friends.
We asked each to imagine seeing their side from the other's perspective. "We're not asking you to agree with them," we said, "we're just asking if you can understand them."

Though our friends were educated, compassionate, and capable of great empathy, they found our request impossible. "I can't," they said. "Maybe I should, but I can't. They're just crazy – or evil." Perhaps you felt that way recently as you watched one of the conventions. "Who are those people?""

Has anyone recognized themselves yet? Yes, I have been guilty of that emotion- but I also have been actively fighting against it, and have defended both sides from unfair attacks. But I can count on one hand the number of blogs who are doing so; the whole country seems to be wallowing in their spite.

"But can I fight hard without damaging my heart, my relationships, or the country I claim to love?
Borrowing from two astute politicians, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, I'm looking for ways to want good things for the other side, see the good in them, and genuinely see the force of their arguments."

Don't you wish those words had appeared in a UU blog? The sad truth is that the UU blogosphere is damaging hearts, relationships, and the country without fighting effectively for their side. You think I exaggerate? Look at what we have been posting; as an old local politician myself, I can guarantee you that no mind has ever been changed by a "GILF" tee shirt, a "Jesus was a political organizer" button, or accusing your opponents of being racist- if anything, it hardens hearts against you. Can you show me a blog post with an in-depth, deeper-than-bumper-sticker discussion of issues? The only ones I can think of are Rev. Debra W. Haffner's- and she was only using political news as a hook for her standard (excellent) sexuality discussions.

Can't we take the lead here? We're UUs; we pride ourselves on bringing rational discussion to moral issues. As Seth said, "Think of it as a kind of counterinsurgency. Or a response to another, more serious, inconvenient truth."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't even go there

With all the discussions about breastfeeding at work sparked by the selection of Governor Palin, no one has considered the question of breastfeeding as work. Apparently, neither did the Swiss government; they are flummoxed by Swiss restaurant to serve meals cooked with human breast milk "The owner of the Storchen restaurant in the exclusive Winterthur resort will improve his menu with local specialities such as meat stew and various soups and sauces containing at least 75 per cent of mother's milk."

Don't imagine that I don't see where your mind is going; I can see the wheels turning. "Hey, you know those seafood restaurants where you pick the lobster they're going to cook..." Don't even go there.

P.S. No "Swiss Miss" cocoa jokes, either.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stop it. Just stop it.

First we had People So Bold! and UU Mom repeating "This is Your Nation on White Privilege", a diatribe that claims that ordinary political hypocrisy, practiced by every party in every election everywhere, (plus a lot of bias by the author) is proof of white privilege. Then there's The Eclectic Cleric saying "This is how racism works". All of them are basically saying the same thing as CNN's Jack Cafferty : "The differences between Barack Obama and John McCain couldn't be more well-defined. Obama wants to change Washington. McCain is a part of Washington and a part of the Bush legacy. Yet the polls remain close. Doesn't make sense…unless it's race." Stop it. It's worse than just nonsense; it's hateful, willfully ignorant nonsense.

Try to set the emotionalism aside for a moment and think back four years ago. If you forget vague platitudes like unspecified "change" and look at the specific issues, the differences between Bush and Kerry were actually greater than those now between McCain and Obama. The outrage over the war was much higher- today, you can't even find it in the news if you look. The personal venom was even higher- remember "swift boats"? And yet the polls remained close. And they were both WASPs. Those numbers have been frozen in place for decades. Look at the winning margins of the last four elections:
Bush 2004 50.7%
Bush 2000 47.9%
Clinton 1996 49.2%
Clinton 1992 43.0%

"But... but... but..." you sputter? "But this year is different- Bush was awful" Yeah? Well so was Nixon. And the Republican who ran in 1976 had voted with Nixon 90% of the time before his impeachment, then pardoned Nixon after he took office, then gaffed badly in the debates- and over foreign policy, during the cold war. And yet Carter won by only 50.1%

This nation is deeply, deeply divided- by party. Trying to claim it's because of the race of the candidate is foolish when the numbers haven't changed by a single point even when both candidates are the same race. Worse, it's illogical- would people so racist that they'll vote against their own interests over race have voted for a candidate with a child of color, and welcomed a running mate who married a mixed-race man? Worse yet, it's unseemly for a man of the cloth to show such contempt for his fellow man that the first thing that leaps to his mind when the whole country doesn't agree with him is racism.

Of PPs and Creeds

The rewrite of the Principles and Purposes has launched anew the complaints that some UUs treat the PPs as if they were a creed. Of course they do; the PPs are a creed. The Unitarian Universalist faith is not, never has been, and cannot be a "creedless religion"; it is disingenuous to claim that it is. Or, for that matter, that a creedless religion can exist at all.

