Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lying, even in a good cause, is wrong

The latest News from UUA Advocacy and Witness ,"Act Now to Pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act!", does just that when it says, "...it shows our elected officials that as Unitarian Universalists, we stand on the side of love for equality AND religious freedom.", and "ENDA's opponents say that it interferes with their religious freedom, but we know that this is not true." It IS true, it DOES interfere with their religious freedom.

For many Christians- especially the more fundamental ones most likely to be affected by this act- the term "religious institutions" is not limited to a church or a church bookstore. The law may make a distinction between a bakery owned and staffed by Christians and a monastery whose monks bake bread, but they do not- they take "Wherever two or more are gathered in my name" seriously. The government may say the banner on the wall of the construction company that says, "Everything we do is dedicated to the greater glory of God" is mere decoration, but they do not. They do not compartmentalize their faith from the rest of their lives; they believe that religion is not just for Sunday in just this building, but something they must live every moment.

Perhaps the people who wrote that advocacy letter are unaware of this, despite being college graduates working in a religious institution, but my Congressman, being Muslim, is well aware of it, as are both my Senators. Were I to take that tack in a letter to them, they would presume it to be just another email generated letter from a special interest group... which, in fact, it would be; and they'd know that if my name is in their Farley Files, and it might be as I've met all three of them.

Much of what I hear in church, and much of what I read from bloggers and the UUA tells me that many UUs have never studied and don't really understand their Christian neighbors. They lecture Christians over social justice issues, assert "truths" that Christians know ain't so. I often feel like beginning every such discussion by quoting Benjamin Franklin from 1776: "These men, no matter how much we may disagree with them, they are not ribbon clerks to be ordered about - they are proud, accomplished men, the cream of their colonies. And whether you like them or not, they and the people they represent will be part of this new nation that YOU hope to create. Now, either learn how to live with them, or pack up and go home! In any case, stop acting like a Boston fishwife."

Far better to argue from the truth- yes, this is an infringement of your rights- but none of our rights are absolute. Freedom of speech and press have restrictions, ranging from shouting "fire" to McCain-Feingold. Freedom of assembly is restricted by the requirement of permits. And freedom of religion has restrictions, too; we forbid human sacrifice, even when voluntary; we forbid the use of certain drugs, we require parents to get medical care for their children. Rights are an always fluid balancing act between the individual and the compelling interests of society- and at this time, the balance must be drawn here, for these reasons... Don't tell him "all seriously religious people agree..." (as our previous president was wont to do), because he knows it isn't true.

Honesty really is the best policy. Even if you don't win the first round, you'll win respect, and your words will gain weight in the process. Acting like politicians will only get you the same respect that politicians get- surely we want more than that.

Addendum: CC's comment shows that some clarification of the Christian opposition to ENDA is in order. Many Christians believe that someone who is actively homosexual cannot be a Christian. Homosexual desires, they feel, are a temptation of Satan; one is not responsible for such temptations- ask Job. But acting on those temptations is a conscious decision. Therefore, an active homosexual who feels no remorse and has no intention of trying to change, is unrepentant and cannot be Christian. Therefore, the owner of a Christian company, who has dedicated his endeavors as a testimony to how one can succeed by living God's word feels he cannot hire a homosexual. (this describes many of my former customers) He feels his rights of free association and freedom of religion are abridged by being forced to hire non-Christians. He feels that if the courts have found otherwise since 1968, it only means that the courts have been wrong since 1968.

He is right- it is an abridgement of his rights. It simply isn't rational to say that the freedom of association doesn't mean you can decide who to associate with, or that the freedom of religion doesn't mean you can use your religion beliefs in the exercise of your freedom of association. But, as I noted above, we abridge rights all the time in the public interest. My position is that by getting a business license, society has granted him certain rights and privileges, such as the ability to buy wholesale, to not pay sales tax on most items, etc. He has become a public institution, and owes society certain favors in return- such as complying with anti-discrimination laws. The price of the right to discriminate is to forfeit the special advantages and privileges of a public institution.

I do not know if this was the reasoning in the 1968 decision that said employers may not discriminate on the grounds of religion. If it was, then the court admitted that it was interfering with the right of free association and free exercise of religion, and I agree with the court; it was a balance between individual rights and society's needs. ENDA would be a further abridgement of those rights; justified, yes, but still an abridgement. If the courts ruled that there was no right of free association in the first place, then they came to the right decision via the wrong path. It wouldn't be the first time.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Of racism, protestors, and the greatest virtue

Much has been made of the role of racism as the motivation for the "Tea Party" protests. My position has been that of course there are racists; it is a human failing and all the protestors are human beings (to the best of my knowledge, but that's a different conspiracy theory), but the opposition to healthcare reform is genuine, as evidenced by past opposition when Presidents Nixon and Clinton tried it. Others, from Janeane Garofalo to President Carter to a number of UU bloggers believe that race is THE motivation of "the overwhelming majority" or even "That is racism straight up."

