Saturday, August 29, 2009

Atheist entrepreneurs

Are you a sinner, an unreconstructed reprobate? Do you like animals? Then you're needed in the newest, fastest growing service industry: Atheists offer to care for Christians' pets after the Rapture ! "It's a question that all animal-loving Christian evangelicals must address: who will look after their pets on Earth when the Rapture comes and they are taken up to heaven?... All the atheists signed up by Eternal Earth-Bound Pets are self-confessed sinners and blasphemers, guaranteeing they will be left behind when the chosen are selected."

From the Eternal Earth-Bound Pets faq page :
"Q: Is this a Joke? A: No. This is a serious offer to our Christian friends who believe in the Second Coming and honestly care about the future of their pets after the Rapture occurs.

Q: Do YOU believe in the Rapture. A: As atheists we do not hold beliefs in the supernatural or a divine being. Thus, we do not believe in the Rapture. However, we respect the beliefs of others and are open to the possibility that our perspective could possibly be wrong.

Q: How do you ensure your representatives won't be Raptured. A: Actually, we don't ensure it, they do. Each of our representatives has stated to us in writing that they are atheists, do not believe in God / Jesus, and that they have blasphemed in accordance with Mark 3:29, negating any chance of salvation.

Q: Can I meet or communicate with my rescue representative? A: Sorry, No. Our representatives' information are held in strict confidence."

Hmmm... I wonder if our CUUPS group can get a franchise...

Friday, August 28, 2009

CUUmbaya commits blasphemy

Peacebang started quite a donnybrook by using the word "blasphemy". There's little I can add to the controversy, but it does make me want to confess to my own blasphemy.

This blasphemy was the result of accepting a trial membership in Netflix. The first DVD I got was the 2003 remake of "The Lion In Winter", starring Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close. Here is the blasphemy: it's better than the 1968 original.
Now, my heresy doesn't go so far as to deny the divinity of O'Toole and Hepburn; let's all agree to say that the difference lies in the director's vision. In the 1968 version, Henry and Eleanor are played as archetypes, demigods- one can admire them, but not feel for them. But Stewart and Close made them human beings, real people who may live larger than you and me, but not larger than life.

The boys, too, are more effective in this remake. I can't say that any one performance is better than their '68 counterparts, but somehow they convey the dynamic of a bunch of brothers much better. I know, I was #2 of 4 in such a bunch.

As deeply heretical as this may be, if someone who has never seen the play or movie asked for a recommendation, I'd have to recommend the remake.

It seems I was wrong

About tort reform in my post, Reconcile yourself to these truths about healthcare : it cannot be done; the trial lawyers are too powerful for Congress to take on. Who says so? Not Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck- Howard Dean says so.

Some Friday funny

(Not work friendly)

Some Friday cuteness

Been a hard week? Warn your pancreas about the impending sweet attack, and check out these Zoo Babies

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reconcile yourself to these truths about healthcare

(part two of two about the healthcare debate)

A great deal of the heat in the healthcare debate could be avoided if both sides would accept some simple truths, and talk about how to deal with them instead of denying them.

1. Some sort of healthcare reform bill will pass. Too many political egos and reputations are at stake, and too many voters feel it has been promised to them for it to fail. Opponents see themselves as Gandalf, saying "You shall not pass!"- but a more realistic image is that of King Canute. Spend your energies trying to get a compromise on an acceptable bill instead.

2. Stop railing against "public option" or government healthcare; we already have it- and no, I don't mean Medicaid, Medicare, etc. As was mentioned in part one , indigents receive free care from hospitals that accept government money (which is virtually all of them), and the hospitals add the cost to everybody else's bill. I suppose in some semantic sense you can claim this isn't government healthcare because your check didn't go to the IRS; but still, he got the care by government fiat, and you paid for it. In any real sense, the only difference between that and the British NHS is that they are more intellectually honest about it.

3. Stop claiming that real healthcare reform can be budget-neutral. There's not enough slop in the system that any real, improve-quality-of-life type improvements can be made by just tweaking here and there. Real programs will have to be created, real checks cut, and it will cost real money. Everybody on both sides knows this, you're not fooling anyone. Oh, you're going to claim it can be done with savings? Well...

4. Preventative care does not save money; it costs money. Preventative care is all about increasing both lifespan and quality of life for the individual, but it costs society more than merely reactive care. This is counterintuitive- we can see that it's much cheaper to catch a disease before it develops than to treat it afterwards... but what you're not seeing is that for it to work, you have to test/treat everybody- most of whom would never have caught the disease in the first place. From an article by Charles Krauthammer "Think of it this way. Assume that a screening test for disease X costs $500 and finding it early averts $10,000 of costly treatment at a later stage. Are you saving money? Well, if one in 10 of those who are screened tests positive, society is saving $5,000. But if only one in 100 would get that disease, society is shelling out $40,000 more than it would without the preventive care.
That's a hypothetical case. What's the real-life actuality in the United States today? A study in the journal Circulation found that for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, "if all the recommended prevention activities were applied with 100 percent success," the prevention would cost almost 10 times as much as the savings, increasing the country's total medical bill by 162 percent. Elmendorf additionally cites a definitive assessment in the New England Journal of Medicine that reviewed hundreds of studies on preventive care and found that more than 80 percent of preventive measures added to medical costs."

5. We're not going to see significant savings through reduced overhead by government offices over private ones. If you're thinking of eliminating profits, you should realize that the profit margins are quite low- sure, a few CEO become gazillionaires off it, but compared to the total costs of doing business with 300,000,000 Americans it's insignificant. Those costs of business include tons of paperwork, which must be filled out no matter who is paying for it... and have you ever known the government to reduce the amount of paperwork required?