What is a creed? The dictionary on my desk says, "a set of fundamental beliefs ; also : a guiding principle". The PPs fit both halves of that definition; they are beliefs, not facts. We acknowledge that with our language; one doesn't covenant or affirm a fact, one recognizes or becomes aware of it. I don't believe, covenant, or honor that the Sun rises in the morning; I recognize the fact that it does. That being the case, I do not feel the need to add that the Sun rises to my credo. Nor do I fellowship for the purpose of recognizing known facts.

We covenant to honor and uphold concepts such as "dignity and worth" and "right of conscience" precisely because they are not provable facts. We believe that these behaviors will bring the greatest good to the greatest number; we cannot prove them. For that matter, that the greater good should be sought by the individual is an unprovable belief. Even the subordinate clauses and sentences used to explain the beliefs are themselves beliefs.

I know many UUs are allergic the the very words "belief" and "creed", and I can imagine why; they've been hurt by too-rigid creeds in the churches of their youth. Others say they are rationalists; they deal only in facts. But religions deal in truths, not facts. Truths are shared beliefs about the meaning of the facts; the fact itself simply is. If we share a list of such beliefs, they are a creed. If we don't, why do we fellowship at all? Take care in drawing up such a document, yes. Make it as inclusive as possible, certainly. Or drop it entirely if we cannot agree. But to have a creed and pretend it is not one is simply dishonest. And yes, that is a belief.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Turn about is fair gotcha?

When interviewing Governor Palin, Charles Gibson had a "gotcha" moment when she was hesitant on his question about the "Bush Doctrine". (although the pundit who coined the phrase said Gibson got it wrong, too)

Now it's Joe Biden's turn for a "gotcha". In this interview, he was unaware some economists say tax increases on the wealthy could hurt the economy more. "I don't know any economists who are saying that.”

Well he should know someone who said it just a week ago- Senator Obama Hey, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt; perhaps what he meant was that Senator Obama is no economist.

The Democratic Party caused the recession

I discovered this accidentally while going over the stats on my blog. My traffic is three to four times higher during the week than on the weekends, with most of it coming before 8:00 P.M. Drilling down further, I saw that it varied geographically; most of the hits were coming before 5:00 P.M. in each time zone- clearly, most people web surf at work. No surprise there, just confirmation.

Normally, this is not a problem for employers. Outside of email, the internet is used for only four things: buying term papers, porn, music videos, and politics. If you're already working, you don't need to buy term papers; filters prevent porn and video access, and scanning your favorite political blogs usually takes only a few minutes. You've lost less time at work from that than you lose at the water cooler talking about sports or what was on TV last night, even during an election year.

The pattern would have remained the same this year if the Democrats had run the usual crop of candidates; people like Biden and Edwards and Lieberman, people so deadly dull that they confiscate belts and shoelaces at rallies to prevent suicides. But not this year. Nooooo, this year the Democrats just had to run Senators Clinton and Obama. Suddenly, everyone was interested in politics. The blogosphere expanded exponentially, with every entry on Huffington or Newsmax receiving hundreds of replies. Productivity plummeted as millions of people spent their day comparing her glass ceiling to his change, instead of paying attention to their jobs. Of course the economy tanked!

You want proof? Look at the timing. The economy actually recovered from the multiple hits of Enron, 9/11, Katrina, etc., and cruised comfortably for several years. Why? Because the only political story in those years was George Bush, and nobody was interested in anything he had to say. Then Obama and Clinton filed their formal declarations of candidacy, and the economy started to slide. During the hard-fought primaries, it slid into recession. Then governor Palin was selected, and Lehman Bros. and Merrill Lynch went bust. The timing checks up and down the line- remember that it's the Democrats' fault that Gov. Palin was selected; had it been a Dodd/Biden ticket, McCain would have picked Gov. Pawlenty. Had that happened, nobody would be reading Daily Kos or Drudge at work, they'd be working instead- increasing productivity and profits. They would be working overtime instead of leaving at 5:00 and spending their spare time working phone banks and registering voters.

It's all the Democrats' fault.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Please get tested

Some of my regular readers- maybe all three of you- may have noticed an increase in my posting the last couple months. I've hesitated writing about what's going on because I've written too much about my health problems the last couple years, and I also wanted to wait and see if the change is real. It is.

I have sleep apnea, and probably have had for a few years. I never got tested, partially because many of the symptoms could also have been caused by other, known health problems I had. But as they were eliminated one by one and the symptoms continued, I finally listened to Ginger and got myself tested. Not only did I have apnea, i had a severe case- they got me a CPAP machine the same day.

The difference is amazing. Now I sleep when i sleep- real REM sleep, too, complete with dreams. When I wake up, I'm actually awake- no more staggering around with "the stares" for an hour or two until I've gotten a pot of coffee under my belt. Oh, there are side benefits- like that "not dying early" thing- but the way I feel in the morning alone is worth more than I can tell. Compared to the way I felt before using the CPAP machine, it's like being on crystal meth, except without the psychosis and damaged internal organs.

