Monday, February 25, 2008

Fascinating optical illusion

Things like this make you question whether we live in the "real" world, or just the version of it we see.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Watch "Meet the Press" this coming Sunday

for a big announcement from consumer advocate and perrenial Presidential candidate Ralph Nader, according to,"Nader to Discuss Election Plans" . Evidently, Nader has been quietly positioning for another run this year:

"Kevin Zeese, who was Nader's spokesman during the 2004 presidential race, but is no longer working for him, said Friday that Nader has been actively talking to "lots of people on all sorts of levels" about the possibility of making another run.

Zeese said he could only guess what Nader might do, but added: "Obviously, I don't think ("Meet the Press" host) Tim Russert would have him on for no reason.""

Hillary and Barack may have more to worry about than who is plagiarizing whom.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Not again

There’s been another school shooting, this time at Northern Illinois University. As of the moment I write this, six are dead.

Why have there been so many school shootings in recent years? The easy answer that many jump to is the ready availability of guns- but that doesn’t bear close examination.

100 years ago, everything- up to and including cannons and machineguns- were legal. The Tommy gun , the machinegun made famous by the “Untouchables”, was sold mail order, no questions asked. (which is why so many criminals owned it) Only big cities required a license to carry a gun, and there were no restrictions on buying them. There were no school massacres.

When I was a very small child, machineguns were restricted, and you had to be 18 to buy a pistol in most places, but anyone any age could buy a long gun at any hardware store. You could still buy guns mail order. Lee Harvey Oswald obtained the surplus Italian infantry rifle he assassinated JFK with from an ordinary sporting goods store. No school massacres.

When I was a just a little older, Marlin advertised their .22s in comic books, and Col. Larsen, “The Marlin Man”, a famous sharpshooter, would wow kids by shooting through the hole of a Lifesaver candy at shows and fairs. I learned to shoot in the cub scouts. No school massacres.

In high school, I was on the school rifle team, and more than half the high schools had their own firing range. This was after the King and Robert Kennedy assassinations, so there were now more gun laws in place, but I still could, and did, buy a shotgun as a teenager. No waiting periods, no number of guns bought restrictions, no background checks- and no school massacres.

A couple of years ago, Indianapolis set a new homicide record, both in total number and per capita. I researched the records then, and noticed something: there were more non-firearm homicides- fists, knives, and clubs- in that year than there were TOTAL homicides, INCLUDING guns, the year I was born.

All this makes it really difficult to blame the availability of guns for the modern shootings. Guns are harder to obtain than they’ve ever been in my lifetime, but the violence still keeps getting worse. Some people are blaming poor background checks, not keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. But that still doesn’t explain why these school shootings have been happening only these last few years- there were people with mental illnesses fifty years ago.

One needn’t be a Jerry Fallwell to conclude that there’s something wrong with society itself that is behind this- there are other symptoms as well: rampant drug use, illegitimacy and divorce rates so high that less than one child in five is raised to majority in a two-parent household. But that doesn’t mean the past was better- widespread racism, sexism, homophobia, and injustice so bad that children reading of it in school can scarcely conceive how bad it was.

Is Humankind doomed to live at the poles? Are the choices always repression and oppression, or anarchy? Does it always have to be either public prudery or public licentiousness, either censorship or open sewers aimed at our minds? Either Prohibition or crack dealers on every corner? Won’t anyone tell people “No, we don’t act like that. Not because it’s illegal... not because you’ll burn in Hell... but because you’re better than that.”?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day in the news

Here's an interesting sampling of how Valentine's Day is being covered in the media. First, origin stories; some trace it to the Roman holiday Lupercalia, some to the Christian Saint Valentine, some both: from Western Cape, South Africa City Vision . From the Brunswick, NJ, dailytargum . From the Opelika, AL OANOW . From the Seattle, WA the DAILY . From the Logan, UT The Utah Statesman . And from the Dimapur, Assam, India Morung Express . Finally, from the Brooklyn, NY Global Politican notice that not everyone approves of the annual rose and chocolate infested frivolity.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dueling headlines

From Reuters: Climate change may kill thousands in UK by 2017 . "There is a 25 percent chance that a severe heat wave will strike England and kill more than 6,000 people before 2017 if no action is taken to deal with the health effects of climate change, a report said on Tuesday."

From BBC: Global warming 'may cut deaths' . "However, even 6,000 deaths pales in comparison with the number of cold-related deaths, which in the UK currently average about 20,000 per year."