6. Tort reform must be part of the final package. Malpractice insurance is a big part of the cost of medicine today- for some disciplines, the cost is so high that doctors are leaving those specialties in droves. This would be of benefit to all of society, not merely medicine. We all have our favorite gawdawful lawsuit story; mine is a local one, a local manufacturer of riding mowers that was sued by a man who lost his foot to one. The facts were not in dispute; the mower did have built in interlocks that stopped the mower when the rider left the seat, but this guy bypassed the safety by carrying a cinderblock in his lap- when he saw a can or bottle in the grass, he would stand up, putting the cinderblock in the seat to fool the mower, and jump off to kick the can out of the way, jumping back on with no time lost to stopping. One day he slipped while kicking. His claim was that the manufacturer was liable, because that was a foreseeable event, and they should have figured out a more sophisticated safety he couldn't bypass. In any rational society, the judge wouldn't even use the gavel as he dismissed the case; he'd lean over and bitch-slap him.

What can we learn from Britain's National Health Service?

(part one of two about the healthcare debate)

Opponents of government participation in healthcare love to point out horror stories from the British NHS, and why not- it's an easy target; the stories are easy to find. In just this morning's Telegraph there were two such: Almost 4,000 women 'forced to give birth outside maternity wards' , and Man's appendix ruptures a month after it was 'removed' in hospital . But those who do so do not understand the situation, according to Lawrence Lindsey, writing in the TimesOnline. His article, America’s lesson for the NHS We in Britain think US healthcare favours those who can pay for it, but that’s a serious misdiagnosis of a smart system , is a must-read for everyone on any side of the healthcare debate.
"The political class in the United Kingdom has taken a good deal of umbrage at the unkind comments about the National Health Service made in the context of the American healthcare debate. Please accept my apologies on behalf of my countrymen, who are looking at the NHS through the prism of the American experience and without the historical context of British health before the NHS.
That said, there is also a tremendous amount of misinformation in Britain about the American healthcare system. The fact is, both America and Britain are going to have to change the way they provide healthcare but through evolution, not sudden or drastic reform."

Some of the myths about American healthcare he explains to his British readers needs to be read on this side of the pond, too; I've heard and read them here. "Moreover, being uninsured does not close the door to receiving healthcare... Some of the uninsured simply pay out of pocket. But, if you are uninsured and indigent, you show up at the emergency room. It is illegal to refuse treatment in all 50 states. This creates an enormous crosssubsidy issue as hospitals and other medical service providers must push this unreimbursed cost onto their insured customers."
He also speaks of something at the core of the issue that I've tried to raise discussion about without success: it doesn't matter who's paying if you don't control the ever increasing costs. "Healthcare spending in America is growing between two and four percentage points faster than GDP. Washington views this as a long-term political challenge. As an economist, I view it as a long-term mathematical impossibility. One cannot have a component of GDP growing faster than GDP indefinitely."

I can't even begin to get into the even more important things he says without quoting the entire article; like many big issues, every facet is interlocked with every other. Just do yourself a favor and go read it right now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Liberal saint?

have seen a number of references lately to the UU World article, The liberal saints . "In 1956 Andrene Kauffman, a Third Unitarian member who was a muralist and longtime instructor at the Art Institute of Chicago, was inspired by a sermon to create the portraits. The sermon, by the Rev. E.T. Buehrer, minister at Third Unitarian from 1941 to 1969, was entitled “The Saints of Liberalism.” The sermon led Kauffman to paint twenty-four figures, many of them mentioned in the sermon. She finished the first one, of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, in 1956." I know Kauffman's high opinion of Wilson is universal amongst liberals; he is often rated in the top five US Presidents... something that is incomprehensible to me. Most particularly, I cannot comprehend UUs considering him a saint.

Liberals usually give two reasons for considering Wilson a saint- primarily for his League Of Nations, and secondarily for establishing the first federal income tax. How can I possibly dislike the man who showed such idealism in foreign policy, and gave us the mechanism to do a little social engineering and soak the evil rich? Easily... let's start with the fact that he was a virulent white supremacist that destroyed what progress we had made so far in race relations since the Civil War. Here is a quote of his that appeared in the movie, "Birth of a Nation". While president of Princeton University, Wilson discouraged blacks from even applying for admission, the first black student not being admitted until 1945. He reversed what integregation had been accomplished in the armed forces, re-segregating them. For the first time since 1863, he segregated civilian federal employees. He signed a law making racial intermarriage a felony in the District of Columbia. He aided and encouraged the creation of "Jim Crow" laws.

In view of his racial attitudes, it is no surprise that he was also a proponent of eugenics, and signed forced sterilization into law. 60,000 American citizens were subjected to involuntary sterilization- some by full castration- before the laws were overturned. He encouraged marriage laws that excluded not only mixed race marriages, but marriages to people with any of a long list of disabilities, or a family history of "criminal tendencies".

But then, respect for civil rights in general wasn't one of his long suits. He created the draft, despite the fact that there was no shortage of volunteers for military service. Then there were the Espionage, Sabotage, and Sedition acts that made it illegal to oppose WWI or the government's prosecution of it. Vigilante groups, with the approval of the Justice Dept., trashed publishers and newspapers who wrote against the war, and informed on their friends and neighbors for speaking out. Socialist Presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was imprisoned for asking why should workers from various countries fight against each other for the interests of the wealthy and powerful. (I guess that Debs had noticed that while the war did result in full employment, CEOs did better than workers; 42,000 millionaires were created during the war, while workers actually lost ground- wages increased by only 20%, while inflation went up 37% )

Of course, the war that Debs was imprisoned for speaking against, WWI, was a war of choice. While declaring the US officially neutral, (he even ran on "He kept us out of the war"), he violated all international laws of neutrality. He participated in the embargo against Germany, halting even shipments of food and medicine, causing starvation amongst German civilians, while simultaneously not only selling weapons to England and France, but arranging sweetheart loans from American banks... and shipping those weapons on civilian ships. I'm sure you've heard of the sinking of the Lusitania- but did you know it was carrying 4.2 million rounds of ammunition? His own Secretary of State resigned over this issue, and the starvation the blockade caused- it continued even after the cessation of hostilities- was a contributing factor to the resentment that resulted in the rise of the Nazi party. In "Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s", John Maynard Keynes cited the testimony of an observer who accompanied Herbert Hoover's mission to help the starving:
You think [this] is a kindergarten for the little ones. No, these are children of seven and eight years. Tiny faces, with large, dull eyes, overshadowed by huge puffed, rickety foreheads, their small arms just skin and bones, and above the crooked legs with their dislocated joints the swollen, pointed stomachs of the hunger edema... "You see this child here," the physician in charge explained, "it consumed an incredible amount of bread, and yet it did not get any stronger. I found out that it hid all the bread it received underneath its straw mattress. The fear of hunger was so deeply rooted in the child that it collected the stores instead of eating the food: a misguided animal instinct made the dread of hunger worse than the actual pangs."