So if you have any of the symptoms of sleep apnea, get yourself tested. It is real, and the consequences are severe. I quote from The American Sleep Apnea Association website: "Untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches. Moreover, untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for job impairment and motor vehicle crashes." Many doctors say that warning isn't worded strongly enough.

Get yourself tested.

My thoughts on "cultural misappropriation"

Many bloggers have written about this, but my thoughts were sparked by Kim Hampton , who wrote about it passionately, and CC , who wrote more pensively.

A creative writing teacher once told me that the more intensely personal my story was, the more universal it would be. CC demonstrates that principle with an anecdote about a black friend who was offended by a white man singing "Old Man River". "But at the same time, I knew how deeply the words "Tired of living and scared of dying" resonated with me, and the idea that no matter what, the river just kept rolling along." Actually, it was doubly demonstrated- the lyrics resonated so well with her black friend that he was unaware it was actually written by a white man. Interestingly enough, the same phenomenon was brought up by Rev. Fred L Hammond , who spoke of the song "This Little Light of Mine"; "The original composers sung it in defiance of the slavery and the cruelty they faced by their task masters. No amount of abusive infliction of pain and suffering was going to take away from them their integrity and dignity as humans. “This Little Light of Mine” no longer sounds like a cutesy children’s song, does it?" But in a postscript, he adds, "I just read in Wikipedia that “This Little Light of Mine” while long considered to be an African American Spiritual, it is in fact not. It was written in the 1920’s by Harry Dixon Loes. It was however ‘appropriated’ as an anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s, so my point above is still valid in more ways than one."

If words are true, does it matter if they were first spoken by Aristotle, Rabbi Hillel, or Langston Hughes? No culture is so pure that it was not influenced by all cultures that came before, and surround it today. Wiccans know full well that their practices are an amalgam of folk culture and bits taken from the Freemasons and the Golden Dawn, others. All Christian practices are taken from those who came before- Jesus gave no instructions on how to perform a mass. There is nothing new under the sun- including that quote.

Cultures don't just spring into being; they evolve, just like bodies do. I have a vivid mental image of a Neanderthal telling a Cro-Magnon, "You can't sing that song- it's ours"... and an orangutan telling that Neanderthal, "You can't use handprints in your cave drawings- hands are our thing!" I understand why the cries of "cultural misappropriation"- it's the pride of possession. But excessive pride becomes a deadly sin, and most religions have warnings about becoming too deeply attached to possessions.

Merriam Webster online defines "misappropriation" as ": to appropriate wrongly (as by theft or embezzlement)" But misappropriation is a crime because it denies the original owner the possession and use of the thing stolen- "cultural misappropriation" does not do this. Words, truths, wisdoms, are the one class of possessions that can be taken without depriving the creator of it's use. When the civil Rights movement appropriated "This Little Light of Mine", they did not deprive anyone else of the meaning they drew from the song. If a UU congregation performs a Seder, or a Samhain ritual- with or without a dissertation on the origins and a FAQ on the back of the program- they have harmed no Jews or Wiccans in the process. It's hard enough to draw meaning from this confusing world even without someone saying "No, you can't have that symbol; it's mine." Writing a preemptive "Thou shalt not" into our PPs just on general principles is a burden we don't need.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I'm getting the cold shoulder in my own home.

I drove Ginger to the airport this morning. The cats are used to seeing me drive off with her in the morning- but this time I didn't fetch her back in the evening. Now they're all lined up glaring at me- they know what it means when I drive off with one of them and don't bring them back the same day. How do I explain to them that I didn't leave her at the vet?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More reviews coming in on the Charles Gibson/ Sarah Palin interview

And many are saying it proves the press bias against Gov. Palin that 51% of the people already believed. This is the purest example, they say, because Gibson is the only journalist to have interviewed all the candidates, so it's a direct apples to apples comparison. They base their case on the questions asked, and how they were edited.

Three months ago Gibson interviewed Senator Obama, and asked the following questions:
How does it feel to break a glass ceiling?
How does it feel to “win”?
How does your family feel about your “winning” breaking a glass ceiling?
Who will be your VP?
Should you choose Hillary Clinton as VP?
Will you accept public finance?
What issues is your campaign about?
Will you visit Iraq?
Will you debate McCain at a town hall?
What did you think of your competitor’s [Clinton] speech?

The questions he asked Gov. Palin:
Do you have enough qualifications for the job you’re seeking? Specifically have you visited foreign countries and met foreign leaders?
Aren’t you conceited to be seeking this high level job?
Questions about foreign policy
-territorial integrity of Georgia
-allowing Georgia and Ukraine to be members of NATO-NATO treaty-Iranian nuclear threat
-what to do if Israel attacks Iran-Al Qaeda motivations
-the Bush Doctrine
-attacking terrorists harbored by PakistanIs America fighting a holy war? [misquoted Palin]

I'm not a journalist; i just play one on the internet... but it does seem to me that there is a difference in tone and seriousness in the two sets of questions.