I noted in this post that President Obama also believed that opposition to healthcare reforms and his other political projects were the motivation, not racism. It was suggested that this was a political position, that he knows that demonizing the opposition is not the way to win hearts and minds. This is a reasonable supposition, as it's quite true- something that many people never seem to get. Now President Clinton has also defended (at least as far as the charge of racism) the protestors. From an article in Politico 44 : "Asked for his response to former President Jimmy Carter's statement that Obama critics were motivated by racism, Clinton walked a careful line. "You can't — but if you're president, you have to be exceedingly sensitive to the fact that not everybody who disagrees on you on health care has a — has a racist bone in their body. Some of the extremists do, but most of them don't. This — let me put it this way: If Barak Obama were a white president, I believe virtually 100 percent of the people who oppose him on health care today would oppose him on health care anyway." A longer video clip is here

Perhaps he was only being political; again, it would be a reasonable assumption. But something about the way he said it, and the way it agreed with things he has said in the past, (I've followed him closely for the better part of two decades), makes me believe he was sincere. Call me naive and Pollyanna if you wish, (it wouldn't be the first time ), but I find that touching. Here is a Southern Baptist- a faith most UUs would call "judgmental"- possibly the most skilled practitioner of a profession even the most generous would say is rife with cynicism, a man who has taken more personal attacks than any President in history save Nixon... and he still has more faith in the goodness, dignity and worth of his fellow man than many UU bloggers- including some ministers.

In the past, I have often said, "Conservatives believe Liberals are wrong; Liberals believe Conservatives are evil"... when and where I formed my political beliefs, that seemed to be the mindset. I have learned over the years (hat tip to CC) that this mindset is not the exclusive province of Liberals, but if you substitute "my side and their side", it most certainly applies to the assumption that Tea Party folk are racist. The belief that the opposition is evil is a dangerous mindset; it shuts off debate, (why listen to evil?), it hardens the heart, darkens the vision, (a large percentage of mankind is evil!), it stops examination of your own beliefs (why pay attention to the arguments of evil?)

One could easily believe it to be the mindset of an extremist- but that's not necessarily true, either. I have studied the writings of many extremists, both political and religious, and many concede the sincerity and good will of the opposition. There are even terrorists who believe in the sincerity and good will of the opposition- they only use violence because they believe the stakes are so high; the consequences of the opposition's errors justify it.

If extremism is not the source of this mindset, what is? For some, (cough, cough, Garofalo), it's seems to be sheer ego- "I am a superior lifeform; I cannot be in error- even the dimmest bulbs must realize that I'm their better. Therefore, they must be evil" But there are many who are modest and self effacing who still hold that mindset. I have known those who not only tithe to their church, but spend the remainder of their disposable income on charity, and all their free time on social justice work who hold that mindset... and therein lies the clue: this mindset is the result of absolute conviction.

Note that absolute conviction is not the same thing as faith. Faith is the belief in that which cannot be proven. The scientist and the theologian alike have faith; any honest scientist will tell you that many things are taken on faith, in that they are assumptions not yet disproved. But any good scientist or theologian has a measure of doubt... a scientist will accept new discoveries, even if they run counter to lifelong beliefs; a theologian will accept new revelations- the Mormon church, just as one example, has had many. Someone with absolute conviction, however, will not accept anything counter to those convictions. A scientist with absolute conviction will not accept new discoveries, claiming instead that there is some error in the methodology- there were those who went to their grave denying atomic energy because it violated the laws of conservation of energy. A theologian with absolute conviction will deny a new revelation as a ruse of Satan or a hallucination, even if they realize the irony that many believed their convictions were a ruse or hallucination.

The world's religions have long debated the greatest virtue; courage, faith, hope, love, charity all have their proponents. I wish to add doubt as a candidate. Not enough doubt to cause analysis paralysis, (all virtues become flaws in their extreme), but enough to make you pause when the stakes are high enough... enough doubt in your rightness to not automatically call your opposition racist or fascist... enough doubt in your Biblical interpretations to call a doctor for your child if faith healing is not working... enough doubt in your faith to not push the button on your suicide bomb vest... enough doubt to constantly revisit your conclusions to see if they still make sense.

Doubt, in that measure, may be the greatest virtue.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Keeping them coming

The latest church bulletin from my congregation, All Souls Unitarian Church (Indianapolis) , made me think of the recent election of a new UUA President. The biggest issue was how to grow our membership- and I thought most people were looking at the issue the wrong way. Most of the discussion was about how to get people in the doors; I maintained that the problem wasn't getting people to visit- I can't think of a Sunday we haven't had visitors- the problem was getting them to keep visiting. That, I believe, is the problem- after all, if the average UU congregation picked up a single new member a week, they'd double their membership in two years.
The connection to the church bulletin was the teaser for future sermons:
"Sunday, October 4, 10:30 a.m.
"The Religion of God"
Rev. Bruce Clear
Over the years, I've enjoyed preparing religious biographical sermons, and spoken on "The Religion of... " Some examples are Walt Whitman, Albert Einstein, Susan B. Anthony, Kahlil Gibran, Charles Darwin, Beatrix Potter, and so forth. It is time to
quit playing around and go right to the heart of the matter. What religion does God practice?"

Does anyone think I'm going to miss that sermon? I've mentioned before that Bruce's sermons are somewhere between a chat with that favorite cousin or uncle whose visits you look forward to and a lecture by your favorite professor. Here's a few sermons of recent years I remember fondly:
Roots and Branches of Religious Liberty
Eyes On the Prize

Feeling At Home in the Universe
Searching for Truth: A Detective Story

A Harmony of Science and Religion
Heartbreak, Healing, and Hope
The Anatomy of Happiness

Competition and the Game of Life
Our Most Intractable Sin
Are All Religions Really the Same?
The Heart and Art of Unitarian Universalism
Was Jesus a Christian?
To Keep Alive the Covenant

What Values? Whose Values?
The Anatomy of the Soul

Give Them Not Hell, But Hope and Courage
The Sacred Feminine

Yes, social justice is important, and we must never let it out of our thoughts... but do we have a single social justice issue that isn't addressed by a secular organization that's more efficient, and has more clout? So why would one go to a church to clumsily, ineffectively engage the issues?

