Monday, September 29, 2008

Absurdism to Live For

Maoists appoint "living goddess."

What is there to say to that? What can one add?

First they came for...

In 1971 Martin Niemöller said he was not sure exactly when he said these words--and over the years, it appears that he (and others) cited his words differently--but this is the version he preferred, if people wanted to cite his words;
In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.
I was pretty disturbed when Adkission barged into TVUUC in Knoxville and started shooting Unitarian Universalists--because "they" were liberal folk who were supporting liberal, egalitarian politicians. But this isn't about that.

It's about the fact that nothing is being done about the forces that appear to have driven Adkission in the direction of such an act.

I was horrified when Bill Gwatney was sought out and murdered in what appears to be a political assassination, because he was the chairman of the Democratic Party in Arkansas. (Wikipedia says "No motive was discovered, except Johnson quitting his Target job earlier that day." But Johnson went to the Democratic Party HQ, asked for Gwatney because (he said) he wanted to volunteer--and then murdered the chairman. It's mind bogglingly hard to draw a connection between losing one's job at Target....) But this isn't about that.

It's about the fact that nothing is being done about the forces that appear to have driven Johnson in the direction of such an act.

Now, I'm appalled. There was a terrorist attack in America--in Dayton--on a place of worship, affecting hundreds of people, adults and children--and it's barely been reported. (So much for America not having had any terrorist attacks since 9/11--that's two, at least, the anthrax letters and this one... and both of those appear to have been commited by home-grown terrorists...)

The good news is that no one was killed. But people were terrorized and harmed, and that's absolutely terrorism. Worship was disrupted; people were driven out of their service by tearing up, coughing and shortness of breath. Firefighters were washing peoples' faces and eyes at the scene, and some people were taken to a hospital.
... a child reported seeing two men with a white can spraying something into a window...
Perhaps it was someting like pepper spray--or tear gas. Or it could have been any of a number of other noxious things. But what's disturbing is that it was done... and that the national media hasn't covered it, and that there's no public expression of concern.

You see, it was a mosque that was attacked...

... in a community where the hate "documentary" Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West had been distributed widely (inserted into the local paper or mailed, as it has throughout the country). It's been distributed by the Clarion Fund, and carries the endorsement of the chair of the counter-terrorism department of the U.S. Naval War College, citing his name and using the implicit authority of an official U.S. military institution to lend it credibility.

In each case there's an attack on people who are the object of the hate messages of the political right.

And there's nothing done about the root causes.

But maybe you're not a liberal, a Unitarian Universalist, a Democrat or a Muslim, so you can just shake your head and move along. But you should remember Niemöller's words, and as you move along, as yourself one question;

Will there be anyone there when they come for you?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pretty big news...

hat tip to Br. Garotte of Moderation for this bit of news:

(I'd have discussed this there, but the blog only allows comments from livejournal users)

Full news here. All emphasis mine.

Bishop Carlton Pearson, who has been publicly criticized for teaching that all people will go to heaven, has folded his Oklahoma church into a Unitarian Universalist congregation.


After leading what once was a prominent charismatic church, Pearson said he chose All Souls because of its inclusive atmosphere, accepting gays, blacks and people of all beliefs or none.

“I wanted a place where my people could find safe harbor,” he told the Tulsa newspaper. “They’re already outcasts in the evangelical charismatic community.”

Senior Minister Marlin Lavanhar of All Souls said the addition of several hundred people with a black Pentecostal worship style has enlivened his mostly white congregation. “The ‘amens’ and the ‘right ons’ pull something out of you when you preach,” Lavanhar told the Tulsa World. “There’s a lot of laughter and tears. We’ve never been so free in worship.”

For those unfamiliar with the back-story here, Pearson (educated at Oral Roberts U., and mentored by Oral Roberts himself) led the church he founded--Higher Dimensions-- which was one of the largest churches in Tulsa until he began to preach universalism, which he called the 'Gospel of Inclusion.' 19th century Universalists would certainly recognize Pearson's statement as a common position among them;

For others it may very well be that the punishment merited by their sins is greater than what they receive in this life. For those people perhaps there will be some kind of punishment after death, but we believe that it will be remedial and corrective rather than just punishment for punishment's sake. Exactly what that will be and how long it will last we don't know. Will Hell for some people last 10 minutes or 10 million years... we don't know. But this we do know; Hell will not last for eternity; it will not be endless... Don't sin. Be reunited with God now, rather than after you have put yourself (and those you love) through Hell.

