Monday, December 17, 2007

How to induce hysteria (in an online student)

Have a more senior student post a remark which implies that someone's comments are fascinating... and that the student is looking forward to the comments of those who've not yet posted (their remarks).

(For those unfamiliar with this brave new world, there are classes in which much (or all) of one's contact with other students and professors is online. Papers may be posted for review, discussion and commentary in order to assist in developing important conversations.)

The implication appearing to be that there's an assignment that's due--or actually overdue--and that some people should get off the stick....

Mad scramble.

What texts are referenced in the comment and the reply?

Crap! Crapcrapcrap! I haven't gotten to reading them--yet! Augh!

Quick, go check the syllabus--when was that paper due? I was pretty sure that I'd done everything due in December already, for that class. Augh!

Oh. Wait. Someone has gone and done the assignment due Jan 3rd (damned overachievers), and then gone and commented on someone's paper for the last assignment... making it look like more than one person had done recent work....


Hold the Xanax.

I'll go back to figuring out how to complete another project and procrastinating.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Growing avalanche
Six thousand thousand thousands
There are rocks below

In Memoriam

Roll Call
William Stafford (1914-1993), Poet Laureate

Red Wolf came, and Passenger Pigeon,
the Dodo Bird, all the gone or endangered
came and crowded around in a circle,
the Bison, the Irish Elk, waited
silent, the Great White Bear, fluid and strong,
sliding from the sea, streaming and creeping
in the gathering darkness, nose down,
bowing to the earth its tapered head,
where the Black-footed Ferret, paws folded,
stood in the center surveying the multitude
and spoke for us all: "Dearly beloved," it said.
I was part of a memorial service on Saturday, for a young woman whose life was cut off far too short. I can't claim I was already familiar with Stafford's poetry--I wasn't. But I tripped over Roll Call this morning... and somehow the two connect in my head. The loss, the grief for the pointless, purposeless loss.

Stafford was born in Liberal, Kansas--sounds like the set up for a Garrison Keillor joke, but it's both true, and true. Stafford was a conscientious objector during World War II. That such a man was poet laureate of the United States... in 1970... rather boggles my mind.

William Stafford (1914-1993), Poet Laureate

In line at lunch I cross my fork and spoon
to ward off complicity—the ordered life
our leaders have offered us. Thin as a knife,
our chance to live depends on such a sign
while others talk and The Pentagon from the moon
is bouncing exact commands: "Forget your faith;
be ready for whatever it takes to win: we face
annihilation unless all citizens get in line."

I bow and cross my fork and spoon: somewhere
other citizens more fearfully bow
in a place terrorized by their kind of oppressive state.
Our signs both mean, "You hostages over there
will never be slaughtered by my act." Our vows
cross: never to kill and call it fate.

And there's grief, and resistance unto death of another sort.

This is, among other things, a blog about religion. About Unitarian Universalism. I've no idea about William Stafford's religious beliefs--and that really doesn't matter here. What he has to say speak to us, and we are wise enough--and not too proud--to take wisdom and inspiration where we find it.

A Ritual To Read To Each Other
William Stafford (1914-1993), Poet Laureate

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Hope in a dark era. But as Parmenides wrote, The light is at home in the darkness. Hold onto the line ahead of you.

Friday, November 30, 2007

I Don't THINK So...

But maybe someone else will be able to confirm this.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Northeast


The Midland

The South


The West

North Central

What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I've never lived in or near the region. In fact, I've spent a grand total of two days in Chicago.

Having lived most of my life in the West.... Maybe Inland North sounds like Western shot through with Strine--I once had an Aussie accent that persuaded everyone, including the Aussies, that I was a native of Down Undah. A few Fosters and an Aussie to speak with and I slide back there easily.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Recommendations wanted for memorial reading

Without going into all the details... I've been asked to do a reading at a memorial service. And to provide it.

The service is for the adult daughter (20?) of an acquaintance who is a friend of mutual friends--and for a time the family attended our fellowship, years ago. I interacted with the daughter, but we weren't ever close.

She was killed in a car accident.

And I'm just starting to look for a text. Naturally, I need it ASAP, although the memorial won't be for a few weeks.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Now here's a great question, and another, too.

My wife just got a book which I'll be swiping and reading (I'm going to claim it as extra-curricular reading for my UU Polity course), The Fellowship Movement, by Holley Ulbrich, subtitled "A Growth Strategy and Its Legacy." Now I haven't even cracked the book -- so what in the world am I doing already writing about it?

On the back cover there's this:

"Why, when 32% of current membership is from congregations started during the fellowship movement, do we still question this growth strategy? But also, how can this type of historical growth lead to congregational cultures that block growth today? Ulbrich's thorough and comprehensive history offers answers and insights pertinent to today's growth efforts."
Um. Yeah.

My own congregation's a fellowship (still--and I suspect for good--despite having a full time ministry for over 15 years. And no, I'm not sure what that hybrid will eventually result in; it does mean that there's a very strong culture of member leadership, of joint ministry...). I see both the success -- even by Monroe Husband's estimations, this was damned dubious, since a group big enough to support one nascent fellowship opted (for geographical reasons) to found two fellowships. Both still exist, as fellowships (with ministers), and both are successful and growing.

And I see something of "we're a fellowship" attitudes that create obstacles to growth--to people embracing and permitting the growth that wants to happen. We get a lot of visitors. If more of them--if more of them who came back a second time...--stuck, we'd be growing much faster. I'm not sure how much of that is attributable to the fellowship, and how much to UU failings in general in this regard, but I'm really looking forward to Ulbrich's comments.

Now the question: Can I squeeze this 125 page paperback into the next few days, when I have some reading and a paper to write as well?