As Bruce said in his sermon, Are all religions the same , "It is relatively easy to identify the questions that religions tend to ask. What we find in studying the worlds religions is that each one has a different favorite question. Some of religions common questions are as follows:
First, what is the purpose of life? Why are we here?
Second, how can I cope with suffering in life?
Third, how do I find personal peace and contentment?
Fourth is the question of ethics. How do I know what is right and what is wrong?
And fifth, how do I know truth? On what can I depend?
These are five of many questions that human beings the world over ask themselves, and usually turn to religion to discover answers."

These are the questions being addressed by those churches that are actually growing. These are the questions people go to church for. They don't join churches to have a vehicle for the healthcare debate or abortion rights or immigration reform- those are political questions being much more effectively addressed by political organizations. Too much of the UUA is more PAC than church- and therefore performs neither function effectively. Churches that spend more time addressing these questions than asking you to write your congressman- the Pentecostals, say, or the Jehovah's Witnesses, have grown from 40-70% the last twenty years. One religion that addresses these questions AND encourages people to study and think for themselves- Wicca- has grown more than 140% per year for the last ten years.

Our numbers have been static for more than forty years.

Maybe doing what religions do isn't the best way for us to grow as a religion- but it's a great way to retain any growth we get from any other plan.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Race is not the overriding issue,

was the claim being made in an interview with CNN, and covered by Matt Spetalnick For Reuters. The interviewee was disagreeing with former President Carter, who had said, "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."

"I think there's been a long-standing debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes," he said. He likened it to FDR being called a communist or socialist when the New Deal was being debated. "Things that were said about Ronald Reagan when he was trying to reverse some of the New Deal programs were pretty vicious as well," he said.

While not denying there were some racists out there, he was quick to point out the flip side- that there were those who voted for President Obama only because of his race as well.

Now I know some of you are saying, "Yeah, we've heard you and CC both say these things before, and just because you've got some pundit to quote doesn't make any of you right- who was it, George Will or Charles Krauthammer? Actually, it was President Obama who said those things. There's a short clip here and a longer story here .

Friday, September 18, 2009

*Double sigh*

I've spent the last few hours working on the computer. Well, to be more accurate, I was watching while a Microsoft tech did the actual work via shared desktop. But hey, I had to click "ok" several times, so it was a joint effort! But that's not exactly what I was sighing about.

This started a couple days ago, with me trying to get a glitch fixed using the help chat. Within a few minutes, the tech said he's have to bounce this one up to the advanced help, so he connected me to the next level of experts. A half hour later the advanced tech admitted defeat, and said he'd take a copy of all my settings and they'd have a team try to duplicate the problem and figure out a fix: they'd call me in a couple more days with a solution.

Sure enough, I got the call today. True to their word, they'd done the research and had a fix for me- the tech kept me on the phone while working on the computer, confirming symptoms and such as she did her thing. I've got to say, every tech involved was cheerful and polite, and the job was done in good time- at no charge.
But the fix involved a number of reboots, and we chatted a bit while waiting. The subject turned to the hardware I was using, and the good buy I'd gotten for the price. I said, "Yeah, that's less than I paid for my Commodore 64!" She, after a moment's hesitation, said, "Is that a car?" I said, "No, that was my first computer, back in '83" She laughed, and said, "Oh! I wasn't born yet."

Sigh. Double sigh. I can understand a regular kid not knowing the mighty 64, but this was one of the bulging forehead geeks that the lesser techs deferred to... I'm not sure why this feels worse than knowing that the President of the United States is younger than I am, but it does.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


While I was writing my last post, our sabre-tooth tomcat, Garfunkle, came over to my desk yowling in his eerily soft voice, and deposited a mouse at my feet. I gave him an ear rub, finished the post, then got up to get a paper towel. When I got back to my seat, I found Garfunkle was very politely taking care of it himself.

It's just those little crunching noises that get to me.

Of Atheism and healthcare

CC and Jess have been continuing the discussion of the theist/atheist divide that started with the infamous ad in the latest UUWorld. I think the other subject du jour, the healthcare debate, can illustrate the point CC and I have been trying to make for years (only she usually does it more eloquently)

When you see a sign or poster with President Obama painted like The Joker, or calling him a fascist, are you convinced? Do you want to break bread with someone carrying a placard depicting Obama with a toothbrush moustache?

Then why do think I'll be convinced by a sign quoting Dawkins? Why would you think I'd listen to any argument that begins with "Faith is believing what you know ain't so"?

Everyone does it differently

You're thirsty. There's clean, sparkling running water. Some would cup their hands and raise the water to their lips. Some would turn their head sideways and slurp at the stream. And some would just shove their whole head in the waterfall and lick the dribbles running down their face...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Whose rights are they anyway?

There are two schools of thought concerning individual rights: one says that rights are granted to the individual by society (or the state, or whatever term fits the issue); the other says that rights reside in the individual, and society must show some compelling interest to restrict them. Conservatives like to say that this is the difference between a liberal and a conservative, but it upon examination, both sides sometimes argue both ways.