His preaching that resulted in hostility and pressure from other parts of the evangelical community, leading to the teaching being labeled heresy, and the unrepentant Pearson a heretic. New Dimensions lost many members and suffered financial crises as membership fell. Eventually he and New Dimensions moved within the UCC fold.

I'd followed the story somewhat at the time and thought that was probably the end of the public story. Finding that New Dimensions has merged with All Souls in Tulsa is quite a remarkable coda. It should be fascinating to see what this means for UUism in Tulsa, just for starters.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I apologize in advance...

The Greek word for "again" or "backward" is palin.

The Greek verb for speaking is "lalein."

Palilalia is a speech disorder characterized by "involuntary repetition of words, phrases, or sentences."

Which may explain why we keep hearing the governor of Alaska tell us about her opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere.

The word she seems to repeat most, however, is "exceptional." America's an exceptional country, those listening to her are exceptional Americans. Given her support for hostilities against Russia, one's forced to assume that she really is a hard core American exceptionalist. Which rather does argue that both she and her running mate are running for Bush's third term.

I, like most Americans, take exception to that idea.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Funny--but it hurts.

"We do not support government bailouts of private institutions. Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself."
Just spotted that over on the front page of Daily Kos. It's part of the Republican platform, adopted in September, 2008.

So... who was it that's been bailing out Wall Street and wants to do more?

Irony, anyone?

There's a fascinating dynamic here that boils down to the socialization of risk and the privatization of profit For the record, the proposed no strings, no oversight bailout proposed by the Administration is a debt of $2000 for every individual person in the USA--with no promise that it's enough, that it will work, or that there will be any benefit to the public. Just please fill this hole with your money, American taxpayers.

Of course, no one much talks about the fact that the hole that Wall Street created is--potentially--about three times the GDP of the planet. That's the size of the credit default swap market that we're asked to throw ourselves into for the good of Wall Street. What's unknown (and perhaps unknowable) is how much of that unspeakably large amount is really there and how much is fluff, vapor, hype and lies. Are we being asked to cover a hole that's only 1% of the market's size? Maybe. Or maybe not. They're not telling, they don't want to, and they don't think we can make them (hell, maybe they don't even have a clue).

But... good money after bad, anyone? Sunk costs? I think we shouldn't touch this one with the proverbial 10 foot pole. It's going to hurt--like hell--no matter what. But guaranteeing most all of Wall Street's bad judgment and greed is a complete fool's game.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Perversity of the Universe Tends Towards...

a maximum. That, for the uninitiated, is O'Toole's Corollary of Finagle's Law (Finagle's Law being Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment)

For the last decade, we've had a pair of rescued basenjis--until July, when the first of them turned out to have cancer and decency--kindness--required us to euthanize him. I miss him; he was a gentleman among canines. The other is the stereotypical misfit; we suspect she was separated too early from her mother and litter and raised away from other dogs. She's never quite been right--but she was good with people (except that she could never be reliably housebroken). When her comrade departed, she mourned in the most painful, vocal way. Basenjis are not like other dogs in a number of ways; their vocalizations are one. Eerie and evocative mourning.

She didn't do well and we ended up determining that she was diabetic. So we all learned the ins and outs of treating an aged diabetic dog. And she seemed to be doing ok. Not great, but ok. Better. Then she ended up at the vet (naturally while we were out of town and our goddaughter was minding the place and the pets), having not been eating much. An outrageous amount of money later, she was home, boney and... somewhat better. For a while.

But not for long; she's not been eating well for days and so she's not been getting insulin, and the vet didnt' return one call and then the answer was (of course!) bring her in and we'll keep her for a day and (oh, yes, this is what they did the day when we racked up an obscene bill that... isn't repeatable). So today we had a long talk with the boys about where this looked to be heading.


Only tonight, for the first time in about a week, she actually ate a normal amount and got insulin.

This, of course is all stacked up on a wide range of things that have all of us feeling worn, stretched, tired...

Laughter is all that's left. And turning in early, I think. Tomorrow will be boils and clowns, I expect, and one really must be well rested for that. To properly appreciate it.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Festina Lente

Often my haste is a mistake,” McCain admitted in his 2002 memoir, “but I live with the consequences without complaint.”

