Friday, February 27, 2009

Worst. Idea. Ever.

People sometimes ask me why, see as I'm a Pagan with a greater than average concern for the environment, I prefer the older term "conservationist" to "environmentalist". It's to separate myself from the kind of people who think up things like reusable toilet wipes

Farewell to Riverworld

Goodbye , Phillip Jose Farmer. You gave me many happy hours, and will live in my memories until it is my turn.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pentagon lifts media ban on coffin photos

"WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday said he was lifting the ban against media photos of soldiers' coffins returning to the U.S. and will instead leave the decision up to families." About time. Read more at msnbc

Monday, February 23, 2009

Asking the wrong question

In his latest post in "UU A Way Of Life", David G. Markham asks, "Participation in war making seems antithetical to UU values. What is the role of a UU chaplain in supporting people engaged in immoral acitivity?" He is responding to an article by UU Navy Chaplain CYNTHIA KANE, in which she- in his words- "tries to explain and justify her chaplaincy in the military"

David seems unaware that his beliefs about war in general, and Iraq specifically, are not the legal, moral, or religious standards of everyone- not even all UUs. His views are not in doubt, referring to our armed forces as a "mercenary force", and equating the Iraq war with the Holocaust: "The "I was only following orders" excuse was rejected at the Nuremburg trials when German troops tried to use this as a defense of their actions in the Holocaust."

This is a complete misreading of both the Nuremburg trials and the Iraq war. In terms of the common service man or woman- the kind that Chaplain Kane ministers to- "I was following orders" was and is a defense for all actions conducted within the legal rules of engagement. The Nuremburg tribunal was prosecuting crimes completely outside the rules of war. The Holocaust was not part of the WWII the regular German soldier was fighting- it began before the war started, and was prosecuted by separate units, such as the SS, the Gestapo, the roving Mordgruppen. The crimes at Abu Ghraib can be compared to the Holocaust- and people were prosecuted for it, and I hope more will be in the future- but it is an insult to everyone in uniform to compare the whole of the war to that.

The vast majority of those in uniform do not believe that their purpose is "killing people and pre-emptively subjugating populations", nor do they believe that what they are doing is immoral. They are engaged in a legal war- whether or not you believe that the war should have ever been started does not change the fact that both the US Congress and the United Nations voted Bush the authority to start it, and neither body has ordered us to leave. They are conducting the war in a professional manner, risking their own lives to reduce civilian deaths, and conducting their own charities to improve the lives of the ordinary Iraqi- did you know that completely separate from official aid, the soldiers themselves have put together charities collecting things like shoes, clothing, toys, and glasses to distribute to the poor over there? They do not see themselves as murdering Storm troopers. Nor do I see them that way.

David calls their actions "immoral and even criminal", and asks, "What is the role of a UU chaplain in supporting people engaged in immoral activity?" This question presupposes that all war is immoral- something that has yet to have been voted on by the UUA. It presumes that all UUs must be pacifists- with the clear understanding that they are immoral if they are not. It assumes a creed that we have not adopted, and so is not the proper question.

The proper question is just seven words shorter than the one asked: "What is the role of a UU chaplain?" To minister to people who need human and spiritual comfort and are not being served by other faiths leaps to mind. The fact that this did not leap immediately to mind for David sounds a whole lot like the attitude Chaplain Kane refers to, quoting Rev. Dr. Lisa Presley: "although we say that we welcome all to our congregations, the perception is that there is a very solid wall keeping those with our values and who happen to choose to be in the military, out of our congregational life.” She continues, “No one will say it outright, but the sense that they have made a stupid choice, or that they are consorting with the enemy, comes through loud and clear in unconscious ways.”

We don't say those things outright... we simply say they need "solace and absolution for sinful activities". Good thing we're not judgmental, like those awful fundamentalists!

Friday, February 20, 2009

How can you respect silly beliefs?

MoxieLife has a pair of wonderful posts- starting
here and continuing here - confessing to a condescending attitude towards those who believe in God. "To make me feel better about rejecting the common belief system of our age (believing in God) I think those that do believe in God are either stupid, child-like or grasping."


I understand completely- for decades I believed that liberals were either hopeless ivory-tower naifs, or power hungry demagogues. But over the years I learned a few things about people. My conservatives beliefs are stronger than ever (economic and political conservatism, that is, not the Religious Right stuff that has somehow attached itself like a barnacle to the conservative ship), but I no longer question the intelligence or motives of liberals.