This thought struck me while listening to my favorite radio talk show, Abdul in the morning . The discussion was a proposed change in Indiana's liquor laws to allow Sunday sales. Many who would describe themselves as conservative were saying, "Are you incapable of thinking ahead and buying on Saturday? Why should we allow you to buy on Sunday?" But if you believe in the rights of the individual, the question should be, "What is the compelling state interest in restricting the sale of a legal product? Is alcohol more potent on Sunday than Saturday?" The same reversal of burden occurs in the discussion of gay marriage. If you believe in individual rights, the question is not "Why should the state recognize gay marriage?", but "If the state recognizes any marriage, what is the compelling interest preventing the recognition of this one?".

Conservatives are not alone in hypocrisy, of course. If the issue is guns, then the right to own and bear them resides in the state, to be extended to or withdrawn from the individual at the state's pleasure- but if the issue is abortion, then the right resides in the individual, and cannot be withdrawn by the state. The personal right of choice and the principle of competition are so important that there must be a public healthcare option to provide that choice and competition, with the proviso that the public choice must sink or swim on its own merits, so that the competition is genuine. Unless the issue is education, of course, in which case the public option is paramount, regardless of cost, efficiency, or effectiveness.

The lesson is that human nature dictates that the core guiding principle is "Whose ox is being gored?"*
*Do oxen gore each other? I thought bulls were made oxen and stallions were made geldings to calm them down so they wouldn't fight each other.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My kingdom for a spider

Many people dislike spiders, or worse- as this T-shirt says , "We have nothing to fear but fear itself... and spiders". But there's a couple flies in the house, and the cats are on the hunt- a combined total of more than forty pounds of ferocious carnivore are stalking, climbing, and leaping in the pursuit. Not all the bric-a-brac on all the shelves in all of Christendom will deter them from their self-appointed duty. *sigh*

Charlotte, where are you when I need you?

One doctor's view of healthcare reform

Dr. Marc Siegel takes exception to many of the things said in the debate on healthcare. "If President Obama thinks he's smarting from a rough August, he should try being a doctor. After all, we've taken quite a few shots in this health care debate, including a few from the president himself. When Obama accused physicians of taking out tonsils or performing amputations just for the money, he offended all doctors, not just ear, nose and throat specialists or vascular surgeons.", he begins. "...On the other hand, meet Zane Pollard, a pediatric ophthalmologist in Atlanta who works in a Medicaid clinic and literally saves children's sight or performs surgeries — often without payment. Pollard wrote a letter, published in the American Thinker in August and well-circulated since, that shows what is being done to help the uninsured rather than what is not being done: "I operate on at least two illegal immigrants each month who pay me nothing, and the children's hospital at which I operate charges them nothing also." Pollard notes that such treatment is delivered in "every community in America." Read more from My medical oath requires no government oversight

Monday, September 14, 2009

One last post about the FFRF ad controversy

I had not intended to say anything more about it, but judging by comments to many of the blogs that complained about the ad, and a couple blog posts supporting it, it appears to me that the nature of the offense and the complaints were not universally understood. Goodwolve, for example, in two posts- I am not changing my mind , and One more time - is there room in the UUA (or how fear is ruining everything) seems to believe that the entire issue is that theists hate atheists, want them to either shut up or convert, and want to insert the church into the government.

Steve Caldwell, in his post Anti-Atheism Ad in UU World That Criticizes Bishop Spong , seems to believe that theists can't take any criticism: "As one of my favorite bloggers (Greta Christina) has said in the past, people are so used to whispering around religion that an everyday voice sounds like a shout." (as a quick aside, I can understand how one might want to say that to a Christian, but we Pagans are kind of used to being shouted at. By Christians and atheists both.) Steve and Goodwolve are both misunderstanding the issue.

Let's look at the quotes so many of us found objectionable. Clarence Darrow: "I don't believe in God because..." So far, so good. I have no problem whatsoever with that; half- possibly more than half- of my friends are atheist or agnostic*, I have no problem with anyone stating their beliefs in a positive way. The problem comes in the second half of the quote: "... I don't believe in Mother Goose." To understand my problem with this requires a discussion of a distinction that has been largely discarded in modern discourse, especially politics: the difference between a mistake and a lie.

To make a mistake is to say something that is untrue, but you believed it was true when you said it. There was no intent to deceive yourself or others; you were simply wrong. A lie is saying something that you knew was wrong when you said it. The same distinction can be made between a mythical character and a fictional one. An example of a mythical character is the Urban Legend about the guy who bolted a JATO rocket to his '67 Chevy, flew off the high side of a turn, and crashed. It never happened... but it's very believable; JATO rockets do exist, and daredevils have in fact bolted them on cars and attained very high speeds. Foolish people really do try to duplicate stunts they're not experienced enough to pull off. There is no obvious reason to doubt the story, unlike a fictional character- say Mr. Spock- who there is no reason to believe to be an actual person, and the author never intended for you to believe to be an actual person. Thus when Darrow finished his statement with "... I don't believe in Mother Goose.", he was saying that God is as obviously fictional as Mother Goose, that those writing about God never intended their tales to be believable- but then asked us to believe them anyway. That is worse than saying that those who believe in God are gullible- I don't mind that, of course that's what an atheist believes- but he is saying that those who wrote about God are liars, and we who believe are dupes of the silliest kind.

The same thing is true of the Twain quote. Had he said "Faith is believing what ain't so.", I would have no complaint at all. His "truth" is that there is no God- of course he's going to say it ain't so. But that's not what he said- the quote is "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." He is calling people of faith liars, or worse.