Urging you to support the WGA

It doesn't seem that there's a great deal that most of us can do, in support of this strike (I could drive to L.A., and refuse to cross the picket line--but then, if I crossed, I'd be turned away by security right beyond the picket lines...). That's frustrating to me, since I generally support the ideals of unionism and my impulse is that there must be something I can boycott (TV? I already don't watch broadcast and cable; what I see on our set is DVDs--which only makes the WGA's point).

So here's something you can do. Sign a petition.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Someone explain this to me...

Back in the early 1970s, the minimum wage provided an income to someone working 40 hours a week that could be lived on modestly, even when supporting a family. Now, even by official standards, the minimum wage only buys about half as much of the basics of life--and for anyone who has looked at the cost of housing and transportation lately in urban areas... it's pretty clear that it's worse than that.

Back then, health care was a common feature of "good jobs" (which were far more common), and for those who didn't have it, well, an encounter with the medical system was not likely to make one bankrupt.

I'm just at a loss. We have a society which officially proclaims that boatloads of money have been being made for years, and that productivity is waaaay up since the 1970s, and yet somehow... those on the low end of the economic ladder are vastly less able to survive, and essentially unable to afford any health care other than what Uncle Sam provides. So our government wants to cut back on that (yes, yes, I know that Bush "wants" to give the program an additional $5 billion over the next five years... but it's a fact that the amount is insufficient to pay for the program at the current levels--due to rising costs. It's a cut, because medical inflation will devour all of it and then some). And yet more of us are more exposed to health care crises than we were 35 years ago. We're less likely to have health care coverage, and the coverage is far more likely to turn out to have holes that have been cut into it specifically to avoid actually having to pay for health care (in some cases, cut into that safety net when the insurers could see precisely where you were falling).

Is it just that our elite classes have forgotten the lessons of history? Populations that get driven into desperation spasm, and spasm in very ugly ways.

Friday, September 28, 2007

It's official...

I've been accepted to Meadville Lombard's M.Div. program (modified residency program) and will start classes there this coming January.

And with that, I better start getting all that reading done.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Would the Family Be Welcome?

Reading Making Chutney, and having read Doug Muder's article already, I find myself mulling whether the rest of my family would be welcome--comfortable--at a UU congregation. My father would; he's one of the many non-attending UUs, but was at one time quite active. In fact, he asked me to let him know when would be a good time to come an join us some Sunday, when he and his wife are in California for the winter and spring. He'd be comfortable, I think, and fit right back in. Were my mother still alive, she would too. Maybe even more comfortable. My brother might be, and I suspect my sister would (the congregation close to them would be delighted too, I suspect--a family with three young kids...). But none of that's a surprise. My parents became UUs in the early '60s, and their kids grew up UU and attended one congregation or another until shortly before the family moved overseas.

But what about the rest? The previous generations, and the extended family?

I can make guesses, but in part they're absurdist. Would my grandparents fit in with the UU church of today, or the UU church of the time when my parents joined? Or should I look to the Unitarian or Universalist churches when my grandparents were young adults with kids? Heck, would John Murray or John Adams be one of us today? People--and religions--are in part creatures of their time.

This isn't to deny the classism issues that Doug and Making Chutney are pointing out. Those are real, and valid. There's a disturbing sense, and an implicit one, that this is a religion for those smart enough to get it. But I think that's erroneous; most of what we're about, when you boil it down, doesn't have to be framed in loftily intellectual language--and it's not as if other religions (say, Catholicism) don't have a place among the intellectual, the highly cultured and the, well... vulgar.

I am quite confident that at least three of my grandparents could have been comfortable UUs. The last might have been, if there'd been a place--then--for her to express her strongly mystic nature.

I'm not sure that we'll see UUism move in the near future to being embracing of all. Class is a hell of an issue to engage, and I suspect that it will be as hard (or harder) than race, in the end. But I think that we can--and should--get over the obsession with education. Smart and thoughtful isn't a credential from an (increasingly) overpriced educational facility. I have known too many people with plenty of alphabet soup who had superglue poured into the mechanism of their soul and mind--who couldn't be UUs; not flexible enough, not thoughtful enough, not considerate, and far too self-obsessed. I've seen the obsession; when I was asked for my bio for publication preparatory to my being the nominating committee's candidate for president of the board, I wrote it up... and got it coughed back by someone asking if I didn't want to mention where I'd gone to college and what degree(s) I had. I didn't really. But I acquiesced, grudgingly. I wish I hadn't.

In most things of this scale, I find I'm an incrementalist; let's eat the mountain a bite at a time. Let's stop asking what degree someone holds in order to determine the inherent worth and value of her opinions and his perspectives. Let's start by embracing smart and thoughtful and good, and not caring what the post-production educational label reads.

One of my grandfathers was the best educated man I've ever met--and I've dealt with people who sport both multiple Masters and PhDs. Grandpa got himself kicked out of high school for his hijinks, and went on to get--eventually--into an extremely responsible federal position that required a college degree.

Smart isn't formally educated. Intelligent isn't schooled. Thoughtful isn't well-trained. And good, well, I'm not sure good has anything to do with any of those. I'd like to encourage our congregations to embrace smart, intelligent, thoughtful, kind and good people (as well as those of us who only manage to be some of those things, some of the time).

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Beautiful and calm...

This place, that is.

We're back from a week there, and had a wonderful time. My only gripe isn't anything that anyone can do anything about--it's that mountain air, in summer, during an extended drought (even the cedars are looking stressed; we need rain!) is damnably dry.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wrong Question

In Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, a pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race creates the hypercomputer "Deep Thought" to figure out the Answer to the Ultimate Question about Life, the Universe, and Everything. After 7.5 million years of computation, Deep Thought provides the answer, which it affirms has been carefully checked for accuracy. The answer is 42.