But these weren't the only resentments Woodrow Wilson's foreign policies created. There were the invasions of Mexico, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, for example. Yeah, a lot of Presidents have abused the Monroe doctrine; but he also sent 5,000 soldiers to Russia to take sides in their civil war, tainting relations with the new Soviet union to come, and setting a fine precedent for Vietnam forty years later.

If Woodrow Wilson is a saint, call me an atheist.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The latest in high-fashion jeans

Is the world prepared for Winkers?

A slight misunderstanding

When my beloved said we were having a charred tart for lunch, I assumed it was an alliterative announcement that she had burned it. I wasn't too worried; her kitchen mistakes are better than most people's finest efforts. Imagine my delight when I found out it was Chard tart, complete with chevre cheese and a medium sherry!

Of themes and theology

Some themes in our lives will never go away until they're addressed- and this principle applies as much to organizations as individuals. Without anyone trying to guide the discussions, these themes will surface on their own, as Doug Muder noted in his UU World article, Message or culture? "Every year, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly takes on some unannounced theme. Or at least I think it does. Maybe it’s just my mind’s unconscious habit of imposing order on the buzzing, blooming confusion of it all. But each year the talks I go to, the people I run into, the random blips of conversation I overhear all seem to point to some idea or issue or question that I didn’t think I was thinking about when I got there.
This year, it all seemed to point to this: At its core, what is Unitarian Universalism really about? Do we have a message we are trying to bring to the world? Or do we have a culture we are trying to preserve against extinction?"
These questions are asked by Davidson Loehr's Why ‘Unitarian Universalism’ is Dying , which despite being five years old was invoked this week by Plastic Manzikert and Chalice Circle Other blogs have recently touched on similar, some more, some less directly. Like GA, the blogosphere also takes on themes, and it's hardly surprising if it's the same one.

The reason this question, also sometimes stated as "Is there a UU theology?", keeps recurring is because there has not been, to date, any answer. Or, there have been a thousand answers- one was presented in "UU University" at GA- and that's not much help; as Harry Nilsson noted, "A point in every direction is as good as having no point at all." The reason it is so difficult to develop a UU theology is that it must fit within our proud claim of being a creedless religion, a religion based on reason. We can have values, we can have principles, but we cannot have creeds.

But this claim is nonsense; it is not possible. One cannot have values without creeds, because values are not facts, they are subjective judgments that can be asserted but not proven. You can do without gods if you must, but you cannot do without beliefs. Reason, rationality, and logical syllogisms all start with a premise... and when you're dealing with the human equation, those premises are beliefs. Even the simplest "greatest good" argument stems from the belief that a great many people you don't even know being happy is "better" somehow than just you personally being happy. Try proving that to someone who doesn't already believe it. You cannot form values without beliefs; how, then, can you have shared values without shared beliefs? How, then, can you claim to be creedless if you claim shared values?

Now, regular readers will know I'm not a big fan of Rev Loehr, but he did capture this central problem. "It was time to ask hard religious questions, like ” What’s worth believing?’ ” Are there profound truths about life that make demands on people of character whether we like it or not?’ ” What beliefs can be used to fashion admirable people?” and so on. In a sentence, the question was “Are there deep and abiding truths capable of sustaining honest spiritual quests without supernatural underpinnings?"... The lack of anything worth believing was a religious crisis, which should have called for religious solutions. The mid-20th century was a time for religious liberals to claim the tradition of liberal religion – a tradition that can be traced in broad strokes back 2500 years – and educate themselves to be its new voice. It was a time to seek the legitimate heir to the form of liberal religion their parents and grandparents had inherited.
But none of this happened..."

It's easy to see why none of this happened; creeds and beliefs are things those awful fundamentalists have, so we weren't having any! Like many of the current crop of religious critics, we had fallen for the classic fallacy: we let them define our terms. For religious conservatives, the word "belief" is a prefix for "in God", and the word "God" means "the God of Abraham, as modified by John to be a triune being". Accepting their definitions, a majority of UUs figured that since they didn't buy someone who was both fully human and fully divine, and damned people for eternity, there were no gods. Since they didn't have gods, by the definition they accepted they didn't have beliefs. No beliefs, obviously no creeds. (besides, weren't creeds those things that got people burned at the stake?) We claimed to be a creedless religion. But since a creedless religion- or indeed any creedless organization- is impossible, (even a flash mob has a creed-"this is worth doing"), we were trying to live a paradox. No wonder we never developed a UU theology, despite having five decades to work on it- Hell, we haven't even come up with a decent elevator speech!

I think we should undertake the quest described by Davidson Loehr above. Not because Unitarian Universalism is dying; it isn't. As I wrote back in April, UU is a niche product ; there will always be a market for us. No, we should do it because it would be the intellectually honest thing to do. We should do it because it is a worthwhile project that would benefit all humankind- indeed, it may be the greatest service we are capable of rendering. We should do it because we are uniquely suited to the task- "because I'm the only one who can" is too noble a reason to be left only to comic book superheroes. And lastly, we should do it because it would give shape and direction to Unitarian Universalism. Yes, the UUA will continue regardless- mere inertia and endowments will see to that- but this will provide a reason for continuing.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lutherans may split, updated.