Certainly that's laudable. It's annoying as hell when people make rash, hasty choices and then whine and complain about the consequences. I've listened to a couple people who made those kinds of choices about cars (big gas guzzlers that they didn't need, but liked for some reason... and now complain, just a few years later, about the cost of filling the tank. The only thing that wasn't utterly predictable was the actual date that would happen... rash, hasty choice).

But there's a vast difference between a hasty decision that saddles you with a gas guzzler or a too-large mortgage, or even a bad marriage, and one that affects others more than it affects you.

This, in the end, is the reason that the whole vetting (or not) of Sarah Palin issue is such a big concern. As long as Governor Mooseburger never has to do anything but preside over the Senate (when it pleases her to condescend to do so*), hide out in an undisclosed location**, and shoot lawyers, her being VP is really a fairly minor thing for the country. It won't really matter that much; the observation that the post of vice president isn't worth a bucket of warm spit*** is pretty apt, historically. It's only the most recent Veeps who've managed to make their roles signficant, and in each case that's entirely the result of the willingness of the president to let them do more. It's entirely plausible that a hypothetical Vice President Palin would be little more than a spokesmodel for the McCain Administration.

It's what happens if the McCain Administration turns into the Palin Administration for any reason (death, resignation, impeachment or a longer term invocation of sections three or four of the 25th Amendment) that matters. Who Sarah Palin is, what she thinks and believes, what she'd like to do, and how she's likely to act in regards to the Constitution, the law, etc. is what really matters.

That, in fact, is one of the two reasons for vetting a VP pick. The first, of course, is to put all the cards on the table for the presidential nominee--so he or she knows what scandals and skeletons might arise in the campaign. We've pretty much already seen that John McCain isn't complaining about his decision there (about other people's questioning the hastiness and the nominees credentials, that's another story). But John's not the one who would really suffer the consequences of a hasty decision on his part, in this case. After all, if Sarah Palin becomes president, and there's anything to regret... the suffering would befall the American people, not John McCain. Vetting thus becomes a fiduciary responsibility, really. Picking someone well grounded, informed, and capable of doing the job well is the real obligation.

Given the vetting process, and what we already know didn't happen (no one appears to have gone to Alaska first, and really gone through the records and asked the questions, and worse, the McCain campaign has simply lied about the thoroughness of its process--which it won't discuss the specifics of--claiming that the FBI investigation cleared her. Only the FBI doesn't do that, and says it didn't do that for this campaign or candidate...).

Is Sarah Palin ready to be Vice President?

The campaign has touted her security credentials--the governor of the only state that borders Russia, and commander of the AK National Guard. The threat of a Russian invasion of Alaska has never been significant, and barely imagined since the collapse of the USSR (long before Palin became governor). In fact, a major rail line connecting Alaska to Russian Asia (and thus to the rest of the Old World) has been talked about repeatedly in recent years. That's hardly the stuff one mulls over when a nation is a military threat. Further, Gov. Palin is reported to have never given any order to the AK National Guard. Apparently military credentials can be acquired by osmosis, simply by holding a titular military post.

The campaign likes the story of her fighting Republican corruption in AK--as a way of suggesting she's even handed and full of mavericky goodness. But the truth is that in Palin's time, the State of Alaska has been essentially a Republican preserve, and the opportunities for Democratic politicians there to be corrupt have been few. And, as any observer of Alaskan politics can tell you, going after corrupt Republican politicians there is sort fo like going after salmon in spawning season; it's hard to miss. It is, in fact, hard to find a significant Republican Alaskan politician not mired in at least one serious scandal, and in fact, Palin has her own (abuse of power--a case which is serious enough and inescapably substantial enough that the GOP controlled legislature demanded an investigation of it. The McCain campaign says it knew about it and accepted the governor's assertion that it wouldn't matter (insert raised eyebrow here).

Then there are Governor Palin's lies. She appears to suffer the same blindspot that John McCain does--not understanding that the past is there to be examined, and that in the age of "the google" it's terribly easy to test the veracity of many statements. There's the Bridge to Nowhere; she presented herself as a bold opponent of it who wrote to Congress, shot it down and saved the nation all that money. The truth? The truth is that there's extensive evidence, including media reports and phtographs, that show Palin actively supported it. The truth is that she wrote to Congress against it after the earmark was already dead, in Congress. The truth is that the Bridge to Egg-On-Your-Face wasn't built... but Alaska got all that money anyway, helping it maintain its status as the welfareearmark dollar per citizen queen status it's long held. There's the governor's luxury plane that she campaigned against--and, she or McCain or the campaign claim, sold on eBay and made a profit. The truth? The truth is she put it on eBay, and it didn't sell. After it failed to sell, it was sold through conventional used plane channels and was sold at a loss.

