Monday, July 16, 2007

Is this who we want to be? Seriously?

The UUA Washington Office's blog has really pissed me off.

A few weeks ago, another UU Blogger sent me an email pointing out that nobody had ever even posted a comment to the UUA Washington Office's blog "Inspired Faith, effective action." At the time, I intended to put up a post making fun of them, but I got busy and forgot.

Today I thought of it and went back only to find their latest entry, which begins:

Just when you think the "religious right" can't get any more intolerant and ridiculous...then they do.

Umm... They don't like us either, I'm fairly confident, but are statements like this the UUAWO's idea of a path to a better world?

And the NEXT post begins:

So, in its infinite wisdom, the Administration has managed to...

Sigh. I bet the Republican UUs are really feeling the love now. (If we're going to be snarky, can we at least be FUNNY snarky as opposed to just RUDE snarky?)

Now y'all know that snark is not a weapon I'm afraid to use. But I am a layperson. I don't think it is appropriate for our denomination's representatives speaking in an apparently official capacity to be talking that way, even if they are talking about people who don't think the way most of us do.

I read that page and left it with the impression that the current staff of the UUA Washington Office all think conservatives are idiots and that it would be hopeless to ever try to see their side or work with them.

If that's the case, can we get rid of the current UUAWO staff and get in some people who are willing to listen a little more and keep more of an open mind? Because IMHO this sort of yellow-dog partisanship is not a healthy thing for a religion.

CC
who, for the record goes back and forth on Hate Crime legislation because of the increasing-your-sentence-because-of-what-you-were-thinking implications, believes that Hindus should be allowed to give the opening prayer in the Senate and would rather the administration had chosen a more moderate surgeon general nomination. But she can express those opinions without being an asshole about it and without implying that anyone who disagrees with her is stupid.

25 comments:

hafidha sofia said...

The views expressed here reflect our personal views, and are not meant to be indicative of the positions of the UUA as an organization.

Maybe they should only get rid of Elizabeth since she's the author of the two posts you reference here.

Chalicechick said...

As the Google Cache indicates that disclaimer is brand new. I don't think it was even on there when I wrote this post.

I appreciate the disclaimer, but to me it isn't enough.

If they want to express their views in rude way that is not intended to represent the organization they can get personal blogs of their own and keep the organization's name off of it.

A quick skim of the posts indicates that Elizabeth is the rude one, but I'm still unsure of why we need to have a blog at all.

(I go back and forth on whether we need to have a Washington Office at all.)

CC

Joel Monka said...

I am not back and forth at all- let's do a cost benefit analysis... how many important bills have we caused to be passed, how many nominations have we been the precitate cause of blocking or pushing, vs. how many people have we driven away, caused to quit, or caused to never check us out? I'm not all that far from a tipping point myself- sometimes I think I only stay because every organization needs the lone voice, just as one Senator voted against going to way with Japan after Pearl Harbor just so it could never be said that we went to war unanimously.

Joel Monka said...

I meant precipitate & war. *sigh* Someday I'll learn to type...

LinguistFriend said...

I would like to be a little more specific. According to a published statement by our local OMD member of the UUA Board of Trustees, Pat Solomon, this is the Washington office that, a year after the passing of a UUA statement of conscience about Global Warming, has "few staff resources to put into this as of yet, but priorities may have to shuffle. For the moment we will rely heavily on the work of the many environmental activists throughout the nation". I have a copy of a list, issued jointly by the Commission on Social Witness and the UU Ministry for Earth, of the Green Sanctuary actions on the topic of Global Warming which occurred during 2006-2007. However, the UU Ministry for Earth is among the Independent Affiliates which so far have been disqualified by the Board of Trustees. Thus, the UUA is unresponsive on a national level to the statement of conscience on this topic issued a year ago at GA, and has disowned the UU organization which has been active in regard to the most important topic of our times.
LinguistFriend

SC Universalist said...

I have to admit to being one of those who hasn't paid any attention to our Washington office in my many decades as an UU. Why do we have one?

(of course I'm one who feels that every GA Witness needs to have a cost accounting prior to accepting - including what old Witness will be tossed out the door because of the cost of the new one)

fausto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chalicechick said...

LinguistFriend--

What do you propose the UUA Washington Office do about Global Warming?

What precisely had the UU Ministry for Earth done about Global Warming?

Is there any proof anyplace that they improved the situation even a tiny bit?

CC

Chalicechick said...

(((Maybe they should only get rid of Elizabeth since she's the author of the two posts you reference here.)))

And by the way, I strongly suspect that if the UUAWO was the sort of place that made it clear to everyone that nastiness against people who disagree with you is wrong and is totally not the UUAWO's mission, Elizabeth would have known what the boundaries were and known what she was posting was over the line.

CC

fausto said...