The vote over the issue of accepting gay clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) I posted about Monday has been taken; gay clergy are now recognized. The vote was close- it required a 2/3 majority, and the winning percentage was 66.67% More details are available here

Many are not happy with the vote, and schism is threatened. ""The word of the Lord will endure forever," said Wayne Jacobson, of the Northeast Iowa Synod, "and this vote won't change it."" The closeness of the vote indicates the depth of feeling, but I hope they find a Modus Vivendi. I often get a feeling that from marriages to churches to political parties to old friendships we're just too quick to divide, and the center just never seems to hold any longer. It's probably just an old man's regrets and sentimentality, but I wish everyone would work harder on keeping things together- let our new motto become Veni, Vidi, Velcro.

Issues of sex and gender more complex than commonly supposed

Reading the MailOnline's article Woman, man or a little bit of both? How deciding Caster Semenya's gender is more complex than you might think made me wonder... if the issue of sex is so complex that even an ordinary medical examination is not conclusive, how can it be considered so simple by the "proposition 8' crowd? If one member of a happy marriage were to discover through genetic testing to actually be a member of the other sex, would a Christian declare the marriage void? Should anyone who hasn't already proven their fertility be tested for androgen problems and genetic origin before a marriage license is issued?

You'd think that a God who made clear-cut demands about sex and marriage would have made sex more clear-cut in the first place.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fair and balanced?

In comments to my earlier post Captain Renault is alive and well , ogre expressed an unwillingness to believe anything from the Fox network unless corroborated. Fair enough- any news story from any source ought to be corroborated. But there's a particular distrust of Fox I've seen throughout the UU blogosphere, so I thought I'd see how the more respectable, objective news desks are covering the "hatemongers at the town halls" meme.

Here's an MSNBC Morning Meeting edition talking about this very thing."...A man at a pro-healthcare reform rally just outside wore a semiautomatic assault rifle on his shoulder, and a pistol on his hip....Yes, there are second amendment rights for sure, but also you have questions of racial overtones, I mean, here you have a man of color in the Presidency, and white people showing up with guns strapped to there waists..." As she speaks, there is video of the man's assault rifle, and the pistol on his hip. The panel goes on to talk about how disturbing this anger and racism is- and it is pretty evocative, take a look:

It's no wonder so many people have been blogging about it. There's just two minor quibbles I have with the story, and two bigger ones. The minor quibbles: 1.The guns were carried as a publicity stunt for a radio show. 2. The stunt was coordinated with the Arizona police beforehand. Now, ordinarily I'd give them the benefit of the doubt in missing this; the only time "journalism" and "MSNBC" have been mentioned in the same sentence was in a Dennis Miller comedy bit. But not this time, because of the two bigger quibbles: 1. Despite what the host implied, the man with the pistol on his hip is not the same man as the one with the rifle under his shoulder; he was in fact the radio personality interviewing the man with the AR15. 2. The footage was edited to conceal the fact that the man with the AR15 is African American. Here's an interview showing this from CNN, shown the day before the MSNBC panel:

And people wonder why I recommend getting your news from foreign newspapers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In the same boat: Alice Cooper and Harry Potter

The inspiration for that unlikely sounding comparison was this story from Finland : Alice Cooper Banned from Tampere Arena on Religious Grounds. ""The [Lutheran-based charismatic revivalist] group Nokia Mission and others use Tampere Arena for their events, so the venue's management did not want Alice Cooper appearing in the same hall. The contract which we received from Tampere Arena specifies that no artists may perform there who 'incite evil and the power of darkness'," promoter Kalle Keskinen told YLE."

The venue manager clearly does not know Alice Cooper, his stage show, or his work. Vincent Furnier (Cooper's real name) is a declared Christian whose stage act is and was taken from horror movies and literature, not from any Pagan religions or any form of Satanism. It was strictly entertainment, with stage effects provide by the likes of magician James Randi. Fans who understood his act were able to appreciate both the ghoulish I Love the Dead and the sweetly sentimental You and Me ... and those fans included Groucho Marx, Mae West, and Salvador Dali.

Vincent has been married to the same woman for more than thirty years, with never even the vaguest rumor of scandal, and has raised three children, now all successful adults. He is known for clean living, and more- from Wikipedia: "In 1986, Megadeth were asked to open for Alice Cooper for dates on his US tour. After noticing the hardcore drug and alcohol abuse in the band, Cooper personally approached them to try to help them control their demons, and he has stayed close to front man Dave Mustaine ever since; Mustaine in fact considers him his "Godfather". Since conquering his own addiction to alcohol in the mid 1980s, Cooper has continued to help and counsel other rock musicians battling addiction problems, who often turn to him for help. "I've made myself very available to friends of mine - they're people who would call me late at night and say, 'Between you and me, I've got a problem.'" In recognition of the work he has done in helping other addicts in the recovery process, Cooper received in 2008 the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award at the fourth annual MusiCares MAP Fund benefit concert in Los Angeles.” Clearly, the only way he could be considered unfit to appear on stage in Finland is if they know nothing of him.

The same thing is true of Harry Potter. Many ministers have denounced the Potter books as an introduction to the occult, teaching children magic, or being used as an introduction to witchcraft or Wicca. No one who has actually read one of the books could make any of those claims.

The sine qua non of the fantasy world Rowling has created is that witches and wizards are born, not made. If you were not born possessing the power, nothing can ever give it to you. It is strictly genetic, and sometimes the children of witches don’t have it- they’re called “squibs”, and it’s considered a tragic situation because they can never learn magic they don’t already have. Even Hogwarts School of Witchcraft doesn’t actually teach magic per se; it teaches one to control the magic they already possess as a birthright- indeed, if you didn’t demonstrate involuntary magic incidents as a child you will never be invited to Hogwarts, no matter how exalted your family. In fact, save for the emphasis on a single hero, the Potter series very closely resembles the “X Men” sci-fi series. So much for teaching magic.

In seven books, eight, if you count “Tales of Beedle the Bard”, not once in all those thousands of pages does anyone (not even a villain) invoke a Pagan god, spirit, or power. Not once is any Pagan religion named or even referred to. Not once is any kind of religious ritual performed or even referred to- the closest thing to it is a potion recipe, and that smells more of Shakespeare than Crowley. The only holy words quoted are from the Bible. The only holidays celebrated are Christian holidays. So much for the claimed introduction to Wicca.