There's her performance as mayor of Wasilla, which reveals her to have an expectation of personal loyalty and support from government employees. Those who didn't support her election were fired. The town librarian was asked to let Palin know how she could ban books--and on rejecting the notion, Palin tried to fire her. That firing was blocked by the city council, and limitations were imposed on Palin.

Then there's her involvement with the Alaska Independence Party (a party her husband was a member of until Palin ran for governor, in 2002), which advocates the secession of Alaska from the USA. Palin herself may not have been a member of the party in the past (that's murky; the chair of the party affirmed she had been, but is now uncertain), but she's certainly been cozy with them, attending at least one convention and sending supportive messages by video as governor. Since the party's talked of "infiltrating" major parties as a means fo gaining influence, that's all rather unsettling.

Does that all sound like the kind of president for all Americans that we might want? Does it sound like the kind of issues that should have been caught in vetting, and dealt with, prepared for? Yet none of that seems to have been dealt with proactively; each thing's been something that the campaign has dealt with in a very reactive mode. That's not what one would expect of an organization that had thoroughly vetted a candidate.

That doesn't just speak to Palin's inappropriateness as a candidate, it speaks to McCain's. It's one thing to make hasty decisions and to grit one's teeth and take the consequences. It's another to foist the consequences off on others.

* Perhaps Palin would be more hands-on than Dick Cheney, but that is a perfectly accurate description of his attitude about his only constitutional obligation. Given that McCain seems to be affirming most of the current administration's policies and behaviors, I'm inclined to assume things will stay the same except where they're explicitly not going to be.

** Again, Dick Cheney's modus operandi; he's been harder to find than Waldo for the last eight years. Given Palin's being kept away from the press since her selection, which is a very strange behavior in a campaign for office, one is hard put not to be reminded of Cheney's behavior.

*** The notorious characterization of the post by the 32nd vice president (for FDR's first two terms), John "Cactus Jack" Nance Garner IV. That's what he said, and he called a writer who quoted it as "warm spit" a "pantywaist" for doing so.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Appeal to UUs Interested in Article II Revision...

I'm going to be in the position to present--personally--some reactions and opinions to the draft revision to a member of the CoA.

I'd like to compile the things that are approved/disapproved or and the critique...

I have no idea how much time I'll get (but some, for certain) for this, and I don't know how much this "outside of channels" communication will matter.

But if you're interested... here's a chance.

Note: This is directed specifically to the revision of the draft (or what it should be, reasonably). I'm going to keep this to the topic, narrowly. Strictly salient posts about meaningful revision for good and useful cause--or I'll delete them.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Pitbull With Lipstick

Well, Sarah told us who--or at least what--she is, and what her role will be.

What she offered last night was a Bridge to Nowhere (the one she avidly supported until it got killed and is now insisting she actively opposed and helped kill), an America where there's not even a perfunctory effort at claiming to unite, but rather one which is securely under divide et impera.

Obama came out a few days ago, insisting that attacks on her family were inappropriate and off-limits. In thanks, he got the pitbull hanging off his arm, mocking everything he's done to serve America, essentially since he got out of law school. Nice lady, the Palin kids' mom.

Barack, if you need to remember who you and Joe are dealing with, look at the lipstick marks on the puncture wounds on your hand.

America, in the event that you believe that what the country really, really needs is someone who can field-dress a moose, you know who to vote for. Personally, I'd rather see someone who knew (before this summer) what the job of the Vice President of the United States is.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ironic and Amusing...

at least to my friends and family.

And some others.

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou - Online Dating

I know that somewhere, my mother is in hysterics.

Criticizing "Inherent"

Currently, and in the just offered draft revision, of the UU Principles is the statement that we (the member congregations) affirm and promote... or (new language) covenant to honor and uphold (I like that new language):

the inherent worth and dignity of every person

I criticized "inherent" last night over at the Chaliceblog.

Chalicechick asked what the problem is with "inherent."

Lots. Rather than dump it all there in a reply that would get skimmed, I decided to post here (in a post that will get skimmed).

One criticism, pointed out in a conversation between services, is that "inherent" means that you have it, it's yours by your very nature... so... there's nothing anyone can do about it. You have inherent worth and dignity, and that is that. The most abused, oppressed, neglected individual has all their worth and dignity inherently and nothing anyone can do will affect that. So... why act?