On the question of editing, I'm aware that all interviews that are not live are edited, and people often complain about the editing. In this case, we have the transcript of the entire interview, including the edited parts, to judge for ourselves. Some examples:
This was broadcast:
GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?

PALIN: They’re our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.

Gov. Palin was widely ridiculed for her answer. The follow-up Q&A was edited out for time restraints:
GIBSON: What insight does that give you into what they’re doing in Georgia?

PALIN: Well, I’m giving you that perspective of how small our world is and how important it is that we work with our allies to keep good relation with all of these countries, especially Russia. We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it’s in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.
We cannot repeat the Cold War. We are thankful that, under Reagan, we won the Cold War, without a shot fired, also. We’ve learned lessons from that in our relationship with Russia, previously the Soviet Union.
We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it’s in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.

There was another question about Russia that got edited. What appeared on TV:
GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help.

Again, a widely criticized answer- a number of people called it scary. But it's a partial answer- here is what was edited out because of those pesky time constraints:

But NATO, I think, should include Ukraine, definitely, at this point and I think that we need to — especially with new leadership coming in on January 20, being sworn on, on either ticket, we have got to make sure that we strengthen our allies, our ties with each one of those NATO members.
We have got to make sure that that is the group that can be counted upon to defend one another in a very dangerous world today.

GIBSON: And you think it would be worth it to the United States, Georgia is worth it to the United States to go to war if Russia were to invade.

PALIN: What I think is that smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against. We have got to be cognizant of what the consequences are if a larger power is able to take over smaller democratic countries.
And we have got to be vigilant. We have got to show the support, in this case, for Georgia. The support that we can show is economic sanctions perhaps against Russia, if this is what it leads to.
It doesn’t have to lead to war and it doesn’t have to lead, as I said, to a Cold War, but economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, again, counting on our allies to help us do that in this mission of keeping our eye on Russia and Putin and some of his desire to control and to control much more than smaller democratic countries.
His mission, if it is to control energy supplies, also, coming from and through Russia, that’s a dangerous position for our world to be in, if we were to allow that to happen.

There are other examples; the full transcript is available through links below. One could argue that it makes no difference, that her full answers were as trite as the clipped ones were silly-sounding. But the producers at ABC news were insane to edit a single word. They had nothing to gain, and reputation to lose- even some Democrats who detest Palin are saying it certainly sounds like she got a raw deal.

In politics, perception is reality, and the perception of an ever-growing number of people is that the mainstream media is now an active participant in the race rather than an observer. If this keeps up, I see two things happening: as enthusiasm and sympathy for the Palin/McCain ticket (let's be honest) grows, the race becomes there's to lose; and no matter who wins, faith in the system and the fourth estate lose.

The Anchoress

Hot Air

Friday, September 12, 2008

My rewrite of the new PPs

Section C-2.1 Purposes.
As a voluntary association of free yet interdependent congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association will support the health and growth of existing congregations and the formation of new congregations. The Association will devote its resources to and exercise its corporate powers for religious, educational, and humanitarian purposes.

Stricken: "It will empower the creation of just and diverse congregations that enact Unitarian Universalist Principles in the world." As "the formation of new congregations" had already been mentioned, this sentence serves no purpose other than to introduce the words "just and diverse". And just how are we going to guarantee that these new congregations are "just and diverse"? Will there be ethnic and demographic standards written? If not, does that sentence have any meaning?

Section C-2.2 Identity.
The Unitarian Universalist Association is composed of congregations rooted in the heritage of two religious faiths: the Unitarian heritage ever questioning and ever seeking the unity in all things, and the Universalist heritage ever affirming the power of hope and God’s infinite love. Both traditions have been shaped by those who in every age have summoned individuals and communities to maintain their beliefs in spite of persecution and to struggle for religious freedom.

Replaced: "those" replace "heretics, choice-makers". Not all influential UUs have been heretics, and all human beings are choice-makers.

Section C-2.3 Sources.
The living tradition we share draws from many sources.
Unitarianism and Universalism are grounded on more than two thousand years of Jewish and Christian teachings, traditions, and experiences. Unitarian Universalism is not contained in any single book or creed. It draws from the teachings of the Abrahamic religions, Earth-centered spirituality, and other world religious traditions. It engages perspectives from humanism, mysticism, theism, skepticism, naturalism, and feminist and liberation theologies. It is informed by the arts and the sciences. It trusts the value of direct experiences of mystery and wonder, and it recognizes the sacred may be found within the ordinary.