Why? Because I have learned that all human beings- even you, Mrs. Lovett, even I- believe some damned silly things. If you think you don't, it's only because you haven't had your nose rubbed in it yet; it's inherent to humanity, and no amount of intelligence or education is protection against it.

Take William Shockley: Nobel Prize winner in physics, co-inventor of the transistor, sole inventor of the junction transistor, the man who put the silicon in Silicon Valley- his research assistants founded Intel, National Semiconductor, and Advanced Micro Devices; one of the towering intellects of the last century... but he was also a proponent of Eugenics, and believed in the biological inferiority of blacks. No one is immune.

"Rationality" is a learned behavior, not a natural one, and we are not equipped to extend it to all our perceptions and beliefs. Look at the evolution of the brain... the brain was not redesigned with each advance up from the worm; new shells and layers were added each time instead, like a Microsoft operating system- and the human brain, for all it's surface sophistication, is as quirky as Vista. Our minds are the original legacy systems... our intellect is not who we are; it is a tool used by our true selves, our Ids, buried somewhere in the primitive layers. Thus, we all have our quirky bits, places where what we see as "the next logical step", others will see as "an unproven leap of faith".

Realizing this was a breakthrough. Today, when faced with "irrational" beliefs, I no longer see it as evidence of stupidity or villainy; I see it as proof of humanity. Instead of trying to convince the speaker of his or her stupidity, I look for the departure points where our beliefs differed, try to see what perceptions and perspectives caused them, and address those points directly. The differences may well be irreconcilable, but that merely means we must search for Modus Vivendi rather than agreement... and isn't that the highest expression of a liberal faith?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Living your faith, part 2


"The coach never considered any other option.It didn’t matter that his DeKalb, Ill., High School basketball team had ridden a bus two and a half hours to get to Milwaukee, then waited another hour past game time to play. Didn’t matter that the game was close, or that this was a chance to beat a big-city team. Something else was on Dave Rohlman’s mind when he asked for a volunteer to shoot two free throws awarded to his team on a technical foul in the second quarter. His senior captain raised his hand, ready to go to the line as he had many times before.

Only this time it was different.

“You realize you’re going to miss them, don’t you?” Rohlman said."


Read the rest of the true story by AP sportswriter
Tim Dahlberg .

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Living your faith

Leonard Abess Jr. worked his way up from the print shop of the City National Bancshares of Miami to become its majority stockholder, then sold it to a Spanish firm last November, making a tidy sum in the process. But his rich retirement didn't allow him to forget his former employees. "''I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself,'' said Abess, who was concerned that their 401(k) plans had taken a beating in the downdraft on Wall Street last year."

So what did he do about it?

"...all he did was take $60 million of the proceeds -- $60 million out of his own pocket -- and hand it to his tellers, bookkeepers, clerks, everyone on the payroll. All 399 workers on the staff received bonuses, and he even tracked down 72 former employees so they could share in the windfall.
For longtime employees, the bonus -- based on years of service -- amounted to tens of thousands of dollars, and in some cases, more than $100,000."


Read more about this remarkable man in the
Miami Herald .

Friday, February 13, 2009

Commerce nominee Gregg bows out

President Obama's second nominee for Secretary of Commerce, Senator Judd Gregg, has withdrawn his name from consideration , citing policy differences with the stimulus plan and the Census. (The President wants the Census Bureau to report directly to the White House rather than the Commerce department . Coming just a week after Senator Daschle withdrew because of tax difficulties, the Commerce chair is beginning to resemble the Defense Against the Dark Arts job at Hogwarts.

Every President loses a Secretary or two at some point in their term, but after a month in office and only a dozen-odd picks, President Obama has had one withdrawal over policy, three shot down for tax evasion and/or other financial irregularities, one accepted despite such irregularities because his expertise was needed for the stimulus package, and one granted a waiver from the President's own month-old rules about ex-lobbyists serving. Not an auspicious beginning. I repeat what I said before ; Rahm Emanuel needs to fire someone, or withdraw himself, before this starts to damage the Presidency.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Unitarian Universalist Indulgences

It seems the Catholic Church is selling indulgences again. (Hat tip to Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell ) Indulgences, if you've forgotten your church history, were coupons redeemable for time off in Purgatory, usable by yourself or on the behalf of another. A lot of money was raised for the church by selling indulgences, which gave me an idea...