I would make it a strict rule that one must have read a book before discussing it, let alone taking action on it. That is, I would make such a rule except that if I did, there would be only eleven people in the country who could discuss the healthcare proposals- and I’m not one of them.

Never mind.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monstrous government regulations

The "cash for clunkers" program requires the dealer taking in the clunker to crush it- but it didn't specify how...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lutherans may split

The future of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will be decided in Minneapolis this week. From the Minneapolis-St.Paul StarTrbune: "Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America arrive in Minneapolis today to tackle the most-divisive subject in 21st century religion -- the appointment of gay clergy.
What 1,045 voting members decide by the end of the week could determine the future of the 4.8 million member ELCA, which includes more than 830,000 Minnesotans." Read more here and here .

This is worth paying attention to; given the numbers- potential voters all- the outcome could affect the future of same sex marriage laws as well as their church.

Captain Renault is alive and well

I haven't written on the healthcare debate for two reasons: First, because Pfarrer Streccius has most of what I was going to say- keep up the good work, Bill!- and second, because this is an issue that will not be settled by logic and reasoned discussion. But there is one aspect I wanted to comment on: the tone of the debate.

There has been an endless stream of bloggery denouncing the anti-crowd for the tone of their rhetoric. President Morales sent out a letter about it, with some serious charges, like "We are witnessing cynical demagoguery that plays on fear in order to defend privilege". (At first I thought he was referring to Obama claiming your trusted family doctor would saw your feet off for profit if you showed a high fasting blood sugar, but evidently he meant something else) and "There is no place for intimidation in our public discussion." (And no, he didn't mean the White House requesting that you turn in the names of friends and relatives who say something "fishy" about healthcare in casual conversation). The left, who in their youth led riots in the streets over Vietnam, trashed ROTC offices, bombed recruiting centers, and encouraged their children to shout any conservative speakers off the stage at college, assault little old ladies who wear fur, lead bullhorn fueled protests wherever the previous president spoke, form groups like "Code Pink" for the express purpose of disrupting events, are shocked- SHOCKED- to hear raised voices at Town Hall meetings. Hilary Clinton, who in a speech told the Republicans "Don't you dare call protestors un-American!", and Nancy Pelosi, who publicly praised the disruption tactics of anti-war protestors, are now calling anyone who expresses anger and frustration fascist and un-American. (Funny how UU bloggers who have in recent years been so quick and eager to shout "Godwin's Law! Godwin's Law!", like Gomer Pyle shouting "Citizen's Arrest!" have been silent in this...)

Of course, I must admit the protestors are disgusting and frightening- here are some examples: "One protester even brandished a sign that seemed to advocate Obama's assassination. The man held a large photo of Obama that had been doctored to show a gun barrel pressed against his temple. "OBAMA: WANTED, DEAD OR ALIVE," read the placard, which had an X over the word "ALIVE." Another poster showed Obama's face with the words: "F--- YOU, MOTHERF---ER!" "...protesters were shrieking at Democratic donors epithets like "Slut!" "Whore!" and "Fascists!"
Frank Dulcich, president and CEO of Pacific Seafood Group, had a cup of liquid thrown into his face, and then was surrounded by a group of menacing protesters, including several who wore masks. Donald Tykeson, 75, who had multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair, was blocked by a thug who threatened him.
Protesters slashed the tires of several state patrol cruisers and leapt onto an occupied police car, slamming the hood and blocking the windshield with placards. A female police officer was knocked to the street by advancing protesters, badly injuring her wrist."
Scum like that ought to be in jail, right? Ooops... I made a little typo. Those were all from an
anti-Bush protest ; I changed the name on the placards in the quotes. So, Peter Morales, and Sara Robinson, and all the rest of the bloggers who have written on this issue, I know you're people of religious principle, and not just carrying water for the Democrats; and therefore you must have written denunciations of those protests, too. Oddly enough, though, I can't seem to find them...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Your mileage may vary

You must have seen the ads by now; they're everywhere- Chevy Volt 230 , with the zero being an electrical socket photoshopped into a smiley-face. (which drives a lot of parents up a wall) It drives me up a wall, too, even though I don't have any children... because it's bullshit.

It cannot be done in a street legal car using an internal combustion engine. Period. Yes, tissue-fragile deathtrap vehicles just large enough for a human body have gotten over a thousand miles per gallon on a perfectly level, smooth test track- but the laws of physics won't permit an automobile that meets all US regulations to reach triple-digit mileage. (I give a short explanation here ) 230 MPG? That would mean you could drive from Miami to Seattle on one 12-gallon tank, and have enough left over to drive around Seattle to the shops and dinner! If you believe that, I have a few other bargains for you as well...

But you don't have to take my word for it- you can figure it out from their own published information. The Chevrolet main site doesn't have any specs, but they have a facebook page to answer questions- just make sure your browser is gyro-stabilized to handle the spin. The battery lasts for 40 miles, after which the gasoline engine/generator supplies the electricity, for a total of 300 miles per tankfull. 300, not 2,300. Which, according to this US News & World Report article, translates to about 35 MPG. But wait, Chevy says, there is a formula to draw an energy equivalency to mileage here: "The EPA's tentative EREV testing process won't actually measure gasoline usage. Instead, it rates vehicles in kilowatt hours per 100 miles, then converts that measurement to miles per gallon. Effectively, the testing procedure doesn't give an mpg rating. It merely shows that a vehicle will use energy that equates to a certain mpg rating.
To illustrate this point, Nissan quickly followed GM's announcement with its own, claiming the upcoming 2010 Nissan Leaf electric car will earn a 367 mpg EPA rating. The rules, it seems, can generate a miles-per-gallon rating for a car that doesn't even use gasoline."

Let me propose another formula: compare costs; since one must buy both the kilowatt/hours and the gallons, that should yield an equivalent. Chevy initially said it would cost $0.40 to charge the Volt- at least until some reporter asked where one could buy 16 KW for $0.40. Now they say between $0.75 and $2.50, depending upon where you live. I live in Indianapolis, where we pay $0.08/KW; that's $1.28 to charge the Volt. That would buy just about a half gallon of gas at the national average of $2.44 the EPA uses for mileage calculations. For a distance of 40 miles, that's equivalent to 80 MPG. That's damn good, but it's NOT 230MPG.