Stricken: "Wisdom and beauty may be expressed in many forms: in poetry and prose, in story and song, in metaphor and myth, in drama and dance, in fabric and painting, in scripture and music, in drawing and sculpture, in public ritual and solitary practice, in prophetic speech and courageous deed." Evocative and poetic, But completely off topic. This section is a list of our sources, not of how one expresses one's spirituality.

Stricken: "Grateful for the traditions that have strengthened our own, we strive to avoid misappropriation of cultural and religious practices and to seek ways of appreciation that are respectful and welcomed." As others have noted, this is ill defined and divisive. If we want to adopt such a statement, let's debate it and include it in social justice somewhere- not here.

Section C-2.4 Principles.
In order that we might work together in harmony to make our communities and our world more likely to protect and nurture all that is positive and hopeful; and in order that members of our congregations might find spiritual challenge to become their best selves as they worship and work together to create the Beloved Community, we, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to honor and uphold:

The inherent worth and dignity of every person
The sanctity of human life is not dependent upon race, religion, place of birth, or any human institution; it is the condition of our existence. No person's humanity can be denied without damaging all of humanity.

Stricken: "At the core of Unitarian Universalism is recognition of the sanctity of every human being across the lifespan." What does "across the lifespan" mean- from conception? "We are relational creatures, capable of both good and evil." Well, duh. "We have experienced enough brokenness, including in ourselves, to seek the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. We are called to make choices that help to heal and transform ourselves and the world, and to move toward solidarity with all beings." What does "solidarity with all beings" mean? Some kind of PETA thing? The whole paragraph is needlessly confusing.

Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations
Grateful for the gift of life and mindful of our own mortality, we seek to respond with generosity and loving action. We are called to live in right relationship with others.

Acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth
We seek to enter dialogue with one another in mutual love and respect, honoring our varied backgrounds and paths. We are called to stretch and deepen our faith through religious education, creative engagement, and spiritual practice in our congregations and in our lives.

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
Unitarian Universalism is an evolutionary religion that encourages and supports lifelong spiritual exploration. Unitarian Universalist religious authority lies in the individual, nurtured and tested in congregation and wider community. In a spirit of humility and openness, we are called to seek truth and meaning, wherever found, through experience, reason, intuition, and emotion.

The right of conscience and the use of democratic processes
We affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of democratic processes within our congregations and in society at large. We are called to promote fairness, accountability, honesty, and transparency.

Replaced: "We seek to ensure that all voices are heard, especially those often left out on the margins." This is bound to spark unfortunate dissuasions as to exactly who is on the margins and how to ensure their voices are heard. Unnecessarily provocative.

The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
We seek to create, sustain, and celebrate multi-generational and multi-cultural communities where oppression cannot thrive and where hope and peace flourish.

Stricken: "We are called to counter legacies of injustice and to foster reconciliation." Is this meant to enshrine public policy decisions on affirmative action, slavery reparations, and reconciliation councils as a religious requirement? Unnecessarily provocative.

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part
We honor the World that gave us birth, realizing that our good and the Earth's are inextricably intertwined. We recognize the need for sacrifice as we build a world that is both just and sustainable. We are called to be good stewards, restoring the Earth.
As free yet interdependent congregations, we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust, kindness, and support. Should we break this covenant, we will seek to repair the relationship and recommit to the promises we have made.

Replaced: "Inspired by the beauty and holiness of the Earth," Are we Gaians? Many UUs don't recognize anything as "holy". "we become more willing to relinquish material desires." Are we now followers of John Lennon, "Imagine no possessions"? Unnecessary.

Stricken: "and protecting all beings." Another PETA reference? Is this a call for vegetarianism?

Section C-2.5 Inclusion.
We strive to be an association of congregations that welcome persons of every identity while calling them to act in right relationship. We encourage the fullest participation, with no person excluded solely on the basis of age or identity.
Structures of power have traditionally created barriers for persons and groups with certain identities, abilities, and histories. Dissatisfied with mere non-discrimination, we commit to structuring congregational and associational life in ways that empower and enhance the efforts and experiences of every participant.

Stricken: "allowed by law," What does that mean? Why would we allow the law to tell us who to fellowship with?

Section C-2.6 Freedom of Belief.
Freedom of belief is central to the Unitarian Universalist heritage. Nothing in these bylaws shall be deemed to infringe upon individual freedom of belief. Although no statement of belief can be required as a creedal test for individual membership in a congregation or congregational affiliation with the Association, congregations are free to establish their own statements of purpose, covenants, and bonds of union.


Did you wonder how all those Governor Palin stories hit the Mainstream Media so fast?

A blog binge, says the American Journalism Review . "More than 70 percent of the political journalists surveyed by communications firm Brodeur in May said they spent at least an hour per day reading blogs and other online media."