So is Global Warming good or bad? And how much change does it take to matter- we've been talking one or two degrees change in a century... but those stories are talking about a mere ten years from now. And the baked chicken littles wonder why we question whether they know what they're talking about.

The first story referrences the 2003 heat wave that killed 14,000 people in France alone. I had occassion to look that up a few years ago, and learned that in the US, despite having ten times the population, and despite the heat being worse in areas like Texas than it was in France, we had less than four hundred heat-related deaths. The second story mentions 20,000 per year dying of cold in England- again, doing a story on homelessness, I had reason to look up the US numbers, and they're a fraction of the British mortality. Maybe, juuuust maybe... it's time for Europe to start installing central heating and central air conditioning?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The rich are getting richer,

the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is getting squeezed out of existence. Right?

For the last two weeks I have been pondering

The discussion of worship at Ms. Kitty’s Saloon and Road Show, here and here . They are actually continuations of a discussion Tom Schade began, but her points and her readers’ comments were what sparked my thoughts. (Don’t forget to vote for Ms. Kitty in the Fourth Annual UU Blog Awards - I can say that without reservation, as she and I are nominated in different categories)

For me, one of the problems with our worship services- and, I think, one of the reasons our numbers are so small- is that in most UU services one feels like a member of the audience, not a participant. Indeed, if you equate a hymn with the pledge recited at many civic organizations, there’s little difference between a service and a lecture series. This is why UUs feel so free to play hooky; unless you’re a needed participant, you only need go to the lectures you’re interested in.

Part of the reason for this is our distaste for ritual, and our contempt for “making a joyful noise”- you’d never hear a shout-back from a UU congregate unless the Minister said something nice about George Bush. Another reason is simple inertia; we come from a rather dour, reserved tradition. Other old-line denominations have the same problems, but at least Christians have communion to make them feel they’re part of the show.

One of the most popular services at my home congregation is the annual Christmas Eve candlelight service. Everyone is issued candles; during the final hymn, “Silent Night”, the lights are put out, the candles lit, and the sanctuary is lit by our candles as we file out in a single file procession, extinguishing the candles at the door as we leave. It’s very moving, but not the most effective worship service I’ve seen.

The most powerful worship service I have ever attended was a Pagan Yule service at UU church of Indianapolis. This was not because of the Pagan theology, but the format. UUI has no built in pews, so the Pagans put the chairs in the round, with the leaders in the center. Everyone was given candles. Near the end of the service, the candles were lit, and they started a spiral dance towards the center, singing “This Little Light of Mine”. When we got to the center, we put our candles in a sand box- not extinguishing them, but setting them upright, still burning. By the time I made it back to my seat, “my little light” had become part of a mighty united blaze... it touched a very primitive part of my soul; I felt as if it was the force of our faith, not blind cosmology, that was driving winter back. I watched others return to their seats and gasp when they turned and saw the spectacle they had helped create; many had tears in their eyes. No one who was there that night will ever forget it.

Why can’t we be more like that? It’s not a question of theology; it didn’t matter whether it was Jesus or Sol Invictus being born that night- most Pagans take those stories just as symbolically as most UUs. It was the ritual and the participation that produced the effect. The leaders of that Pagan Grove were not ordained ministers, they didn’t have Doctorates of Divinity. They merely knew how to worship, how to refresh the soul. They knew how to create a sense of belonging, even if it was your first time. If we could capture those elements, we’d never need worry about attendance again.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What this campaign is all about

Here is the program of all the candidates, summed up in a brief synopsis:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Confused about Superdelegates?

Don't be. Here's a simple explanation on how they work in the Democratic Party in my home state, Indiana. (Thanks to Matthew Tully and the IndyStar )I do admit that many other states are more complicated- California much more so- but Indiana tried to keep things simple...

"...Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama -- should their battle continue until Indiana's May 6 primary -- will each walk away with a decent portion of the state's 84 delegates. (Actually, it could be 85. I'll explain that in a bit.)
Let's start at the top. There are two groups of delegates: pledged delegates and superdelegates. First up, the 72 pledged delegates. A portion of these is assigned to each candidate based on the percentage of the popular vote they receive... Of the pledged delegates, 25 are split between candidates based on their percentage of the statewide vote, so if one candidate gets 51 percent of the vote, he or she receives 13 of the 25 delegates.

The other 47 pledged delegates are tied to results in each of Indiana's nine congressional districts. Each district gets between four and six delegates to split between Clinton and Obama. (The exact number each district receives is based on how well Democratic candidates for president and governor performed in 2004.)...