It turns out that Deep Thought was asked for the answer, but no one ever determined what the question really was. It seems that Earth was then created as a vastly more powerful computer, run by mice, to figure out what the question was--or should have been. Earth, alas, was destroyed--in order to build a hyperspace bypass--five minutes before the question would have been figured out.

It has been said that we Unitarian Universalists are less concerned with having the right answer than we are with asking the right question. There's a legitimate explanation for this--it's because the answer can be no better and no more illuminating than the question that is being answered. And, as Douglas Adams' work points out, the answer is often meaningless if you don't even know what the question was.

Unitarian Universalists practice a religion that puzzles many outside it. Their questions show their confusion. They ask things like "What do you Unitarian Universalists believe?" and "Do you believe in God?" or "Do you believe in the Bible?" The answers we give are good answers, in the sense that they are accurate and that we offer them intending to be helpful. Our answers generally sound something like this "Well, some of us believe this, and others believe that, but still others believe differently still." Or we tell them "Some of us do, and some of us don't. But you'll very often hear us read passages from it or quote it during our services, either way." And we tell them that "Some of us believe in God, while others believe in a different sort of God, and some of us believe in several or many gods, and some of us are quite certain that there isn't any god at all."

Not surprisingly, our earnest questioners are puzzled, and frustrated. They feel they've been told the answer is 42.

The problem is that we're being asked the wrong question. Unitarian Universalism is not about what we believe. We are not a creedal faith.

The question that should be asked of us is "How have you agreed to be?" (meaning together, and in the larger world) , because we are a covenantal religion, based in what we have agreed and committed ourselves to.

What I believe, and what you believe, may be very interesting. We actually spend quite a bit of time and effort helping each other figure out what we--individually--believe. But we accept that our beliefs are, and can be, quite diverse, because as long as those beliefs permit and encourage us to be, in the ways that we are committed to, they're all equally acceptable to us.

This leads me to two points. I'm going to simply affirm the first, because I've made it before, in a slightly different context. When someone asks you what we believe, or any of those other questions, don't tell them that the answer is 42. Tell them that they're asking the wrong question. Tell them what the right question is, and what the answer to that question is.

Here's my version of that;
We are a covenantal religion. We are bound together because we affirm and commit ourselves to certain principles, in our worship, within our community, and in our dealings with the larger community. We firmly believe that we have an obligation to ourselves, to each other, and to all the world to work for peace, for justice, and for the improvement of life here and everywhere, for all people and all the earth.
The second point needs more attention from us.

Reading the Bible, one notices a pattern regarding covenants. There are covenants that are made--and broken--and which are renewed and restored, or which are replaced by new covenants which seek to recreate the covenantal relationship, having essentially renegotiated it.

So it is within our faith's history. One can trace covenantal relations back at least as far as the Mayflower Compact, made by and among the Pilgrims. It does not matter that we no longer have the same covenant as our distant--or more recent--religious ancestors did. Those covenants have been renegotiated and the fundamental relationships within our congregations have remained.

Lacking creeds, a lack we celebrate, we must carefully tend our covenantal relationship. This is true at the level of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and as a result, we review the principles which we affirm and promote, and we consider changes and amendments to them on a regular basis, so that we can refresh our relationship among our congregations and reaffirm it. It is equally true that we need to review our covenants within our individual congregations, to ensure that the covenant remains meaningful and to ensure that the nature of our relationship with each other remains fresh in our minds.

This is not a social club, although there is a healthy and vibrant social community here, and that is a good thing. This is more than that. This is a community brought together by vision, common need and common goals and bound together by our commitment to that vision, and to each other.

That is something which is worthy of frequent renewal and reaffirmation.

I've met only a few Unitarian Universalists who expect that we will achieve some great shared answer--at least not to the common sorts of questions that are asked about religion, the kinds of trivial concerns people have about what our creed is. But I believe that we know a significant part of the big answer, and that it's embedded in the principles we have and continue to revise and improve. We value reason and experience. We value wisdom. We value each other and the whole of the universe we are part of. We value how we make decisions. Those are key things, and while we may improve them, it's hard to imagine them being abandoned in any future version of our faith. Answers, good answers, lead to insight and action. We're getting there.

But do we know what our question is? It's important to ask the right one, remember?

I'll just close with this, a theory--a joke, perhaps--from a later work in which Douglas Adams carried on the story begun in his Hitchhiker's Guide.
There is a theory that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will disappear and be replaced by something more bizarrely inexplicable.
There is a corollary to that theory which states that this has already happened.
The power of the right answer and the right question may indeed be nothing more--or less--than the existence of the universe. But even so, the right answer means nothing without the right question.

Friday, July 20, 2007

And Then There Were Three... (work in progress)

Having mulled over criticism from Fausto (many thanks!), and after a discussion with a philosopher friend, I've attempted another pass at UU principles. In the process... I've tried to get it down to three. Or maybe that's four... if it was five before.

I probably need to go back and look at my initial objectives, to be sure that I haven't lost sight of something. But it's a work in progress, so I'm showing my work. Criticism is of course, sought.

Affirming our faith's rejection of creed, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to uphold these religious principles:

We shall responsibly love and care for the Earth and all living things; treating all beings and each other with justice and dignity, guided by knowledge tempered with love and compassion; understanding that we are a part of nature, not apart from it.

We remain religious seekers; we are finite beings with limited understanding, we must therefore remain open and responsive to the insights of others.

We shall promote openness, liberty, and honesty in all interactions, depending on love, reason, and responsibility in governing our religious communities; offering an example to the world by resisting authoritarianism and living out the highest democratic principles.