And what blogs are they reading? "As part of a Brodeur study of reporters and social media, 69 political reporters listed their favorite blogs. Their top five:
The Huffington Post
Real Clear Politics
Talking Points Memo
Daily Kos

Did you notice something about that list? The only conservative blog listed is Townhall.com- and it's less popular among reporters than Daily Kos. I must keep repeating to my self: There is no liberal bias. There is no liberal bias. There is no liberal bias....

Sick of American politician's doubletalk?

Then listen to this interview with an Australian politician for an example of the kind of straight talk other countries enjoy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Our changing world

I got a lesson in how the world is constantly changing today.

My beloved, (on the left in our vacation photo), with the "assistance" of one of the cats, was piling things to be loaded in her briefcase this morning. Due perhaps to overly-enthusiastic assistance, the pile fell over, and at the bottom of the pile was a Dutch phrase book. (She bought the book because she's being sent to the Netherlands for her job. Hmph. The only places I ever got sent were Chicago and Cincinnati.)

The book had fallen open to page 134, and something that had fallen atop it drew attention to the following phrase: "Die kleding zou geweldig staan op een hoopje naast mijn bed", which means, " Those clothes would look great in a pile next to my bed".

I can't state for a fact, but I'm morally certain that was not one of the standard phrases we learned in any of my language classes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lipstick on a pig

This time I find myself defending Barack Obama. I'm morally certain he wasn't referring to Governor Palin as a pig, for two reasons: 1. "Putting lipstick on a pig" is a common phrase to describe spinning a bad thing to look like a good thing- he didn't invent it. 2. Any male over the age of 14 knows that "pig" is the second most offense thing you can call a woman, second only to the "c" word. Had he intended to denigrate Gov. Palin, he wouldn't have chosen a word that would offend all women everywhere.

The same principal applies to the "community organizer" comment of Gov. Palin's. I'm morally certain she was reacting to the sneers about her stint as Mayor, expressing her opinion- in her colorful, Northern Exposure way- that being an elected mayor is a more important job than self-appointed community organizer. Right or wrong, that is not an unreasonable opinion. She had no idea that "community organizer" is code language for "black", just as Senator Biden had no idea that "articulate" was a racial slur. Any more than UU seminarians were aware that "brown bag lunch" was code language.

Can't we stop this "code language" crap? If you have to dial a speech through your Tom Mix decoder ring to decide if you should be offended, odds are no offense was intended. If neither the speaker nor the audience knows what the hell you're taking offense over, odds are that they weren't using code language. When most people speak, they want the people they're speaking to to understand what they're saying, and use words that mean what they say. As a general rule, when people are using "code" words, they use tone of voice or "air quotes" to communicate the meaning.

Raising the "code word" issue is counterproductive, even if true. I Gar-ron-tee, as Justin Wilson used to say, that 99.999% of the time when you attack someone for using code words, most people are thinking, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard that before. You can't argue the facts, so you call them a racist- and when you can't find evidence of racism, you make it up as you go along." That might be something you want to bring up at the brown bag lunch discussion series on diversity.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

An answer for MoxieLife

MoxieLife asks an important question: "Politics is ultimately dividing. Us versus Them. We are MORE right then they are. Division isn't waling the path of my spirituality.

How did Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama do it? How did they stay in touch with their spiritual path for the higher good and participate in the political landscape?

How do you do it?"

Politics- if pursued in a moral and ethical manner- IS a spiritual act. The ultimate intent of a political race is- or should be- to elect the person who will do the most good for the most people. It is where believe meets the pavement, where spirituality is put to practical use. To stand aloof, pretending one is above such worldly things, is to be less spiritual, not more- you are not doing your best for your fellow man.

But notice I said "if pursued in a moral and ethical manner". This why, although I am not a Republican or a McCain supporter, I have been castigating my fellow UU bloggers for the tone of their posts. It has been said that if one commits an atrocity, one is also committing all future atrocities. We have seen this proven true in the Balkans and the Middle East- but it is even more true in the world of politics.

I believe in karma- not necessarily in a supernatural sense, but as an observed consequence. In the long run, one cannot get good results from evil acts. This is the point that those who support torture don't get... using situational ethics, one can always construct a circumstance in which it seems "right" to commit acts one knows to be wrong- IF that situation is seen as an isolated event, separated from the rest of history. But there is no such thing as an isolated event. You can convince yourself that THIS election is so important that "all's fair"... but all you're really doing is poisoning the electoral process, ensuring that there will never be a clean, fair election.

All it takes to end the cycle- be it armed violence or violence done to the truth- is for one side to hold themselves to a higher standard, even if they think it will cause them to lose. In very short order, they will become recognized as the good guys; they will be able to speak with a moral authority that people will respond to, and the other side cannot answer with. The ultimate victory will be theirs. This, I believe, is why Jesus advised to turn the other cheek... sooner or later, human empathy and the innate sense of fairness will turn society against the aggressor. By accepting the first two slaps, you can change humankind for the better. If nobody does this, the ultimate defeat will be everyone's.