Bill Schulz pointed out that there are only three philosophical bases on which we seem to find a foundation to rest human worth;

One is God; all God's children have worth and because it's god-given... but that one's been so shredded that we can put it aside (as a movement). We don't agree on the existence of god, much less divine nature, much less the details, and so we as a movement can't claim that (the culture is in the same boat) bedrock, and must look for another.

Another is Natural Law. Essentially, this is an argument that something in our nature is of inherent worth. It's not far from the argument made about god-granted worth--and no one has managed to weave together much of an argument for it. Assert it? Sure. But argue it and explain why? Nah.

(I'll grant here that I tend to feel that it is... but I grew up UU, and American, and liberal, and my feeling otherwise would be a shock. But having grown up with and integrated the belief doesn't make it true. It merely makes it what I believe--and want to believe. That's fine, but just asserting it is like asserting the divine right of kings; who says so?)

So, bereft of god-given and nature-granted, what do we have?

If worth doesn't come to us from some greater power, what and where is left?


Schulz points to the slow, steady struggle by humanity to assert that we have worth, and to assert it in larger and larger numbers and in finer detail. From The Rights of Man (well, from even before that) to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. And, he says, so far that has been a progression; we haven't (yet?) stepped backwards. We have worth and dignity because we, humanity, assert it and affirm it--not because it's inherent, but because we see truly having worth and dignity as being part of what makes being human possible, and that to deny that to someone is thus a crime against that person and a crime against humanity.

So having the Principles assert, affirm and honor the worth and dignity of every person would have meaning. It would put us firmly in the camp that we're actually in, and by removing "inherent" would actually create a greater call to doing social justice work, because what's so very important to us, to all of us, is delicate, precious and no one but humanity is or can.

For those who personally feel it's inherent, removing it doesn't deny that. It sets that theological assertion aside--and in doing so affirms to a larger group that they have the obligation to act.

In short? "Inherent" is a cop-out. And the phrase "inherent worth" is semantically slippery, too. Worth? Worth what, and to whom? Gold and jewels have no inherent value--but people value them enough to in some cases kill for them. We give them worth. "Worth" is an abstraction, a perception, like "tastes good." Does something inherently taste good? That's silly; we've all met people who dislike things we think taste wonderful.

Worth is an assertion of value--to some human being. Thus the errancy of inherency is demonstrated.

But I bet we have to have a great, freaking floor fight over it. There's a member of the CoA I need to talk with, because I'm really quite surprised at this whole draft.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Please, say it ain't so...

A pdf of the Principles, revised, has been released through Scott Wells. You can find that blog post and pdf here, at Scott's blog.

I've read the pdf once, and am referring back... but my initial reaction is one of disappointment.

Our principles (and related predecessor documents for the Unitarians and Universalists both) have been open to significant revision in the past, both as called for in bylaws and when the spirit moved. Given the effort put into this project by the CoA, I had expected (and heard things that led me to expect) significant revisions and changes--in reaction to the comments and criticisms that had been heard and collected.

What we got was some very slight editing (very) and a bunch of explication of the principles.

Nothing in the new material (or the editing) appears to even attempt to address the very serious critique of "inherent" in inherent worth and dignity of every person. Yet I heard it raised in my home congregation from a life-long, third-generation UU on philosophical, moral and practical grounds as well as reading Bill Schulz's blistering critique in UU World. (I also got to hear him, in person, dismantle the argument for inherency and found it devastatingly persuasive--and haven't seen anyone put up any counter-argument other than that it's a historical nod to universalism... which (historical nod) is thin stuff as far as arguing for a moral statement.)

Nothing makes this appreciably more inspirational--I doubt that this will increase the number of UUs who want the principles read to them on their deathbeds by even 1/10th of 1 percent. The language of the principles wasn't poetic, still isn't, and the explication certainly isn't. It reads like the output of a committee.

Nothing is new. This is warmed over leftovers. This is not a bold statement, reframing UU principles in new and insightful ways nor does it boldly assert a new vision of a farther horizon of the faith.

At the moment I'd urge a vote against, simply on the grounds that we should not indulge in deluding ourselves that this revision is.. well... a revision. The General Assembly's time in Salt Lake (and beyond) would be better spent on other matters. Just declare this a false start. Let others try again.