We affirm that ongoing revelation offers new insights to humanity. We acknowledge the beauty and wisdom present in all the world's religious traditions and in science; we recognize our roots in the Western religious traditions and the rich inspiration we find in other faiths, as well as in the human struggle for knowledge. We affirm the value and need for mystery, wonder and reason, and we recognize our responsibility to re-interpret religious traditions in light of the present.

As free and interdependent congregations we enter into this covenant; we promise to one another our mutual trust and support; should we break this covenant, we shall listen, accept guidance and appropriate discipline by other congregations within this covenanted association. This is our bond of union.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Interdependent Web--of which we are a part

I was struck, reading iMinister, just how inconsistent our practice is with our principle.

That's not intended to flog the insufficiently faithful, the incorrect, or those with another view. It's simply an observation.

What does it mean to affirm and acknowledge that we are inextricably part of all this, and to stay indoors most of our lives, blinds drawn (or not), eating foods grown under circumstances and in conditions we barely even consider, much less examine, most of the time? What faith we put in some box of fruit or slice of meat displayed to appeal to our senses as we flit through the grocery store.

But what else do we lose, ignore, and abandon when we don't have the pleasure and joy--and work--involved in the eggs from chickens you know personally, or the nectarine or orange the scent of which you caught in the sun before you picked it?

We know there's a disconnect that happens when we humans are dissociated from things that are real and intimate; the experience with the dying and death of loved ones, with the birth of to-be-loved ones. There's a cost. What's the cost of being disconnected from the food and water that literally sustains us?

I can't help but suspect that the price is very high.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Are We Capable of Enlightened Self-Interest, Still?

Paul Krugman quotes FDR, and observes...

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.” So declared F.D.R. in 1937, in words that apply perfectly to health care today. This isn’t one of those cases where we face painful tradeoffs — here, doing the right thing is also cost-efficient. Universal health care would save thousands of American lives each year, while actually saving money.

So this is a test. The only things standing in the way of universal health care are the fear-mongering and influence-buying of interest groups. If we can’t overcome those forces here, there’s not much hope for America’s future.

So the question is, are we as a people still capable of enlightened self-interest?

I watched Sicko finally, last night. The last week had been too much a frenzy to find the time. It's not that a great deal of what Moore had to tell was news to me. I'd heard the number of Americans uninsured. I knew--from personal experience--how obscenely expensive basic health insurance is, even for those of us whose health is good enough to get the cheapest rates. I also have seen the absurdity; my younger son was denied coverage--completely denied, not merely 'uprated' (charged more for being higher risk) because he'd sprained the hell out of his foot a year ago... and been treated to minimize the discomfort and to speed the healing. In the process, a transient diagnosis of the condition (completely cleared up) made him uninsurable. He's in superb health, hasn't been to a medical facility since his birth other than for the common injuries of boyhood, and is active. But uninsurable. And so on....

But still, the movie hit me like a kick in the gut. It wasn't the failures of our system. It wasn't the criminal malfeasance of those running the for-profit system we're caught in. It wasn't even that other nations--most other non-Third World nations--have managed to do vastly better. It was the brutal dichotomy, the comparison of the basic humaneness of the societies that provide decent health care... with the home of land of the once-free and the home of the depraved.

Those are hard, hard, hard words to write. I spent my teens living abroad; I came home eyes wide-open, aware of America's failings, flaws and history... and yet very much a patriot. At least then, it seemed that all in all... this was the finest nation on earth. Today, I don't feel I can say that--our leaders violate the Constitution and the law, arrange for torture and condone it, make war without justification, and the country just seems to tolerate it. Grumble... and go back to shopping, or watching TV.

And we even put up with our own people, here at home, being allowed to die, to boost profits.

I think Krugman's test is apt. If we can't do this, for ourselves...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Not Merely Heresy...

One of the minor pleasures of being a Unitarian Universalist is getting be be a heretic... or actually, at least two kinds of heretic. And, from some perspectives, a heretic to heresy and an apostate as well.


from a Greek word signifying (1) a choice, (2) the opinion
chosen, and (3) the sect holding the opinion. In the Acts of the
Apostles (5:17; 15:5; 24:5, 14; 26:5) it denotes a sect, without
reference to its character.
What distinguishes UUism from the run of the mill heretics is that we abandoned the dogma of having to defend and protect our heresy. Most heretics find themselves intently denying what they've abandoned and defending their new position on Truth. Instead, we've institutionalized heresy, and dumped dogma.

No (good) UU will tell you what to believe. They might well be willing to debate what you believe, but it's not in an attempt to convert you--rather more an effort to test whether you've seriously thought through what you believe. But a UU will expect you to have some well-considered belief, or a well explained agnosticism. Believe what you will--what you must, not what you'd like to believe, but we expect you to believe what you believe... and we expect you to test it and challenge it. Upgrade your beliefs, perhaps, or even change them, that's fine. Laudable, even.

But we damned well expect you to be a heretic--even if you insist on holding firmly orthodox opinions.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What Keith Olbermann said...

Is enough for me.

Neofeudal fantasies?

I remember being struck--in that way that almost feels like one has been physically struck--the first time I heard the phrase "wage-slave." I don't recall the context it was in any more, but the concept rang like a bell. Many of us, for one reason or another, feel or are wage-slaves. Actually, to be more precise, we're wage-serfs.
Slave One who is the property of, and entirely subject to, another person, whether by capture, purchase, or birth; a servant completely divested of freedom and personal rights.
Serf A person in a condition of servitude or modified slavery, distinguished from what is properly called ‘slavery’ in that the services due to the master, and his power of disposal of his ‘serf’, are more or less limited by law or custom.
Sometimes that condition of servitude is more explicit than normal; I know a couple who need to move upstate to be closer to elderly family, some of them suffering failing health. But they can't--they live in a trailer home which they owe money on, and are buying it on contract from his employer... under terms that require the payment of all money owing if/when his employment is terminated, for any reason. Coming up with several thousand dollars is a challenge for most people in this economy. They're wage-serfs. It's made even more egregious because he's actually being paid what are more or less entry-level wages although he's been at it long enough that he's a journeyman in his trade. More serfdom; he can't go find a new job where someone will pay him fairly, because he'd need several thousand dollars to buy himself free. Legally, he's not actually a serf; he'd only become homeless if he tried to change jobs.