I had thought I could depend on rational, religious bloggers to be good examples of how politics could be discussed in an ethical, and yes, spiritual manner; and did find a couple, with (as might be predicted) ChaliceChick leading the call. But for the majority- with apologies to Simon and Garfunkle, "my words like silent raindrops fell, And echoed In the wells of silence."

I know how I reconcile my spirituality and my politics; I have witnessed how CC and Ms. Theologian reconcile theirs. I can't see how very many other bloggers do.

About the Anne Kilkenny email

Newsweek has run a debunking article about claims being made in the Anne Kilkenny email, and other "fact" sheets being circulated around the internet about Governor Palin. A few of the salient points:

"Palin did not cut funding for special needs education in Alaska by 62 percent. She didn't cut it at all. In fact, she tripled per-pupil funding over just three years."

"She did not demand that books be banned from the Wasilla library. Some of the books on a widely circulated list were not even in print at the time."

"She was never a member of the Alaskan Independence Party, a group that wants Alaskans to vote on whether they wish to secede from the United States. She's been registered as a Republican since May 1982."

"Palin never endorsed or supported Pat Buchanan for president. She once wore a Buchanan button as a "courtesy" when he visited Wasilla, but shortly afterward she was appointed to co-chair of the campaign of Steve Forbes in the state."

"Palin has not pushed for teaching creationism in Alaska's schools. She has said that students should be allowed to "debate both sides" of the evolution question, but she also said creationism "doesn't have to be part of the curriculum.""

I'm proposing that we UU bloggers set a new standard on the internet. Let's all try to fact-check our posts before posting. Most of the ones above, like the DK diaries that caused the initial firestorm needed only a Google to correct. Here's some tip-offs that should alert you to something that needs a fact-check:

"So and so slashed funding for such and such". This is a trick both parties use, at all levels of government. The way it works is to first pass a ridiculously large increase in your pet program; then, when the Mayor or Governor or President does the responsible thing and cuts it back to a reasonable number, you can claim he "slashed the budget". This is easy to debunk- just compare the previous budget to the current one. Virtually any time money is mentioned in a political ad, some such trick has been pulled. For example, both President Clinton and the then newly elected Republican Congress tried to claim credit for a balanced budget. They were both lying. When you look closely, you'll notice that the national debt increased during those years- and if you have a balanced budget, which includes your loan payments, your debt load does not go up.

A corollary to the above is to claim that someone has "cut standards" or "eliminated safeguards". It works the same way; establish some ludicrous regulation, then castigate them for changing it to a realistic number. Since lay people don't know what the reasonable standards should be, it's very effective.

Big numbers being thrown around without explanation or definition. For example, an editorial in the local paper spoke of the thousands of acres being lost to urban sprawl in Indiana every year. Alarmed, I looked it up- there are 640 acres per square mile, and 35,870 square miles of land in Indiana, for a total of 22,956,800 acres. I breathed a little easier. Or when Mitch Snyder, the homeless advocate, claimed that 45 homeless people die per second. That was repeated a number of times in the news before someone actually picked up a pocket calculator and figured out that would mean 1.4 billion dead per year!

Any claim of fact that doesn't reference a publicly available source to cross check.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Wealth and income taxes

Will Shetterly quotes an article about how Americans believe in taxing the rich. But the wording of the article, and/or the people who wrote the study, don't seem to understand what they are writing about.

It begins, "A significant majority of Americans — 56 percent yes, only 40 percent no — want the government to “redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.”, but the one and only tax- and the only examples of disparity they discuss- is income. What they seemingly fail to understand is that there is a difference between income and wealth. Income taxes do little if anything to redistribute the wealth.

Suppose Bill Gates died today and left his entire fortune to me. I don't know his current net worth and the taxes involved, but the exact numbers don't matter- say I get $250 billion after taxes. I quit my job, and despite the advice of financial pros, put all the money in a non interest bearing checking account just to see people's jaw drop when they run a check on me. Come April 15, 2010, what is my tax burden?

Nothing. I didn't have any income in 2009. No income, no income taxes. Doesn't matter how high the rate is if you have no income. No income, but plenty of WEALTH- I still have my quarter of a trillion. Make the income tax 100%- it's still not going to redistribute my wealth. Even if you taxed 100% of the interest a smarter man than I would have been earning on all that money, the original wealth is still there- enough for a thousand lifetimes. The only way to redistribute the wealth is to tax the wealth, not the income. If you tax the wealth, the high incomes take care of themselves- they disappear next tax year when they become wealth. The key is to tax net worth- wealth- not income.