Now let's talk about superdelegates. Indiana has 11. They include the four Democratic members of the U.S. House and Sen. Evan Bayh. Chairman Parker, state Vice Chairwoman Cordelia Lewis-Burks and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrew also occupy spots on the list, as do Democratic National Committee members Phoebe Crane, Bob Pastrick and Connie Thurman.

Andre Carson would become a 12th superdelegate if he wins the March 11 special congressional election.

(I hate to bring this up, but there's also one "unpledged add-on" delegate. It's confusing, but the bottom line is this spot likely will be assigned to Democratic contributor Bren Simon.)..."

Simple, but then Indiana is not sophisticated like Massachuessetts or California or Florida. No wait, Florida's delegates don't count; they're being punished. But the thing to watch is the Superdelegates in each state.

Why? First let me note that I'm about to say applies to both parties; I'm not picking on the Democrats here. When they decided to introduce some democracy into the democratic process, rather than having candidates pick in back rooms at conventions, they were afraid it might get too democratic- the people might pick the wrong candidate. So the party created Superdelegates, older and wiser heads that could throw the nomination back to the right choice.

They've never had to overrule the electorate before, but we've never had dueling candidates like this before. Which will the party think is more electable in the fall? Make no mistake; whatever the voters say, that's the candidate who'll win at the convention.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I finally saw "Across The Universe"

Cancellations turned this into a found day for Ginj and me, so we had a nice brunch, complete with newspaper, at our favorite cholesterol cafe, then took a turn through Blockbuster to see if any of the films we missed all summer had come out on DVD yet- we settled on Across The Universe and Elizabeth.

We decided to watch ATU first. I made a huge batch of popcorn in our Theatre II popper, cranked up the volume, and hit play.


Well, it was a true 60's film... by which I mean it would have been a great film with a couple hits of Mr Natural in me.

Now for Elizabeth.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Is McCain a foregone conclussion?

Here is how Huckabee plans to win the nomination.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Breakthrough in prisoners' rights

The rights of prisoners who belong to minority religions- Wicca, Asatruar, Santeria, etc.- have been argued at the state and federal level for decades, but never at this level before, and never with their own representative speaking. Friday, February 8, for the first time ever, a Wiccan Chaplain will speak at the Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, DC . Rev. Patrick McCollum, a member of Circle Sanctuary Wiccan church and Wiccan and Pagan civil rights activist, was part of the team that got the Pentacle added to the list of religious emblems that may be inscribed on veterans' tombstones, recently became the Director of Prison Chaplaincy for Cherry Hill Seminary, and chair of the National Correctional Chaplaincy Directors Association. He will speak at 9:30 am on Friday, February 8 at U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 624 Ninth Street NW, Room 540, Washington, DC.

I cannot follow the logic

of Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, UUA Trustee from the Metropolitan New York District , in her decision to not attend the next General Assembly. The issue, of course, is the security requirement that attendees show a government issued ID; she says, "This situation exemplifies our Fifth Principle writ large, and I am consumed by the idea that we have given the US government the capacity to dictate to our General Assembly who might and might not join us." Ok... assuming the worst from the Port security officials, who would be excluded by this? Anyone who drives to GA is already prepared to show ID at any traffic stop. Those who take a train or plane must show their ID just to get there. Anyone staying in a hotel must show ID to get a room. These things apply in every city, not just Ft. Lauderdale. So the only person affected by the special security in the Port of Ft Lauderdale and not at a GA in any other city would be the one who hitchhikes there, and stays at a homeless shelter or tent city in a park, AND who cannot get a government ID for some reason.

So who cannot get the required ID? Not the poor- even if your state does not give free ID as my state does, (Indiana requires ID to vote, and so gives free ID to those who cannot scrape up $10 for a drivers license), and this poor person receives no governemnt aid of any kind, (AFDC, SSI, all other government programs require ID as well), the UUA will buy it for you! (see Frequently Asked Questions About Security in Fort Lauderdale ) So the poor are able to get ID, as are convicted felons, Communists, VooDoo Houngans, left handed albino pipe fitters... in fact, the one and only class of people unable to get U.S. Government ID are illegal aliens. Actually, even an illegal alien could get in if they have ID from their nation of origin- the Ft. Lauderdale Port Security accepts ID from foreign nations, and does not run a computer check on them. (again, see the FAQ) So the only delegate who could be refused is an illegal alien who doesn't even have ID from their home country. Perhaps my congregation is a snooty elitist one, but that description does not fit any of our delegates.