It's actually more egregious; the trailer's on the boss's property, in violation of county codes. So even if he had the money, leaving would be hard; they'd have to find somewhere to move the trailer, immediately.

This sort of thing may be a more extreme case than most. But wage-serfdom is actually a feature of our society's way of being. Having severed the bonds of literal slavery and serf-bondage, most of us are economically un-free. We're not really able to up and do and be as we would freely choose.

And things aren't getting better.

The minimum wage hasn't kept up with inflation, not even close. It's about half, in terms of buying power, what it was 35 years ago. But that may exaggerate its buying power, really. The cost of living has been hit hard at the basic level in the last decade or so--the cost of housing, transportation, etc., those things that one must have... they've gone up sharply, while things like computers have actually come down in price.

Many of the egregious evils that great nobles could commit in the past, abusing their serfs, servants and slaves, today are committed by economic powers and principalities--primarily corporations, though far from entirely--and the courts protect and affirm their rights to do so. Or if not, the fines and punishments are trivial to the corporation, a pittance in the corporate bottom line, a mere parking ticket.

Looking around, I'd have to say that those wielding the reins like it that way.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Of course, we do have a better facade now. But economic justice, and freedom... those are tough challenges. Things like universal health care are critical elements of that freedom.

Freedom is not just another word for nothing left to lose--though that state can be astonishingly liberating. But it's not what our corporate masters (my, another one of those terms that folk have used for years, in a bitter, ironic, snarky underground way...) actually want. After all, were enough of us to find that liberty, things could get very scary.

I'd rather try another way. I'm too much of a historian; I know how poorly many--most--such spasms turn out; trading oppressors for new ones who can spin the lingo isn't really much of an improvement.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Synchronicity Danger Level: HIGH

Just popped by Making Chutney to see what was up. A lot, as it turned out.

And then I noticed what was currently at the top of the page (Chutney's tag rotates among some large number of things intended to... something); "I wasn't there and I don't know anything about it."

I am still laughing my fool head off over it. Chutney and I know why... and we're not telling. We have a pact.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Where I've been...

Just because it appears to be the distraction de jour.

(Updated, because... I was spacey...)

create your own visited states map

create your own visited countries map

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Revising... a work in progress.

(This is my most current version of what I have proposed the Principles--and Sources--become. Hat tip to Doug Muder'sDan Harper's (thanks, Jess!) associate personality, Mr Crankypants, whose work provided the kicking off point for this effort. I welcome relevant suggestions and criticisms--those that directly address what the content, wording and such should be.

Changes? It's been boiled down to five principles (or four... if you read the final affirmation as simply replacing the Sources), and some wording has been tweaked either because the Holy Spirit of Editing moved me to improve it or because of things I've heard in discussions about the principles review.)

Affirming our faith's rejection of creed, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to uphold these religious principles:

We shall responsibly love and care for the Earth and all living things; we are a part of nature, not apart from it. We shall treat each other, and all beings, with justice and dignity, guided by knowledge, and tempered with love and compassion;

We shall depend on love, reason, responsibility and liberty in governing our religious communities; offering an example to the world;

We shall promote openness, fairness, and honesty in in our congregations, and in all interactions; resisting authoritarianism and living out the highest democratic principles;

We remain religious seekers; we are finite beings with limited understanding, we must therefore remain open and responsive to the insights of others;

We affirm that ongoing revelation offers new insights to humanity. We acknowledge the beauty and wisdom present in all the world's religious traditions and in science; we recognize our roots in the Western religious traditions and the rich inspiration we find in other faiths, as well as in the human struggle for knowledge. We affirm the value and need for mystery, wonder and reason, and we recognize our responsibility to re-interpret religious traditions in light of the present.

As free and interdependent congregations we enter into this covenant; we promise to one another our mutual trust and support; should we break this covenant, we shall listen, accept guidance and appropriate discipline by other congregations within this covenanted association. This is our bond of union.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On Tolerance

The demise of Jerry Falwell seems like an appropriate moment for a brief rant on tolerance. In amidst the range of people I've read who share my lack of sorry over his death (note that I offer my condolences to the bereft for their personal loss--but that doesn't change my reality or feelings), there have been a couple who've wailed over the lack of liberal--pardon me, that's 9 times out of 10 "librul"--tolerance being shown. I find that both droll and duplicitous. Or perhaps it's just ignorant.

So here is a definition to start off with:

The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.

The problem is that people misunderstand tolerance. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's a good thing. But tolerance is something that you offer, grant, provide. And you expect it in return. It is absurd in the extreme to refuse to offer it and to nevertheless expect it offered to you by those you've metaphorically exiled.

Having hated non-whites, supported segregation, opposed Martin Luther King Jr, and actively supported apartheid, one might have expected that the late Rev. Falwell would have learned some humility in the process of backing away from that shameful personal history. But no. Gays, liberals, followers of other faiths, and many others were folks he publicly reviled and declared collectively responsible for catastrophes like 9/11.

That's preaching intolerance.

Tolerance is a form of social contract. We agree to cut each other slack--a lot of slack--and to accept, acknowledge, put up with and ignore... as good neighbors do... the differences among us. We don't insist that they be just like us, do just like us, and think just like us. It's ok, you're different from me, and we're different from yet a third person. But insofar as we can live with each other and do each other no harm, insofar as we can civilly negotiate the inevitable conflicts among ourselves (and this is no different than living in a family where everyone's quirks and foibles have to be dealt with), we can allow each other a great deal of latitude.