Any politician who speaks of redistributing the wealth or the disparity between the rich and the poor and doesn't talk about taxing wealth is either a college dropout or a demagogue and a liar. There really isn't a third option that I can see. Oh, I can understand why they don't want to pass a tax on wealth- most of the politicians who are talking about the disparity between the rich and the poor are themselves living off of huge, multi-generational fortunes. They don't want to pay a wealth tax. That just makes them demagogues and hypocrites.

A couple questions for Barack Obama

According to this story , Barack Obama is having second thoughts about his tax plan. "WASHINGTON (AP) - Democrat Barack Obama says he would delay rescinding President Bush's tax cuts on wealthy Americans if he becomes the next president and the economy is in a recession, suggesting such an increase would further hurt the economy."
"What about increasing taxes on the wealthy?
"I think we've got to take a look and see where the economy is. I mean, the economy is weak right now," Obama said on "This Week" on ABC."

My questions:
Senator Obama, if rescinding the tax cuts would hurt the economy, why would you ever do it?

If you think such tax cuts are good for a weak economy, does that mean that President Bush was right to call for them after our economy took hits from 9/11, Katrina, etc? Does that mean that he was right and Joe Biden was wrong?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Well, that's some better, I suppose...

Bloggers are finally starting to exit the Palin family bedrooms, only to enter her church. The same people who were outraged that conservatives would complain about the things Senator Obama's pastor said are now screaming about something a guest speaker at Governor Palin's church said. Others are dissecting her faith, saying it's important to know because it will affect how she would carry out her duties.

But we already know how she would carry out her duties. From Time Magazine : "When a parental-consent law was struck down by Alaska's highest court in 2007, Palin called the decision "outrageous" but refused demands from conservatives to introduce antiabortion legislation in a session that was supposed to be about a natural gas pipeline. "In all the years I've known Sarah and her parents, we never talked about right to life or any of that," says St. George. "She doesn't let those issues get in the way of getting things done for the community."" From eQualityGiving.org - hardly an evangelical fan- "She opposes marriage equality. She supported the Alaska marriage constitutional amendment in 1998. As Governor, she vetoed legislation that would have denied same-sex partners of state employees health and retirement benefits. She vetoed the legislation because the Alaska Supreme Court had ruled that such a denial of benefits was unconstitutional." In other words, she draws a sharp line between what Sarah Palin, citizen and voter, supports, and the duty of Governor Palin to uphold the law of the land. Just like JFK and every Roman Catholic since. Just like every elected official swears to do.

Ok. I get it. You're upset that Senator McCain picked Ted Nugent's sister as a running mate. But the best way to insure that she stays in Alaska is to start talking about real issues.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Non-issue issues #3 Abortion

There are a lot of single issue voters both pro and con Roe V. Wade, but as a practical matter, this is a non-issue. Roe V. Wade isn't going anywhere.
How can I say that? Obviously, if a Democrat is elected, Roe V. Wade is the litmus test for the selection of a Supreme Court justice. But how about if a Republican is elected? Won't a Republican President choose a conservative judge?

Certainly, but "conservative" means something a bit different in describing a judge- the opposite of "conservative" in this sense would be activist, not liberal. Both types of judges may be conservative or liberal in the political sense. I'm sure CC could do a better job of describing judges, but here is a simple explanation. An activist judge does what he thinks is right, and then tries to find a legal justification for it. In a real life example, a Justice said that the death penalty was unconstitutional because the emerging public sensibilities of the public have deemed it to be cruel and unusual punishment. A conservative judge would say that's crazy; the death penalty is in the Constitution, right there, in black and white- to say anything else is tantamount to amending the Constitution without due process. Republicans like that "original intent" kind of judge.

But what if the issue being discussed isn't in the Constitution? Like Roe V. Wade, for instance? A conservative judge tends to say things like "stare decisis", which means "We've already ruled on that once, and I don't see anything new here that wasn't argued before", and "jurisprudence constante", which means "don't rule on a whim". ( no lawyer can understand a concept until it's been translated into Latin) Don't upset the applecart is the conservative frame of mind. That is why despite most of the Supreme Court having been appointed by Republicans, they've never re-heard Roe V. Wade.

Of course, a Republican President could appoint a right wing activist judge... get him past the Bar rating committee, get them through committee hearings in the Senate, then get him confirmed. Riiiight. Bush couldn't even get mild-mannered Harriet Myers past step 1. And given the court make up, he'd have to do that at least three times, probably four, and possibly five times to overturn Roe V. Wade. I guess it could happen. Bob Barr could pull an upset and become the first Libertarian President. As Henry II said in The Lion In Winter, "In a world where carpenters are resurrected, anything is possible."

Folks, Roe V. Wade isn't going anywhere. Both parties know it. The only reason they even bring it up is because it keeps the contributions pouring in from the activists on both sides. Presidential candidates sigh in relief whenever the question is brought up in a debate, because they know they can waste five minutes without answering a real question and fire up the base at the same time- a real twofer. Don't feed this troll.