We do need a Washington Office, but not the one we have. In keeping with our tradition of congregational polity, the office we need is one that gathers information on issues of conscience and reports it back to the congregations, not one appointed by 25 Beacon to lobby ineffectively on our behalf about issues we don't know about so we don't have to do anything ourselves.

In fact, I wonder why the present UUAWO shouldn't have been disaffiliated instead of some of the genuine grassroots groups that were.

AS for the disclaimer, not only do I think it's inappropriate to post anything on the blog that shouldn't be able to be attributed to the denomination as a whole, but I also think that someone who doesn't have enough common courtesy and good sense not to be posting public insults doesn't belong in any kind of lobbying organization, whether ours or anyone else's.

LinguistFriend said...

CC: The Washington office is the DC mouthpiece of the UUA. So, the UUA should have directed the Washington office to assume an advocacy role that the present administration should not neglect
the main necessary condition for accomplishing anything else the organization could do. Give me your FAX number and I will try to dig out the list of Green Sanctuary actions and send it to you. In 2006, I introduced you to a distinguished physical chemist working on this problem who could certainly have explained the issues much better than I can, but you didn't like him. That doesn't mean that his well-informed efforts at having the UUA advocate in this area are to be ridiculed.
LinguistFriend

Chalicechick said...

There's no need to talk down to me, LF. First of all, Katy-the-Wise says all that needs to be said about the Green Sanctuary Program here.

And leaving aside the other subjects the chemist discussed that called into question his reliability outside his field of expertise, the only source he cited in his discussion of the issue was the Al Gore movie that claimed one could tell when the passage of the clean air act occurred by looking at an iceberg with the naked eye. Mrs. Hankins' Earth Science class in the eighth grade taught that air over the United States doesn't even circulate to the Antarctic before mixing with air from most of the rest of the world, and this process takes decades.

Also, Gore was TOTALLY off in his dire predictions for the 2006 hurricaine season, which turned out to be one of the milder in recent history.

I actually wonder if this gentleman had come to GA this year if he would have been so rabid on the topic.

CC

SC Universalist said...

"the UU Ministry for Earth is among the Independent Affiliates which so far have been disqualified by the Board of Trustees".

Actually the UU Ministry for the Earth is among the three that will be decided in October.

Shelby Meyerhoff said...

CC,

I think it is a little ungenerous to call for Elizabeth to be fired (!), as you and Hafidha Sofia have, regardless of your disagreement with her approach. Asking that a UU professional be fired from his or her job is a grave move, potentially hurtful to the professional and to other people involved. Of course there are times when it is necessary to publicly suggest that a religious professional resign or be fired. This is hardly one of them.

On a side note, I noticed that Elizabeth has responded to your post on the Washington Office blog.

hafidha sofia said...

After seeing Shelby's comment, I should clarify: I didn't mean to suggest that anyone should be fired at all. I was merely responding to a part of CC's post.

Chalicechick said...

Don't forget Fausto:

((( but I also think that someone who doesn't have enough common courtesy and good sense not to be posting public insults doesn't belong in any kind of lobbying organization, whether ours or anyone else's.))

Personally, I don't think this is Elizabeth's fault, and I should make that very clear. The UUAWO has been like this for a really long time.

And I think Hafidha was being a bit sarcastic.
CC

fausto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fausto said...

Shelby, you're right, I probably shouldn't have singled out Elizabeth, because I agree with CC that the fault isn't hers alone. However, I do think that the derogatory remarks she expressed, and her public expression of them, and the UUAWO's failure to take them down, are all horribly out of place in the fluid insiders' world of D. C. lobbying, where today's adversary on one issue could easily be tomorrow's ally on another. And although she responded thoughtfully to CC's concerns in a subsequent post at the UUAWO blog, the offensive posts themselves have not been removed, by either herself or her UUAWO supervisors. I think keeping them on public display at an officially sponsored UUA venue brings dishonor upon us all.

I don't think Elizabeth's injudicious comments and the fact that they were allowed to be posted point to the failure of one employee so much as to the far more serious flaws that seem to infect the entire UUAWO mindset from the top down as it defines and carries out its work. As I said already, the Washington Office we have is not the one we need. What we in the congregations need is an objective presence in Washington that reports back to us well, not a scornful and judgmental one that advocates on behalf of us badly.

PG said...

fausto,

I think we here see the conflict between blogging as traditionally practiced, and blogging as rapid-response public relations. If Elizabeth's posts had been those of an individual blogger, she definitely should not take down the old posts. She clarified what she meant in a later post, and retaining the old posts is all that makes the later post meaningful. It is common blogging etiquette, at least on most blogs I have encountered, NOT to delete old posts that make the blogger look stupid or overhasty or otherwise put her in a bad light. Such deletions tend to be seen as a kind of Stalinist erasure of history. I've erased only one post in the nearly five years I've been blogging, and that was because someone mentioned in it extensively was offended, and I realized that his (in my view erroneous) interpretation of the post was not isolated to him. Until I could write it better, it was better unwritten, or at least unpublished.