Jefferson famously observed:
But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
It may be something I disagree with, but it does me no harm. So I can, should--and must, in a society that is tolerant--tolerate a view I think wrong... at least if I want to have any claim on being tolerated myself. Tolerance is a form of reciprocity.

This is where the claim on tolerance by, and on behalf of, the intolerant absolutely founders. You are entitled to tolerance by signing onto the implicit deal. We tolerate each other. But those who refuse to be tolerant have no claim on the tolerance of others. It may be extended, but if it is, it is a gift--and there is no right to a gift.

Falwell and his apologists have no claim to our sympathy and tolerance because they are not "in the game" as participants. Instead, they are predators or parasites on a system which functions well because of its broad tolerance. They want the benefits, but don't want to give back.

And for that, there is no tolerance.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Are You Moral Enough To Join The Army, Boy?

"I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way."
That's General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Morality, speaking to the editorial board of the Chicago Times, the other day. This, no doubt, with one eye to the gay soldiers serving in the coalition forces provided by the UK, Australia.... You see, it's those immoral soldiers that are causing us to lose the war in Iraq; not that we're losing, not that it's a war, really.

Yesterday, caught in the firestorm, he released a statement that affirmed;
"In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct. I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views."
Ya think?

In a Jan 2nd New York Times Op-Ed, another general offered this;
"I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces," General Shalikashvili wrote. "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."
Just to remind the reader, General Shalikashvili is one of the victims of the Bush purges; an officer who had the chutzpah to disagree with the plans (so-called) for Bush's Excellent Little War, and to suggest that perhaps they needed to reflect military wisdom, experience and the lessons of history.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

But then, the very idea that anyone in this administration might have even read Tennyson is ludicrous.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I Sooo Want To Ask Peacebang About This...

Abomination or merely cause for eye-bleaching?

I'm chortling to myself, trying to imagine Peacebang's commentary on these outfits, over at Beauty Tips For Ministers.

Dress up for church!, she exhorts...

(Readers, please note that the management is not responsible for any mental injury, nightmares, and loss of taste incurred)

Sinning with Class

The text of today's sermon (it's mine, so I have permission to post it). It should be understood that it was bracketed by a short contemplation on the meaning, value, and importance of the idea of 'sin' to religious liberals, and a shorter piece talking about where we might go, what hands-on stuff might be done in response. This because our beloved minister was still bitter about my gnawing my way through Salvation as a useful topic, and wasn't about to let me have the whole pulpit to discuss the nature of sin and then to tackle classism all by myself.

No, she had to hog all the sin for herself.

Brothers and sisters... I want to tell you a lie. We live in a classless society.

Do you believe that? I don't.

Every society has taboos. We've acknowledged that we have some taboos in our own community here; there's an observation that it's easier for UUs to talk about sex than it is to talk about money. There's reality in that bit of humor; we talk about planning sex ed programs for the youth and no one twitches. Talk about how much money we pledge, or make... and people fidget.

There is a strong taboo about class in America. Bringing up class issues results in accusations of fomenting class warfare (which admits there are classes... and pressures the speaker to shut up, now).

It's not that similar sins don't exist elsewhere; India's caste system, for example. It's easy for us to see how the class structure is woven into India's society, it's easy to see how wrong it is, how it damages and injures people. It's easy for us to see how unreasonable it is. Classism is a serious problem everywhere. But we have a myth that says we're a classless society, so we ignore it here. The Biblical admonition to tend to the beam in one's own eye before tending to the mote in someone else's is clearly applicable. To do otherwise is simply self-righteous hypocrisy.

The sin of classism reaches back before the American Revolution. It has shaped, twisted and distorted society from literally the first English settlements here. Gentlemen—the upper class—expected not to sully themselves with work, and did not work, at Jamestown. Work was beneath their dignity. Not until the colony faced starvation and extinction did the governor force them to work, to work if they expected to eat. That egalitarian action was scandalous, and only undertaken with survival at stake.

We know more about class than we admit. Maybe your car suggests something, or your clothing marks you, or the jewelry you wear does. Social scholars generally divide American society into six or more classes—and they note that the vast majority of Americans believe that they're middle class, whether they're below it or way above it.

Note that. Classism makes it uncomfortable, unacceptable, to be other than middle class. Though there is more demonstrable disadvantage in being poor, there's also much social disfavor for being wealthy—and that's an attitude that Unitarian Universalists can easily fall into. Either way, it's classism; a clear violation of our first principle, which affirms the worth and dignity of every person. There is no moral defect or virtue inherent in being poor, just as there is no moral superiority or deficiency in being rich. Your ethical or moral status depends on what you do, not what you have. Discussing the behaviors and failings of a group runs towards stereotyping, demonizing, and dehumanizing people for being “other.” Grappling with classism means struggling with people's fear and misunderstanding.

A class consists of a large group of people with a similar economic position in society based on income, wealth, property ownership, education, skills, or authority in the economic sphere. Class affects people on more than just an economic level. Class is subjective (how we feel) and objective (in terms of position or resources).

Classism is any form of prejudice or oppression based on actual or perceived social class.

Classism isn't necessarily intentional, it can be structural. Some argue that the American electoral system, resting on huge donations and fund raising, is classist—because only the relatively wealthy can really participate. That doesn't mean that the system was designed to be classist, but the lack of intent doesn't mean there's no problem. Lack of intent doesn't mean that there's not a crime—that's the distinction made between murder and manslaughter.