Why the extravagant claim when the truth- 80MPG- is impressive enough as is? Maybe they knew that with a $40,000 price tag they needed to make a "not price, but value" argument. If so, it backfired; had they made a believable claim, I'd have looked no farther. As it is, I decided to run the numbers. The Volt has a maximum lifespan of 15 years- that's how long the $10,000 battery lasts. (At best; some experts say it's more like 10 years) Let's take the best possible scenario: I never drive more than 40 miles in a day, and therefore never burn a drop of gas. $1.28/day times 365 days is $467.20/year. 15 years at $467.20/year is $7,000; plus the $40,000 purchase price is $47,000 for the 17 year lifespan. If I lived where the cost of the daily charge was $2.50, it would be $13,688 for electricity, $53,688 total. How does that compare to a normal, inefficient, old-technology car?

If you go to you'll find a lot of cars getting 30MPG. 40 miles per day at 30 miles per gallon is 486.67 gallons a year; at the $2.44 average price of a gallon, that's $1,187 per year; times 15 years is $17,812 for gasoline. That's more than double what you'd pay for the electricity to run the Volt at the cheapest KW price; it's even a third higher than the highest KW price. But look at purchase price- a comparably equipped four door sedan runs between $13,000 and $18,000, not $40,000. Let's say $16,000- there are quite a few at that price or less. That makes the total of purchase price and gasoline $33,812... between $13,000 and $19,000 cheaper than the Volt!

But wait- what if the price of gas goes up? Ok... in the example above, at 30MPG, same miles driven for 15 years, you've bought 7,300 gallons of gas. Say it goes up to $4.00 per gallon- that's $29,200, + the $16,000 purchase price is $45,200- still cheaper than I paid for Volt + electricity. If we went with the $2.50 cost per charge Chevy says is possible in some cities, Gas would have to go up to $5.16 per gallon to match the cost of Volt ownership. And remember that the price of electricity can go up, too. And also remember that all this is based on never driving the Volt far enough to be using the 35MPG gas engine instead of the 80MPG battery- if you start a new job commuting farther than 20 miles one way, or start having to drive the kids to all kinds of events, you could find the price tag escalating even faster. Unless the price of gasoline triples quickly, there simply aren't any scenarios in which it makes sense to buy a Volt.

That doesn't make the Volt a bad product. It's a good concept, and we have to start somewhere. And the price is bound to drop at least a bit as production ramps up. But stop the hype- it is not the salvation of the American automobile industry, or the environment.

And it does not get 230MPG.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Scott Wells at Boys in the Bands enters a discussion on the radical-conservative-liberal continuum, and asks for our thoughts. As this is something I've been meaning to post about for some time, I'm grateful for the invitation! Although there are some specific meanings to the terms "liberal" and "conservative" in specific vocations- judicial, for example, or theological- the general mindsets are much the same in most any arena, so I will discuss how I see the differences.

To begin with, both Liberals and Conservatives see that things need improving, and both seek the greater good for all. But...

The conservative believes that the world didn't just appear one day, with the systems and institutions we have picked at random. Things are the way there, generally speaking, because that's the way they must be- or, originally must have been- to function properly. The reasons why may not be obvious, may be counterintuitive, but the reasons do exist; and therefore the conservative will be reluctant to change unless there are clear and compelling reasons to. "Invisible hand" and "unintended consequences" are frequently heard in conservative circles.

The Liberal abhors the negative aspects of status quo more than he fears unintended consequences. While the conservative trusts the collective wisdom of those in the past who created what we have now, the liberal trusts the collective wisdom of those in the future who will administer what we create today. Thus, the liberal is more willing to create new programs with profound consequences, while the conservative would prefer to do it in reversible stages, to gauge effects and make corrections. Phrases such as "Surely in a country that can do ___, we can..." and "If we just..." are frequently heard from liberals.

The conservative sees the liberal as unrealistic, feet not on the ground. It's been tried before, it never works, climb down from your ivory tower and see the real world now and then. The liberal sees the conservative as pessimistic, or even uncaring. Can't you see it doesn't have to be this way? Don't you care? If we just... To my mind, both attitudes, forever in tension with neither side ever gaining permanent ascendancy, are necessary for survival of a person or a society. A society that never gambles never progresses; a society that gambles too much soon dies. History is replete with examples of both failings.

And the radical? A radical can come from either direction; the difference is what he is willing to do, how far he is willing to go. Rita Rudner said "”Neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics live in them. My mother cleans them.” Her mother is a radical.

Evidence that the liberal/conservative is a general mindset, rather than a specific doctrine, is amply provided by the UUA. There is no theological requirement I'm aware of that a liberal church must be liberal politically, but if you look at all the Statements of Conscience, Immediate Witness, etc., the UUA has passed, you'll never see a greater collection of (to my conservative eyes) hare-brained, ivory tower, loony-lefty schemes. I'm convinced that someday a bunch of UUs attending a séance will be accosted by the spirit of Karl Marx himself, saying, "Whoa, slow down with the wobbly stuff already, don't got carried away..." But that doesn't bother me, for rarer than the UU conservative is the UU radical. Without radicals, a society doesn't act at all, it merely discusses things. A society without radicals comes to believe that by writing a letter to their congressman or holding an after-service forum on a given issue, they have actually done something about it. A radical wouldn't be so fooled.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Think you know something about art?

Do you think you could separate the million dollar masterpieces of the giants of 20th century art from the fingerpaintings of a four year olds? Sure you can... Try it Don't be embarrassed; most of the experts ABC News tested couldn't, either: "One artist, Victor Acevedo, described one of the children's pieces as "a competent execution of abstract expressionism which was first made famous by de Kooning and Jackson Pollock and others. So it's emulating that style and it's a school of art."