As there is no practical reason for objecting, the only remaining reason is one of principal- the refusal to submit to government even when you're on their turf, rather than your own. I can understand that one, but it seems to me that there's another principal at stake here, too, one that should be balanced against the absolutist non-complance stand- and it has to do with our current debate on the Peace resolution. The raison d'etre for the extra security is that ports are both targets and conduits for terrorism. If there is another 9/11, there will be another war- as simple as that. Unlike the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war had popular support because it was the country from which 9/11 was launched- and a great many of those against the Iraq war are only complaining about how badly it's been handled, not the concept of the war. It seems to me that it's incumbent upon those most strenuosly opposing war to take the lead in following all measures meant to prevent war, and another attack might well mean the full might of the US Military being brought to bear upon the Middle East, rather than the police action it's been treated as so far- something I don't think we want to contemplate. If we want to take peace seriously, we have to take security seriously. Given what's at stake, what kind of example does it set for someone who has to show ID to rent a video to object to showing ID to enter a port?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Is your driver’s license “real” ?

This coming May 11th, the Real ID Act takes effect. From that day forward, if your state’s drivers license does not comply with “Real ID” standards, you can’t use it to enter airports or any Federal facility- including SSI, Medicare, and Veterans’ Affairs offices... and only half the states have so far complied! (the link above will give your states state of compliance) Four states have flat-out refused. Mark your calendars to watch the fireworks...

A special cautionary word for Obama supporters

Remember that the Democratic Party has 796 Superdelegates ; unelected party officials who nonetheless have votes at the convention. It is possible for Obama to win 60% of the elected delegates, and still lose the total delegate vote 48%-52%, if the party regulars break for Senator Clinton... and the Clintons have a lot of markers to call in. If you really want Senator Obama, vote big.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A cautionary word for the 2008 election

The UU Blogosphere is full of hopeful posts about Barack Obama. Perfectly understandable. But they are basing much of their hopes on his ability to change things in America- which is a mistake, and one that could lead to bad feelings in the future. As important as the choice for President is, it’s not the most important choice in front of you in 2008. Not even close.

More important are your choices for House and Senate. The President cannot spend a single dime unless they give it to him, he cannot start a war they don’t give their approval to, he cannot give an executive order they cannot override. In the end, all power is invested in the Congress- even the Supreme Court can be forbidden to rule upon Congressional order. And you cannot depend upon your political party to make a wise choice of candidates; both parties have held power in the last ten years, and neither one has covered itself in glory.

More important still, if you really want things to change, are your local races. A great deal of ink, airtime, and bandwidth will be spent debating the Presidential Candidates’ tax plans, and yet for those of us in the bottom 75% of wage earners, our Federal income tax bills will be meaningless compared to our state and local taxes; many in the bottom 50% with families will pay no Federal income tax at all after Earned Income Tax Credits, etc. It was not President Bush nor Speaker Pelosi who increased my property taxes by $3,000.00 this year, (that’s not the total, that’s the increase), nor was it they who increased the County income tax by 65%- and neither McCain nor Obama will be able to lower them.

Much will be made of the candidates’ education programs- and yet it is not they who build the schools, hire the teachers, select the books, buy the buses- or float the bonds to pay for all those things. The candidates will speak of new or expanded programs for the poor- but it will be the Township (or Ward or Parish, depending on your state) Trustee administering those programs who will make them a success or failure. The candidates will speak of law and order, but it is not they who will decide between new patrol cars or funding the police pension plan. They will talk of bridges to the future- but it will be the local Public Safety and Transportation Commissioners who fix the real bridges we depend upon to get to work.

In Indiana, every facet of government is run by an elected official- counting all levels, we have over 11,000 elected officials. While that’s more than average, there’s not a state East of the Mississippi that has fewer than 6,000- I guarantee that if you look it up, the total number in your state will shock you- especially since I know that you have no idea who they are. Here in Indy, a billion dollars will be spent this year by people no one outside of a few political junkies knows, most of whom ran unopposed... and the same thing is true in your town. Meanwhile, the average citizen votes only in Presidential years- and then says the system is broken when nothing changes.

Let this pattern be broken in 2008. Learn the names of the people who will affect your daily life, and let them know that you know... fix your Ward, your Township, your City, your County, your State- and see how much your life changes, regardless of the presidency!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

In the play, "A Lion In Winter",

One character remarks on the unlikelyhood of the scenario they had been discussing. The other replies, "In a world where carpenters are ressurected, anything can happen." From now on, that reply will be "Hey- Giants 17, Pats 14!"