However, Elizabeth is writing for what is basically the PR organ of an organization engaged in lobbying. To that extent, honesty and sincerity are less important traits than inoffensiveness. For such a website, if a post turns out to have been ill-thought, it is better to erase it as rapidly as possible.

I put this in the same category as the Edwards campaign's hiring of two prominent liberal bloggers and their rapid resignation from same. You can't be your "real" self, whatever that means, on an organization's blog. Indeed, the first group blawg I joined was dissolved by the founder partly because I (unaware of his employment situation) had written posts mocking Halliburton, which turned out to be a client of the firm at which he was employed. Such conflicts of interests and views are difficult to avoid when multipe people attempt to express their views through a single outlet, particularly one where *all* of the views will be attributed by the public to any individual contributor.

As for whether someone who doesn't understand what lobbyists do should be fired from her job in that capacity, I'm not really sure why this is controversial. I'm all in favor of giving an employee fair warning and a few chances to fail (God knows, I've needed such chances myself), but I fault neither the employer nor the person making the suggestion if someone who doesn't understand how to do a job is eventually dismissed from it.

Finally, given that the whole concept of premeditation rests on "increasing-your-sentence-because-of-what-you-were-thinking," as well as the reduced sentences for crimes of passion, etc., hate crimes do not strike me as any great departure from our common law tradition. If someone argues that what someone was thinking should not play a role and we should go to strict liability (no mens rea required), or that what someone was thinking should matter solely for intent and not for any other purpose (punishing the crime of passion the same as the premeditated paid assassination, but not the same as the accidental hit-and-run nor the insane person who thinks people survive being run over repeatedly), that's one thing, but a simple "we can't punish people more for what they were thinking!" doesn't fit with existing criminal law. If we think it is bad and deserving of greater punishment to plan out a killing and execute it in cold blood than to do it spontaneously in rage, why shouldn't we think it bad and deserving of greater punishment to victimize a person based on perception of his gender, race or sexual orientation? (I consider sexual orientation to be a species of sex discrimination anyway -- if you kill Matthew Shepherd for hitting on you but wouldn't have killed his sister for doing the same, that's sex discrimination.)

And Joel, from what I know, no Senator voted against war with Japan. You may be thinking of Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (R-Montana), who was a lifelong pacifist and voted against WWI as well.

Chalicechick said...

PG

I'm fairly confident that the skills it takes to do well in the UUAWO and the skills it takes to be an actual lobbyist who gets results are two different sets of skills.

That's why my initial suggestion was to clean house.

CC

fausto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fausto said...

I think we here see the conflict between blogging as traditionally practiced, and blogging as rapid-response public relations. ...Elizabeth is writing for what is basically the PR organ of an organization engaged in lobbying.

Exactly. When you work for a public advocacy organization, its objectives have to take priority over your own opinions whenever you are out in public. You especially shouldn't use the organization's resources to publish personal views that impair the organization's ability to promote its own views or objectives, or that bring disrepute upon the organization. An unfiltered personal-reflections blog sponsored by the UUAWO to allow its staff to express their personal opinions is begging for trouble in that regard. Even a personal blog that is unconnected to the organization can present conflicts if the blogger's identity is known, because the blogger still presents a public portrait of the attitudes held by staff of the organization and therefore can impair organizational effectiveness.

The larger problem here is not that Elizabeth as a newcomer didn't understand those realities, but that nobody else at the UUAWO seems to understand them either.

Until I could write it better, it was better unwritten, or at least unpublished.

Tht's precisely the standard that the UUAWO should have applied, I think.

Shelby Meyerhoff said...

CC, Hafidha Sofia and Fausto, Thank you for considering my concern about Elizabeth and responding in your comments. You helped clarify for me the larger issues that you are focused on, including how Unitarian Universalism is publicly represented and what the impact is of our institutional lobbying efforts.

Joel Monka said...

pg- Thank you, yes, it was Ms Rankin I was thinking of; I couldn't remember her name at the moment- and she was a Congresswoman, not a Senator. (well, it HAS been a third of a century since my last US history class) She did indeed vote against war with Japan (the vote was 388-1), and voted "present" to war with Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania.

Robin Edgar said...

CC said - "If they want to express their views in rude way that is not intended to represent the organization they can get personal blogs of their own and keep the organization's name off of it."

Oh, you mean like Rev. Victoria Weinstein? But doesn't she clearly identify herself as "a small town pastor serving an historic New England Unitarian Universalist congregation" on her Peacebang blog? As I pointed out to appropriate UUA administrators?

Quite frankly the UUWA posts were comparatively polite compared to Peacebang's insulting and defamatory, to say nothing of obscene. . . language.