Thanks to John Stossel's new blog

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Friday, August 07, 2009

Maxie mystery explained?

Regular readers of Ms. Kitty's Saloon and Road Show know that Ms. Kitty's cat Maxie the Magnificent has the habit of disappearing without explanation, but always returns. I've just seen an article that may explain where he goes- Pet cat catches the daily bus for four years . "Casper, which is 12 years old, boards the No3 service at 10.55am from outside his home in Plymouth, Devon, and travels the entire 11-mile route before returning home about an hour later... Susan Finden, 65, a care worker who is Casper's owner, said: "Casper has always disappeared for hours at a time but I never understood where he was going. I called him Casper because he had a habit of vanishing like a ghost. But then some of the drivers told me he had been catching the bus..."

Ms. Kitty, is there a bus system on Widbey Island?

I liked John Hughes' work

But I didn't know he was this cool

Thursday, August 06, 2009

10 Bands I've Never Seen But Would Love to See

RevThom posted his list with three rules:
1. No Resurrections- they must be alive.
2. No Time Travel. You're getting them as they are right now, not as you might remember them from days of yore.
3.Bill Clinton Isn’t Available. He's referring to negotiating skills- If a band has broken up, we need to think that there is a good chance that they might reform and tour again if they are to be included on the list.

Ok, here's my list, in no particular order. In accordance with rule 2, I've included the most recent recordings I could find of the older acts:

1. Melanie. If I have to add her last name, you're not in my generation. For those of you who remember her beautiful eyes and puckish smile, rest assured they're still there, and her music has only gotten better over the years- listen to I Tried To Die Young

2. Loreena McKennitt. She isn't Irish or Scottish- she's a Canadian... but she's no Celine Dion! Listen to The Mummer's Dance

3. The Cranberries. Ok, Dolores O'Riordan is Irish! The Cranberries aren't currently recording, but I think this quote from Dolores satisfies rule 3: "Definitely down the road, but not right now because we’ve all got kids and babies. You can’t really do both – be on the road all the time and be a good parent. To bring kids into the world, you need to be there for them. I’m really enjoying taking things at my own pace." Listen to Zombie

4. Simply Red. And I'd better hurry, because they're on their farewell tour, intending to go their own ways in 2010. Listen to Holding Back the Years

5. Evanescence. Interesting group out of Arkansas. Listen to Call Me When You're Sober

6. Yusuf Islam. He sounds a lot like Cat Stevens and Steven Demetre Georgiou, but older. Listen to Father & Son

7. Al Stewart. The hair is short, white, and not quite all there... but the voice is still there, and the guitar is, if anything, better. Listen to YEAR OF THE CAT

8.Van Morrison. In 1967 I was in love with a Brown Eyed Girl. Van is still playing- listen to Have I Told You Lately?

9. Heather Nova. There's a slew of singer songwriters out there, but a few have their own voices, and she's my current favorite. Listen to This Body

10. Weird Al Yankovic. Listen to The Saga Begins

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Obama debunks birther rumors

Since I've been posting videos about President Obama, I feel I owe it to post this one in which he debunks all the rumors floating around the web about him. Well, he debunks most of them, anyway.

Update to "Obama debates Obama"

The White House is striking back at news websites and blogs criticizing President Obama's healthcare proposals- especially if they include past footage of things then-senator Obama said. Says White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass, "So what happens is that because he’s talking to the American people so much, there are people out there with a computer and a lot of free time, and they take a phrase here and there — they simply cherry-pick and put it together, and make it sound like he’s saying something that he didn’t really say.”

Fair enough. As one of the people who reproduced the cherry picked footage of then-senator Obama seeming to say he wanted single-payer coverage, let me include the context:

I'll even provide a transcript: “I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”

See there? Completely refuted. How could anyone accuse him of being a proponent of a single payer universal health care program?

Of UU Dodos

Many thanks to Transient and Permanent for reminding us about, and providing a link for, The Liberal Christian, edited by the excellent Scott Wells.

I was particularly struck by "Ecclesiastical Dodo Tree, A tale of growth and survival by the Rev. Derek Parker." In it, Rev Parker makes the case that growing the total number of congregations is, in the long term, "one of the most pressing growth issues for the future of Unitarian Universalism in North America." I think that while this statement is true, it is so far into the long term that discussing it today is like the parents of a baby suffering from failure to thrive syndrome worrying about whether the grandchildren will get into a good school- better you should make sure the kid grows up to give you grandchildren at all.

What is needed to plant new congregations? Many things, but enough UUs in the seats to be worth filling out the paperwork for a start. "Wherever two or more are gathered in my name" may be enough to satisfy Jesus, but not the UUA. While there is no minimum number for an "emerging congregation", experience with all other organizations tells me that fewer than a dozen are unlikely to be able to maintain, let alone grow to the thirty required to be a real congregation. Very, very few congregations can afford to lose a dozen of the kind of dedicated, energetic members it takes to build a new congregation, let alone thirty for a recognized congregation. My own congregation is 103 years old, and has only spun off two others, and both of those were in the 70s.

Why do people found new congregations- regardless of religion- anyway? There is one common reason, having moved to a location that doesn't have a church of your persuasion; I imagine most UU emerging congregations are started that way. Two reasons Evangelists have seldom apply to us, I suspect: your congregation has grown so large- 10,000 or more- that you just have to split to stay a manageable size (if that were common, we wouldn't be having this discussion); or the "if you build it, they will come" form of evangelism, deliberately moving somewhere that doesn't have a church and building one to convert the heathens. There aren't a lot of UUs with that sort of evangelical spirit; and even if there were, would it work? As I noted above, the whole discussion is occurring because we did build them, and they didn't come. Why else would someone leave their congregation, friends, and fellowship to start another? A reason common to both Baptists and UUs in my experience is having a major congregational vote, the losing faction leaving to found a new congregation of like minded. I know a Baptist church from my childhood, and at least two UU congregations in this city that were founded this way. I don't think that's necessarily a healthy way to grow.