Dawkins does Twain one better. He, too calls God fictional, but then adds another insult on top of that: "... is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction." And he goes even farther than that, he takes a step neither Darrow nor Twain took in his insult. Steve said, "However, I don't see either ad as a personal attack on any person but rather a criticism of different opinions about theology. From my perspective as a reader of both ads, I can see that criticism of a religious idea isn't the same as criticizing the person who may hold that idea." But Dawkins wasn't speaking in the generic; he was very specific- "The God of the Old Testament". That's saying, "Hey, you, Jews- YOUR God, the one you have a covenant with? HE is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction."

Goodwolve asked, "Why can't you let an ad that is defending your right to promote your religion in the confines of the law be part of our Unitarian dialog?" What about the ad is defending my right to promote my religion? It says not one word about defending my right to promote my religion- and it does insult me and my ancestors. One cannot even use the small-print boilerplate to establish that intent- it reads, "a 501(c)(3) non-prophet organization of atheists and agnostics working since 1978 to keep church and state separate." They clearly don't want me as a member; they specify atheists and agnostics, even to the point of making the pun "non-prophet". Given that, and they insults they quote- and the complete lack of any mention of the Constitution, or any church-state issues- how on Earth was I supposed to understand that they're defending me?

She also asks, "If personal experience is what really changes us I doubt it will happen that a theist will convince me that there is a god. I also doubt that I will convince them there isn't. And yet we feel the need to defend our position." This is a very important point that comes up in all the theist/atheist debates, and deserves attention.

Goodwolve, I'm not trying to convince you. I'm not trying to convert you. My faith is not evangelical; in fact, my beliefs say I couldn't convince you if I tried- the experience of the Divine (or the lack of it) is intensely personal, and can rarely translate from one person to the other; I have often said that in truth there are six billion religions. Nor am I defending my position, not to you or anyone. I do not need or desire your belief in my vision of the Divine. Nor do I need your belief to fellowship with you- Hell's bells, many of my fellow Pagans have deep differences with me. I treasure differences and new perspectives; one cannot learn anything by talking to a mirror. I love reading your blog, and Steve's. Driving you out of the church is not what i want.

ALL I WANT IS TO NOT BE CALLED A LIAR OR A DUPE AT CHURCH. That's all. It really, really is. Tell me God does not exist, and we're still friends; those are your beliefs, and I will defend your right to hold them. State your reasons for believing so if you wish, and I'll happily examine them- I don't know everything. I love hearing positive statements of a position to study. I want to hear it. But statements that do nothing to advance your position but merely denigrate mine I'll complain about.

Is that really so hard to understand?
*I'm using the terms in the commonly understood forms: atheist- there is no God, agnostic- I don't know. Yes, I know atheists say it isn't that simple, and the dictionary definitions are wrong, but the fine distinctions are not germane to this discussion.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Update to "Community organizing at it's best"

In Community organizing at it's best , we saw secretly shot video of a sting in which a lawyer and small business consultant were helping a prostitute to buy a house to use as a brothel- with imported child sex slaves- and set up a money laundering scheme to funnel the money into a political campaign. As disgusting as it was, there are bad apples in any profession; it was just one office. But now it turns out it wasn't; footage has been released of the same sting working in a second office.

Forget for the moment that this was an ACORN office. Is this really how lawyers operate? Ok, I know that criminal defense attorneys defend the guilty; even the guilty deserve to have their rights defended. But this was before the fact. Why? It's not like they're getting rich doing it, not in a community organizer office- they act like it's a calling. Do lawyers lose their souls as a consequence of practicing law, or does the law attract the soulless?

Some reflections on blogging

I don't do this to get rich; it doesn't pay. I don't do this to be famous. Oh, it's nice to get recognition, but I don't load every post full of searchbot tags, and spamlink myself through comments, relevant or not, on every blog, forum, website, newspaper, and social networking site on Earth like some bloggers do to get attention.

That being the case, I take pride in the readership I do have. I get a hundred and some odd hits a day during slow seasons like right now, a couple hundred during elections or other periods of interest. I have readers in a dozen countries, not just North America and Europe, but even India and Australia. Some check in every day, and it's gratifying to have such devoted readers. On the other hand, some are just a little too devoted.

I have one reader who doesn't just read about me, but writes about me as well, 14 posts, three just in the last four days- my name is a tag on the reader's own blog. Today, on my birthday, the reader checked in 27 times! And all the searches- a couple dozen searches of my name just today. This goes beyond mere fandom; I'm beginning to suspect this fan has a crush on me. Sure, sure, most of the searches are for things like "Joel Monka + flack", or "Joel Monka + asshole", but that's how the immature and socially inept flirt- watch any group of tweeners.

I can't pretend it's not flattering, but I want to state for the record that I am very happily married, and not looking for anything on the side.

I'm also resuming moderation.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Update to "Issues of sex and gender more complex than commonly supposed"

The tests are back on the athlete I wrote about in Issues of sex and gender more complex than commonly supposed , and according to The Sun , she is a hermaphrodite- but it took internal scans to discover it; both gynecological exams and hormone testing of her urine were within female norms. As I said before, the question of sex is more complex than commonly supposed.

That being the case, I have some questions for those who oppose gay marriage: should she be forbidden to marry a man because she does possess testis? (even though it takes a CAT scan to find them) Or should she marry a woman, despite the things they might do when alone? (she does appear normal to a gynecologist) Or do you believe that God intended her to live alone and unloved?