CUUMBAYA is now offering Indulgences! For every free-will contribution of $25 or more, CUUMBAYA will send you an Indulgence, printed on genuine imitation parchment, guaranteeing that you will not be consigned to everlasting Hellfire by a Unitarian Universalist minister for any sins committed before the issuance date of the Indulgence. CUUMBAYA further guarantees that some portion of that money will be put in the collection plate of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis.


This is a money-back guarantee. Should you find yourself in Hell, sent there by a Unitarian Universalist minister for sins committed before the issuance date of the Indulgence, have your lawyer send a registered letter and CUUMBAYA will cheerfully refund your money. (You should have no trouble finding legal representation in Hell)
Contribute now, and contribute often to keep yourself covered for any new sins you might commit. Don't forget your friends and family- Indulgences are the perfect gift for the man or woman who has done everything!

FULL COVERAGE PLAN Remember CUUMBAYA in your will to get that final Indulgence! A bargain for a life ill spent!


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Two more myths shot down by science.

Last night I saw a PBS documentary about the evolution trial in Pennsylvania a while back, and was thinking about it this morning while reading the news on the internet. I was remembering a line from Inherit The Wind, about science supplanting the pretty poetry of Genesis, when I saw this story: Rare photo of the “end” of the rainbow . There it was, a beautiful sight- but then I realized... it didn't lead to Asgard, and there was no pot of gold.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Hazards of marijuana

I stumbled across an article about marijuana that reminded me of a Chaliceblog post a couple days ago about Michael Phelps , who recently admitted using marijuana. CC said, "My position has always been...
that non-cancer-stricken people should avoid smoking pot because it makes them annoying to be around on several levels, not because it is physically all that bad for them.


I think Michael Phelps is as good a bit of evidence as we're going to get for the second part of that opinion."

While one's ability to swim may not be affected, heavy marijuana use does cause physical damage to the brain, according to the article "Marijuana May Disrupt Brain Development" just published in
Live Science . "Using brain scans, researchers found abnormalities in areas of the brain that interconnect brain regions involved in memory, attention, decision-making, language and executive functioning skills.

The findings are of particular concern because adolescence is a crucial period for brain development and maturation, the researchers note.

"Studies of normal brain development reveal critical areas of the brain that develop during late adolescence, and our study shows that heavy cannabis use is associated with damage in those brain regions," said study leader Manzar Ashtari of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia."

While this study is preliminary and needs further investigation, its findings would be consistent with previous studies of mental function in marijuana users, such as the linked article, Up in Smoke: Marijuana Toasts Memory

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Nancy Killefer withdraws her candidacy to be the first chief performance officer

And for a familiar reason, failing to pay taxes This is the third nominee to crop up with tax trouble. Who's vetting these people, anyway? Is Rahm Emanuel's staff not competent enough to catch these glaring skeletons, or do they not consider them a big deal- do they believe, as most of Washington seems to, in the Leona Helmsly doctrine, "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes"? Whatever the case, Rahm needs to fire somebody now, while President Obama is still riding the wave of goodwill; they won't be able to afford this kind of thing later when the going gets rough.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pride goeth before a fall

Back on the 21st of January, Vice President Biden made fun of Chief Justice Roberts' getting the oath of office wrong... then did it himself while swearing in Secretary of State Clinton! Somebody page Alanis Morisette...

An Inconvenient Winter

Maybe being housebound for the better part of a week by a record snowfall has sensitized me to snow stories in the news, but I couldn't help but notice some unusual snow stories. First we had Marseilles and Madrid covered in snow- not a few flakes, mind you, but airport-closing snow levels. Then the record snows here in the Midwest, followed by snow in The United Arab Emirates , and now Heaviest snow in 20 years brings large parts of Britain to a halt . I began to notice a theme to these stories.

How old was the snow record in the British Isles? Only twenty years. The record that was beaten here in Indianapolis? Only ten years old- and the one before that, in the late 60's. The snow in Jebel Jais, UAE? Well, it snows so seldom there that they have no word for snow; in fact this is only the second snowfall there in recorded history... the previous snow being in 2004! There's an old saying that once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, and three times, a pattern... and the pattern seems to be one for ever increasing snowfalls and ever decreasing winter temperatures.

Funny, that's not the pattern that Al Gore braved a snowstorm to testify to Congress about last week.