Classism assigns characteristics of worth and ability based on social class. It includes some rationale that supports these valuations and the culture that perpetuates them. (In India, untouchables are what they are because of their karma. In the US, the poor are deemed to be poor because of their inability, weak wills, and personal failings.) It is classist to believe that the poor deserve being poor, and classist to denigrate the humanity of the wealthy.

Classism is a sin that nurtures other sins. In America, class is racialized. A larger percentage of people of color are harmed by the rules of our economy. And racism keeps people whose economic self-interest is similar from uniting to improve their conditions. Racism serves to support a classist society.

Some people are surprised that African American, Latino, and Native American people have rates of poverty and unemployment that are more than double those of white Americans. Other people are surprised that most poor people are white. Classism, racism, sexism, heterosexism; all of them function in ways that support each other. We have to understand how these oppressions are interwoven, because they are—and because we cannot solve any one of them without addressing the others.

Classism truly lies at the roots of racism, in America. In the late 17th and 18th centuries, common English stereotypes of the poor were often identical with descriptions of blacks in the colonies dependent upon slave labor. They suggested the subhumanity of both: the white poor were ‘the vile and brutish part of mankind’; blacks ‘a brutish sort of people.’

Until 1660, indentured servants outnumbered slaves on the Virginia tobacco plantations, and were treated in very similar ways. Poor, bedraggled English men and women were shipped as indentured servants to Virginia, and when their masters put people of another color in the fields with them, the unfamiliar appearance may have struck them as only skin deep. There is evidence that the two despised groups initially saw each other as sharing a predicament. It was common for servants and slaves to run away, steal hogs, get drunk—together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together.

African-born slaves and European-born indentured servants collaborated. Race laws began being passed in 1661, when both Maryland and Virginia passed statutes that forbade miscegenation, mixing of the races—which remained Virginian law until it was struck down in... 1967. Ministers were forbidden to marry mixed race couples—with a stiff fine for violating the law. In 1691, Virginia decreed that any white woman who bore a mulatto child pay a fine or face indentured servitude for five years for herself and thirty years for her child. In Maryland, a white woman who married a Negro slave had to serve her husband’s owner for the rest of her married life. In the British West Indies a law was passed in 1701 forbidding the importation of Irish Catholics, later any Europeans, to the island of Nevis because European servants had joined with African slaves, rebelling against the ruling elite. The Virginia race laws by which plantation masters elevated the racial status of white servants, workers, and other “rabble” were enacted for the same reasons as the Nevis ban—to protect a rarified elite. Making one group superior to another, by law, allowed a wedge to be driven between two groups who had collaborated against their mutual oppressors.

The very pale-skinned Irish were seen as no better than the black Africans, and in fact, there is a record of of a black house slave in the 19th century American South complaining that his master treated him like he was “common Irish.” Racism allowed a slave to feel inherently superior to someone else, someone lower class than even a slave. Racism was actively encouraged, because it was useful as a mechanism for supporting and sustaining a highly classist society.

It's our problem. Ours. Not just America's. It's not a problem that exists just among the people of one class. It's a problem that exists throughout American society. We share it. It's ours.

Very few Unitarian Universalists are among the truly wealthy, the major beneficiaries of the class system, and few UUs are part of the lower classes. If, in coming to the aid of the real victims of classism—or any oppression—we butt in, take over, take charge and become their voice, we have made ourselves beneficiaries of classism. This is simply adopting the mantle of victim status. It is crucially important to support and assist people; it is equally important not to disempower them while helping them. Oppression ends when people are made able, empowered and in possession of the resources to control their own lives.

The idea that our society is classless is absurd—but it is a useful absurdity; it allows people to pretend that economic inequality has no real victims, because... after all, we are all middle class, right? The entire middle class is generally defined as being about half of all Americans. That middle class shares a one-fifth of the nation's wealth with all of the lower class and with what we call the upper middle class. Think about what that means. Think about the social and economic inequality implicit in the fact that four fifths of the population—everyone from the upper middle class down, shares a fifth—a shrinking fifth, too—of the nation's wealth.

Classism is the first monstrous child of the sin of othering people, of affirming that some group is less than truly, equally human. Once you subscribe to that seductive notion... it seems to me that classism is an inevitable result. Having defined our own group as the standard of what being human really means, then other lesser groups are—almost must be—subhuman. They don't reach the standard, they don't make the mark. That thinking seems to mandate some form of classism, and it allows for all kinds of other -isms; racism, sexism, and heterosexism.

In order to deal effectively with classism we need to deal with racism and sexism. And in order to deal effectively with racism or sexism, we need to deal with class.

Bill Fletcher, president of TransAfrica and a former union leader, has written, "Class is the fault-line of US society, and race is the trip wire."

Rev. Bill Sinkford, the president of our Unitarian Universalist Association, has observed “For persons of color, class always needs to be seen in the context of race . . . . (and) race needs always to be viewed through the lens of class.”

Classism violates the ideals of America, where we affirm that every human being is created equal, that no one is entitled to a life of ease, comfort, privilege and power because of their birth. That violates our principles. It violates our affirmation that every person is someone of worth and dignity. It violates our affirmation of justice, equity and compassion in human relations. It mocks the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.

It's not going to be fast or easy to correct. There have been many revolutions over the centuries rooted in class conflicts, and most of them have resulted in bloodshed... and the redistribution of the advantages of class to a small elite of the victorious, creating a new elite class. Revolution is not the answer; violence is not the answer. Solutions rooted in fear, hatred and dehumanization will not be the answer.

What might work is striving for the beloved community, where no person is dehumanized, where no injustice can be ignored, no evil is tolerated. What can work is seeing past our superficial differences, building bridges—treating each other, in our community and beyond as equally valuable human beings, worthy of our respect, appreciation and love.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Well, this should be interesting

So Scooter Libby's guilty on four of five counts. Valerie Plame really, really was a secret agent and someone in the Bush administration (or, more accurately, several someones) outed her--a felony.