If you said she could marry a man because she feels herself to be a woman, does that mean that her emotional state matters more than the physical realities? Or is that the same as any other "man" who knows inside she's a woman? How would you feel about a man or woman who would marry her?

Or would you tell me what Karrin Murphy told Harry Dresden in Jim Butcher's "White Night", "Stop making me think, I'm believing over here."

Community organizing at it's best

Two "secret shoppers" go to ACORN to see if they really do help the little people navigate government bureaucracy and red tape to start a small business, and enter politics.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Racism 101?

Rev Wooden at Aside From The Obvious , in a post entitled "Racism 101", says, "OK, at the risk of offending some of you who get this, but with the sincere hope that this will be news to others, let me tell you a simple fact: Racism is not about bigotry. I say this because the intense hostility to our president, yes ours and I do mean all Americans, is profoundly racist."

This makes no more sense to me after the election than it did before. If you recall, before the election many UU bloggers were saying that racism was the issue because then-Senator Obama wasn't poling as well as they thought he should have. The fact that he was poling better than President Clinton had been during either of his campaigns didn't impress them; any opposition to Obama showed institutional racism. And now people seem shocked that there is intense hostility to the President... as if there hasn't been intense hostility to the President- any President- for decades now.

Let's take Rev. Wooden's points in order: "Would we ever question the natural citizenship of a white person running for president?" Yes, we would. We have. Surely some others out there are old enough to remember that some people claimed that JFK couldn't count as a citizen for the purposes of running for President because he was Catholic, and his obedience to the Pope would run afoul of the "...abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject..." portion of citizenship? The same accusations were leveled at Republican candidate Mitt Romney, though for a different church. Politics is politics... President Obama is susceptible to the citizenship thing because he was a complete unknown before the primary season, a distressingly high percentage of Americans weren't even aware that Hawaii is a state, and many of those who did know didn't know when it became a state.

"Did we ever call Richard Nixon socialist (when it meant something) when he imposed wage and price controls or even tried to reform health care?" Yes, many did. Nixon may have been popular among Republicans, but not among conservatives. Here is an article calling Nixon a socialist in 1971- before he imposed wage and price controls or tried to reform health care! After those things, libertarians and conservatives left the Republican party in droves- Nixon was a great recruiter for the Libertarian party. Even those who stayed were disaffected; that's how Reagan almost knocked off Ford in the primaries.

"Did we question the integrity of Bush 1 when he addressed the nation's schoolchildren and asked them to write him telling how they would help him?" Yes, we did. In fact, the Democrats held Congressional hearings about it. There was plenty of uproar about it. If you don't remember, read When Bush spoke to students, Democrats investigated, held hearings from Beltway Confidential. "The day after Bush spoke, the Washington Post published a front-page story suggesting the speech was carefully staged for the president's political benefit. "The White House turned a Northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props," the Post reported. With the Post article in hand, Democrats pounced. "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students," said Richard Gephardt, then the House Majority Leader. "And the president should be doing more about education than saying, 'Lights, camera, action.'" Democrats did not stop with words. Rep. William Ford, then chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate the cost and legality of Bush's appearance. On October 17, 1991, Ford summoned then-Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and other top Bush administration officials to testify at a hearing devoted to the speech."

Come on now, people, it's hard enough to fight racism without having the word stripped of all meaning by claiming that anyone who disagrees with you is racist, or that any speech or essay you don't like is full of "code words", or that perfectly ordinary partisanship is racist.

A miracle- or something else?

Back in 2006, in Florida, Amillia Sonja Taylor was born premature- only 21 weeks six days old. Despite having a less than 10% chance of survival, she not only lived but thrived- after four months of intensive care, she was sent home to begin a normal life. Today she's a healthy two year old , developing normally. Doctors called her a miracle baby.

British doctors of the NHS would have called her something else: dead. As Sarah Capewell discovered, a baby of that age is legally a fetus, not a baby, and medical attention is refused. "A young mother's premature baby died in her arms after doctors refused to help. Sarah Capewell, 23, gave birth to her son Jayden when she was 21 weeks and five days into her pregnancy. But doctors refused to place the baby in intensive care because he was delivered two days before the 22-week gestation limit. Medical guidelines state that babies born earlier than this are still a foetus and are declined intensive care treatment. Baby Jayden cried out and lived for two hours before he passed away at James Paget Hospital in Gorleston, Norfolk, in October 2008." As agonizing as those two hours must have been, Sarah learned later in discussion with other mothers that some preemies had lived as long as five days on their own, with no medical attention at all being provided.

Could British doctors have saved Jayden, who weighed more at birth than Amillia? We'll never know; set rules from above determine what kind of medicine is practiced in the NHS system. "The medical guidance for NHS hospitals, limiting care of the most premature babies, was drawn up by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in 2006. It says intensive care should never be given to babies below 22 weeks gestation and rarely to those below 23 weeks." It's not cost effective to spend time and energy on babies- sorry, fetuses- who aren't going to live anyway. They must be right; such fetuses never do live- in England. Not for more than five days, anyway.

This is the system some want us to emulate. If we have the "public option", it, too, would have to have something similar to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics- nobody's going to issue doctors blank checks. Those councils, too, will have to be arbitrary- too much flexibility would be the same as the blank check. And while only a racist tea-bagging birther right-wing political terrorist would call such a council a "death panel", baby- sorry, fetus- Jayden is in fact dead.