I think we need to look at why youth raised UU don't stay, why once enthusiastic new members leave, and why visitors don't return. I think we need to face the fact that half our membership is only here for the RE, and will leave as soon as their kids are grown. I think we need to look at the public image we project with advertising like "Is God getting in the way of going to church? Come to the church that doesn't have or want one!" Once we solve these issues, we can think about growing the number of congregations; but planting new congregations without first growing the total number of Unitarians will only result in making the average congregation smaller... and as the average right now is scarcely a hundred, (if you look at the list on the official website, you'll find hundreds with membership under 75, many with membership of 50 or less), we'd risk them becoming too small to survive.

Obama debates Obama

On healthcare

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Rorschach issue: military suicide

There is a class of issues I call Rorschach issues; while often based on a real- or at least plausible- issue, they are sensationalized until they tell us more about the follower than the issue. Obama's citizenship is one such Rorschach issue, as are 911 truthers, grassy knollers, da Vinci codes, etc. New ones are thrown up regularly by people with an agenda, movie, or book (or all three) to sell; one such is the issue of the military suicide rate. In a recent UU A Way of Life post, David Markham draws our attention to a post in another of his blogs entitled "We don't need terrorists any more. More and more of American soldiers are just killing themselves" that shows all the earmarks of a Rorschach issue.

The first mark of a Rorschach issue is that it's based upon "facts" that were never researched because they're "common knowledge". David's portrayal of soldiers shows this: "...who for the most part have been screwed over by a capitalistic system which has left them with no jobs, a poor education, and not much of a future state side. When you figure that you best option in life is to become a professionally trained killer for a mercenary army,..." Leaving aside for the moment the "professionally trained killer for a mercenary army" sneer, it is not now, nor has it ever been true of the all-volunteer Army that it is composed of people who couldn't make it in the civilian world. In fact, actual demographics show just the opposite. Here's some stats from the article, "Who Serves in the U.S. Military? The Demographics of Enlisted Troops and Officers" by Shanea Watkins, Ph.D. and James Sherk, whose sources are the Dept. of defense, the Census Bureau, and other primary sources: "...Members of the all-volunteer military are significantly more likely to come from high-income neighborhoods than from low-income neighborhoods. Only 11 percent of enlisted recruits in 2007 came from the poorest one-fifth (quintile) of neighborhoods, while 25 per­cent came from the wealthiest quintile. These trends are even more pronounced in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, in which 40 percent of enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhoods—a number that has increased substantially over the past four years...Every income category above $40,000 per year is overrepresented in the active-duty enlisted force, while every income category below $40,000 a year is underrepresented. Low-income families are significantly underrepresented in the military. U.S. military enlistees disproportionately come from upper-middle-class families." Nor do they have poor educations- "American soldiers are more educated than their peers. A little more than 1 percent of enlisted personnel lack a high school degree, compared to 21 percent of men 18–24 years old, and 95 percent of officer accessions have at least a bachelor’s degree..."

Another mark of the Rorschach issue is that actual facts or numbers are given with no explanation, no context, no way to judge the gravity of the issue. For example, one might say that exposure to chemical X triples the rate of earlobe cancer. Sounds horrible... if one neglected to mention that it triples the cancer rate from one per billion to three per billion. The military is justifiably concerned about an increase in suicide rates; but the raw numbers are quoted without context by people trying to get ratings or sell newspapers. From The Los Angeles Times : "The 2008 estimated rate - 20.2 suicides per 100,000 soldiers - is, for the first time, higher than the national average...The national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is 19.2." Let's look at this raw number- military suicide rates being 1/20th higher than civilian; does that justify rhetoric like "It is inevitable when one is engaged in immoral, homicidal behavior with no justification... you've sold your soul to the devil, and it is not a bargain in your favor because you have given up all hope of ever having any kind of a normal life ever again."? But those numbers deserve another look- is it fair to compare the military to the public at large? To begin with, despite changes allowing women into combat, the Army and Marines especially are overwhelmingly male, and majority (65%) white male. What difference does that make? At 19.5/100,000, that is the highest suicide demographic; 73% of all suicide deaths are white males. (Numbers from ) Many new recruits, joining before college, have never been away from home before- would they have been better off going directly to college? Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. Perhaps they should have stayed home and done neither? Not in Montana, with its 22/100,000 rate... that's twice as much increase over the military rate as the military is over the national average- have Montanans, too, sold their souls to the devil?

Combining those stats with another datum from the Times story above, " occur among soldiers who never deploy, Army officials said." which agrees with this one from the Air Force Times , "In a report to Congress, Craig Duehring, assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower, said, “there does not appear to be a strong correlation between deployments and suicide.” A check of deployment records found that from 2003 to 2008, only 39 Air Force suicide victims had deployed in the previous 12 months. Another 150 had never deployed." and "That’s reflected in Marine Corps statistics. Amos said the most likely Marine to die by suicide is a Caucasian male, 18 to 24 years old, between the ranks of private and sergeant. The most likely cause: a failed relationship with a woman." suggests a very obvious reason for the increase in suicide rates: the number of personnel has increased faster than the number of counselors and support structures.

A third mark of the Rorschach issue is redefining pejoratives so you can apply them to your bete noire. "Mercenary" does not mean "you get paid for your work"- if it did, then all of us are mercenaries. It means ": one that serves merely for wages ; especially : a soldier hired into foreign service" The US all-volunteer Army is not a bunch of imported Prussians earning a buck- they are young men and women serving a cause larger than themselves, people with a commitment and the courage to act on it. To again quote Dr. Watkins, "Those who argue that American soldiers risk their lives because they have no other opportunities belittle the personal sacrifices of those who serve out of love for their country." Calling them "professionally trained killer" is little better; while killing is indeed part of what they do, it is only part. It would be, by that standard, fair to describe any doctor who performs an abortion as a "professionally trained killer". Oh, wait, I bet he charged for it- make that a mercenary professionally trained killer.

David said, "For all of America's religosity, it has lost touch with its soul." I will agree that's true of some religious blogs. I just hope that anyone outside UU who reads it understands that the bitterness, contempt, and misanthropy displayed are not an inherent part of UU.