Fitzgerald says he expects no further charges to be filed (expects...).

Libby will appeal. Will Bush pardon (before he's impeached--see Chuck Hagel's remarks...)?

But no one will be brought to justice for revealing a secret agent's identity, even though it not only severely damaged US intelligence gathering and counter-proliferation work (in the Middle East, no less) and may have resulted in the death of a US agent. Or... will they?

With the other news hitting the... well, hitting... today, it's hard to imagine what a good news cycle could be for the administration. There's so much out there waiting to be stepped in, or to explode, that it's implausible. Maybe more Anna Nicole Smiths could die to distract the media.

Friday, January 05, 2007

On Impeachment...

First, I want to observe that impeachment is a political process garbed in judicial guise to grant it some gravitas. It's not a judicial process, and the penalty for being convicted on an impeachment charge (in the USA) is limited to removal from office and, possibly, permanently being barred from holding any post for the federal goverment.

Most of the legal rules don't necessarily apply. There's no impact on potential judicial actions on the same subjects; a judge, official--or president--impeached and convicted and removed from office can be tried on criminal charges and civil charges associated with the same matters. There's no claim of double jeopardy because of impeachment.

Impeachment is serious; it's intended to be.

It's not exclusively limited to actions that are crimes. Remember, it's a political process, not a judicial one. Crimes are certainly grounds--potentially--for impeachment. But the Founders considered impeachment at some length, and the words chosen were intentional. Impeachment is certainly justified and called for in the event of bribery and treason--those are explicitly called out. But it's also called for in the event of "other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Misdemeanors does not here refer to the sorts of minor crimes that are usually described as misdemeanors. And "other high crimes" is intentionally vague. The intent was to establish the extreme gravity of impeachment--it should be used for things that seriously damage, injure and imperil the nation and/or threaten good government. But it is intentional that those crimes are not listed in detail; the measure of what "other high crimes" includes is left to the House to determine, at such time as it needs to decide, for the case at hand. Misdemeanors refers generally to behavior grossly and seriously inconsistent with the post; it permits Congress to decide that the good of the nation requires someone to be removed from office, even if they have not actually committed a crime.

And so it should be. No office, no post in a republic should be secure and without possibility of removal, should one commit significant crimes or simply be grossly incompetent. Election and appointment do not confer the right to holding that post no matter what one does or says. They confer the privilege of holding that post, so long as it is deemed reasonable to keep one in that post.

And so... to the (obvious) case at hand.

Should President Bush and Vice President Cheney be impeached?

Actually, that's not the object of this. I happen to be of the opinion that both should be, and that both deserve to be convicted, removed and barred from office.

But I'd like to talk about the how--and why--of process.

There are a good number of people who want them impeached and gone, yesterday. I even sympathize. But it's important to step back and look at how, and why. If one is intent on impeachment, then one really does--or should--believe that the individual being impeached should be convicted; impeachment should not be trivialized as a stage on which to try to injure someone.

If one sincerely believes that, then it's crucial to do it right. This is a political process, and because of the nature of politics, the chance to do things over is--usually--exceedingly rare. The victors seize their spoils, spin things and race off. In addition, and particularly in the impeachment of a senior official, it's a process which the nation pays attention to--which makes it political all over again. Even in the event that someone deserves, in the public's mind, to be impeached, failing to convict is going to tend to protect him (or her) from a future impeachment effort. Though it's not a judicial process, there's a deeply rooted sense that double jeopardy isn't fair or just. So while it might be legal (and it would be), it's not going to sit well with the public to try to do so.

To do it right means... not rushing. Aggravating as that may be, it means taking the time to collect the evidence, complete the investigations, and to make certain that the case and evidence are well understood by those who will vote on it--the senators--and by the public (so that senators understand the public's opinion... remeber, this is a political process, not a judicial one. The opinions of the public should matter, and senators should take into account the political will of the nation and their states).

Because there will be only one chance to do it, so it must be done right.

There's nothing to say that investigations have to take many months. Delays need not be brooked--and should not be.

Should impeachment be attempted, and fail because it was hurried and the waters muddied, or because too many senators were willing to vote on party lines, feeling that they would not be punished -- or not punished hard enough -- by their constituents, the results would be disaster. We'd end up with a presidency which felt that it had been "cleared" of charges by acquittal, that this was a new mandate, and that its actions had been affirmed and supported by the refusal of the Senate to convict. It would feel empowered to continue its excessed, abuses and even to extend them.

It's important that abuses and excesses not be granted authority and the power of precedent because of the urgency felt to impeach. If they're serious enough to justify impeachment, then it's serious enough to take the time to do it right.

The people currently would support impeachment. But it's only a majority, not a supermajority. We all know that the politics of the nation are not as extremely polarized as is sometimes depicted; "Red" states and "Blue" states are not nearly as monochromatic as the media and conversation would suggest. Still, the shades of purple range widely. Impeachment will require that the case is made, presented and laid before the people of the various states so that a solid majority in enough states support impeachment. Their senators need to know that their states really do expect them to vote to convict. And there needs to be that supermajority. Over a third of the Republican senators in the current Senate would have to agree and vote for conviction (assuming no real Democrats break rank). That's a high standard, particularly when one recognizes that there are certain senators who might vote against it "on principle" (though one would be hard pressed to identify what that principle was--other than Its OK If You Are Republican), even if their constituents wanted them to vote to convict.

I wouldn't count, for example, on Brownback or Coburn--they appear to live in a different reality than I do. Nor would I count on Chambliss, a man comfortable with the most venal politics I can think of.

But I could be wrong. Bob Barr's become a sincere critic of the current GOP.

Do it right. Even if it feels that there isn't time, do it right.