I know some will say such councils exist today, in the form of what insurance will and will not pay for. True, but we have the option of saying, "Go ahead and do the procedure anyway, doc, I'll be responsible." Amillia's parents took home not just a daughter, but also a $40,000 debt. Sarah Capewell left the hospital with no debts- but also with no son. She wasn't offered the choice. We must make sure that if a public option passes, we always have that choice. Conventional wisdom may say that you're tilting at windmills, but sometimes the windmill is beaten- ask Amillia.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Who lost in the Van Jones affair?

President Obama's green jobs czar resigned Saturday, after a long summer of embarrassing video after embarrassing video, damning quote after damning quote trickling out through the internet and Fox News. But Van Jones won't really lose by this; his fans are still his fans, and he will land on his feet. But that doesn't mean there are no losers.

Rahm Emanuel is a loser. How on Earth did someone with that long a controversial paper and videotape trail make it through the vetting process? All it took was a simple Google to find the interview in which he described himself as a communist, (the thing that first interested the right wing blogs), and all the rest followed easily. If you count forced withdrawals from consideration as well as resignation, this is what, the fifth or the sixth administration embarrassment in less than a year? Rahm has to go, if only as a symbol of the President acting.

But the biggest loser was the mainstream media. This thing started late June... but as of Sunday afternoon, the day after his resignation, I found the following: NBC and CBS hadn't even reported the resignation. ABC had a story dated 9/4 about the scandals, the day before the resignation. CNN covered the resignation, but not the stories leading up to it. Ditto for the New York Times and the Washington Post. MSNBC is the most interesting; they had a story about the scandals dated 9/4, but they included an implied lie: they said that Glenn Beck (right wing radio personality who pushed the Van Jones stuff the hardest) started talking about Jones after an organization Jones co-founded started a boycott of Glenn's show; in actual fact, the boycott began after Beck started playing the embarrassing tapes.

It's no wonder that UU Mom could say, "So, Van Jones's resignation was big news today. I didn't know about any of the circumstances that led up to his resignation;..."; if she were not an internet news junkie, or read foreign newspapers as I do, she'd never have heard a peep from the media. How is it that this story could percolate for months, the blogosphere going crazy over it, with the embarrassing videos being embedded in every post, and not one word be reported by ABC, NBC, CBS, NY Times, Washington Post, and CNN? Is it any wonder the right wing believes the mainstream media is merely the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party, if a scandal can be big enough to force a resignation and not be covered? Ask yourselves honestly the question every conservative blog is asking today: do you really believe that they would have been equally silent if it were a Republican appointee serving under Bush? The alternative explanation is actually worse- that it's less a case of media bias than media incompetence. Heck, you'd think if the media were actively biased, they would have covered the story if only to put their own context and spin on it- silence implies incompetence, not objectivity. The reason this explanation is worse is that it's another nail in the coffin of American media. Going back more than a year ago to the primaries, when I wanted to fact check I went not to the New York Times, but to the London Times... they had better coverage of our elections. As did France 24/7. Hells bells, Al Jazeera had better, more in depth, more balanced election coverage than ABC, NBC, and CBS.

But the truth of whether the mainstream media is biased is less important in many ways than the perception. Rush Limbaugh's success can be attributed to the belief that his voice was the only alternative voice- his motto, "I don't need to give equal time- I am the equal time" resonated among tens of millions of Americans. The same is true of Fox News; even many of those who believe it to be biased say, "So what? So is everybody else, and this is the only one biased in my direction- a single channel to counter the bias coming from all the others is not too much to ask." A great many more Americans believe that Fox isn't biased at all- it's just that the other networks are so far to the left that the center looks right by comparison. As a friend once said, "Fox is biased? Let's see, forged documents used to attack the President: CBS one, Fox zero." As long as the public believes this, ratings for the traditional news media are going to continue to drop. The word of websites run from somebody's bedroom in their spare time will be given equal trust to the NY Times- and sadly, some of them will have earned it. If they go bankrupt, they can find the reasons in the mirror.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Have you always wanted to talk to a Pagan,

but the only real opportunity you've had was a couple quick questions asked of the person who organized a public Sabbat for your Summer services? Or are you a Pagan with no other Pagans to talk to in your congregation? There is a brand-new forum you might want to have a look at: Pagan Journeys . This is not one of those forums filled with 14 year old girls who have awsum pwrz... these are real people, adults, with jobs, kids, and perforce a sense of humor. They bring a number of different perspectives from different Pagan paths. Just play nice while you're there; I'm a moderator, and I'd have to have to smite thee.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Accepting the Chaliceblog invitation

ChaliceChick addresses the question of the controversial Freedom From Religion ad in the latest UUWorld in her usual thoughtful manner, saying Let's Play UU World Editor ; Which ads would you take? Which ads would you refuse? Why? I have to respond here, because as usual, I ran way too long for a comment.

My editorial principles would be: no attack ads; nothing that ridicules or denigrates any person, faith, or organization. No political ads, even positive and polite ones, for fear of both offending members and running afoul of the IRS. Ads must be tasteful, taking the sensibilities of the readership into account. Lastly, I am sure there some editorial policies about products or groups that may be unacceptable that have been decided by the board. (see my speculation about tobacco below) How I have applied these principles in the past: I have written to the UUWorld protesting the "Darwinfish" ads; some of their products are direct attacks and deeply offensive. How I would apply them to CC's examples:

- a moderately-phrased ad from a Pro-life group that appeals to the emotions of readers with a headline like "a person is a person no matter how small". The headline quoted is the essence of the entire argument; it is presented as a position statement, not an attack on any person or group. The language is not offensive or derogatory. If that is the worst thing in the ad- no graphic photographs, no accusations of unworthy motives against their opposition- I would accept the ad.

-an ad from a UU reiki practitioner extolling the benefits of Reiki and selling classes on reiki. As long as the ad does not make unsupportable claims, like curing cancer or something, it's inoffensive and no sillier than half the things we do. Take it.

- An ad from a non-UU Christian group that urges social justice action in God's name "Thy will be done on Earth' is a call to action." Social Justice Action is a huge part of this church; indeed, I was attacked in comments to Elizabeth's Little Blog for suggesting we take time to heal ourselves as well as the rest of the world. The only possible reason for refusing it would be if there's an official editorial policy against using the "G" word, and if there is, there shouldn't be- take the ad.

- An ad from a tobacco company advertising their product for native American-style rituals. I think there actually is a policy against accepting tobacco ads- does anyone know for sure? If there is, it doesn't matter what the people in the ad are using the tobacco for. If there isn't such a policy, there should be- refuse the ad, and add a disclaimer to the boilerplate about products that are lethal even when used as recommended.

- A less-moderately phrased ad from a pro-life group that says something like "Everyone who supported slavery was free; everyone who supports abortion is already born." This language is stronger, but no stronger than has been used in some of the articles. At least half of it is demonstrably true, and the other half can be reasonably assumed. Again, if that's the worst thing in the ad, take it.

- An ad from a UU Christian group that encourages people in trouble to reach out to Christ. Something like "Dear God: I have a problem. It's me." The language is inoffensive. The concept is inoffensive; there are some UUs who do exactly that. Hells bells, even many Pagans (such as myself) realize most of their problems can be found in the mirror. Take the ad.

-An ad from an animal rights group that says "Stop kidding yourself, animal slaughter is murder, go vegan." Like the Pro-Life ad, the statement is their entire argument. It is strongly worded, but not a direct attack on any person or faith. Take the ad.

- An ad from an organization of reform Jews encouraging people to convert to Judaism. I had thought it was the official position of their faith to discourage conversions; you usually have to prove a strong calling to get them to accept a conversion. Leaving that aside, as long as the ad only promotes their own theology, and does not denigrate anyone else's, take the ad.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Selective sensitivity

UUs are a highly sensitive bunch. We know that the terms "articulate", "brown bag lunch", and the note produced when Rush Limbaugh blows his nose- F sharp- are all racist code language. How is then that the advertisement on the inside front cover of the latest UUWorld passed the smell test? If your copy hasn't arrived yet, the ad is from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. This is a non-prophet (their pun, not mine) "association of atheists and agnostics working since 1978 to keep state and church separate". The ad says, in small type 2/3 the way down, "FFRF educates and litigates".

That's as may be- but this ad sure doesn't do much educating- if it did, Berry's Mom wouldn't have been moved to say, "Excuse Me? I Thought We WERE a religion!" The ad in fact is not educational- it doesn't say anything about the separation of church and state (except in the small print 501(c)(3) statement quoted above; it doesn't tells us about any incursions of religion into any facet of government. It doesn't give us any examples, arguments, etc.,- it only gives us quotes from six atheists, five of those quotes ranging from mildly to highly offensive.

While the ad itself is not educational, its acceptance and placement is. It tells us about the mindset of the editors- and I don't like what it's telling me. It says they didn't think any pledge-paying UU church member (which is, after all, how one gets on the mailing list) would be offended by the first quote in the ad, "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction." Umm, that would be the God of Abraham, and specifying "the Old Testament" makes it the God worshipped in Judaism, and Islam. Taken in conjunction with the Butterfly McQueen quote, "As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion" it sounds like comparing the Jewish Covenant and the submission of Islam to slavery.The Clarence Darrow quote is less offensive than snarky, but then we have the Mark Twain quote, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so" which implies dishonesty or cognitive dissonance in believers. Well, this believer has faith in what he knows *IS* so- the fact that Mr. Twain did not share my perceptions does *NOT* make me a liar or deluded.This is not an educational ad. It does not make a positive case for anything; it merely sneers at billions of people. This ad is hate speech. How is it that these calumnies are given the entire inside cover, second only to the front cover itself in importance? Yeah, yeah, yeah, in small print on page three it does say that the UUA does not endorse all ads- but it also says that the UUA reserves the right to refuse any advertisement. So why wasn't this ad refused for its general tone?

I suspect the reason is because the person or committee who accepted it believes that UUs are just too smart and well educated to fall for all that faith crap. Why would I think that? Because I've seen and heard it before. The UU University Theology track at GA had the same tone. The 90% that was good was spoiled by the quotations from that eminent theologian, Bill Maher, and the insistence that faith was bad and a modern theology must be divorced from any whiff of a deity.

I asked once before , and I'll ask it again: is an anti-creed- things thou must not believe- the same as a creed?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Update to "Captain Renault is alive and well"

A couple news stories relating to the above mentioned post : first, Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin says of the town hall protestors, "I think they've been effective in making this a real national debate, and that's healthy," said Benjamin. "It has opened up the debate." in this interview . Second, this video of ObamaCare Organizer Explains How to Shout Down Opponents.