Sunday, December 31, 2006

If you were on the Supreme Court...

Would you bookplate this book?

I'd like to think that if I were so accomplished, and I wanted to read the sequal to "The Bridges of Madison County," I would pretend I'd gotten it as a gift, read it, then give it away.

Who is thinking of buying Burger's copy of Minneapolis Institute of the Arts' catalogue from a show they did featuring art forgeries.

Intrigued? Appalled?

I'm a little of both.


"Healing the Nation"

Could somebody who was watching the news in the 1970's please explain
how Ford "Healed the Nation" by pardoning Nixon and why this was such
a great thing?

>From my gen-Xer perspective, Ford's act sounds a lot more like letting
the guy who ordered the thing go home while the less powerful folks
went to jail.

I'm willing to be convinced. I just don't understand right now...



"Friends? Hah. These are my only friends. Grown-up nerds like Gore
Vidal. And HE's kissed more boys than I ever will."

--Lisa Simpson

Saturday, December 30, 2006


Several people in my offline life have said something to the effect of "I don't believe in the death penalty, but Saddam Hussein is REALLY evil, so maybe that's different."

Well, Saddam Hussein died last night.

And tonight I'm reading that Cory Maye, the death-row inmate whom I've been talking about for the past year, has been denied his new trial.

Yes, his death sentence had been overturned by the same judge earlier in the year, but damn it, he's going to spend the rest of his life in prison for shooting at some guys who broke into his house in the middle of the night, guys who wore all black except for an arm insignia. Maye's baby daughter was on the bed in front of him.

I realize that the "Slippery slope" argument is an inherently weak and stupid one, but it is just obvious to me that one minute we are justifying killing the worst criminals, the next minute a black man goes on death row in Mississippi for
something like this.

Anyway, you can read the ruling, where Eubanks explains how when these guys busted into Maye's house in the middle of the night, he HAD to have known they were cops in uniform because of, well, the arm insignia. Oh yeah, and the police claim they shouted "police," when they broke down the door, it's just by accident that nobody in the neighborhood heard them.

Meanwhile, actual criminals pose as police all the time.

The government is this unreasonable about searching houses, and some people want the govenrment to have the authority to kill people?

I don't frigging get it, kids. Never have, never will. Humans screw up. Death is permanent. It's just that simple.

whose brother is in jail until next March, so she probably won't have her house searched by the police until then. But after next March, the next time they come looking for him...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Monday, December 25, 2006

This is blasphemy, of course, but I like it.

A package I got from theCSOmom.

It had lots of Robertson Davies stuff inside.


This is in honor of theCSOmom, who loves this song.

CC herself is more of a Snoopy fan:


who finds that neither song is playing properly.

People who can't see themselves.

I was once having a conversation with a woman who was literally the most obnoxious woman I knew at the time. She had an impressive job, was well-respected in her field, active in her local church. She did a ton for charity and threw great parties in her large house.

But jeezum crow she was annoying and overbearing.

One time, she and I were talking about our minister.

"Oh, I think she's great," Obnoxious woman said. "But she's her own worst enemy sometimes."

"Well, aren't we all our own worst enemies?" CC asked.

"Why, no, I'm not my own worst enemy at all!" Obnoxious woman responded.

I was flat out amazed that she could have so little insight into herself. Of course, now that I think about it, the most obnoxious person I know now I think would also say that he isn't his own worst enemy. The second most obnoxious person I know right now would say that, too.

Perhaps there's something to that. We could call it the "Chalicechick Test for Obnoxiousness."

Do you pass?


Saturday, December 23, 2006


I've put all the posts from this year into categories, though I'm going to go back and add at least two more categories for "blogging" and "Little CC" (since people like stories about me as a kid so I've posted enough of them for a separate category.) I'll do last year over the next few days.

But for now, the categories we have are at right. "Livejournal-esque" is posts about my adventures in general and my personal life, "padawans enlightened" is about teaching YRUU, "general snark" are my humor columns. LF's and TheCSO's categories are for posts written by them, not written by me about them. I think the rest of the categories are pretty self-explanatory.

If there are any other categories you think I need, tell me.


Friday, December 22, 2006

On the Road again.

The road to Charlotte

I really love this article

The other day, Slate put up an article of a bunch of unanswered questions that people had sent "the Explainer."

So of course some guy has come along and answered them.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

An unbeliever on Christmas Eve

In a recent post PB writes I remember the years before I was at all interested in, or knowledgeable of, the Bible. I would go to church services now and then and it was all absolutely meaningless to me. No one ever suggested to me that if I wanted to get anything out of this, I would actually have to put some intellectual effort into it. Church was like a magical social club -- if you were a member, you'd just "get it," and your heart would be opened by some great priestly abracadabra, and you could sit there with dewy eyes and feel moved by all this archaic language about begating and prophecying and parable-ing and healing lepers or whatever other crazy biz was going down in that day's reading.

This fascinates me because it is 180 degrees from my own experience as an unbeliever. I was raised by liberal Christians who explained the bible as metaphor Healing lepers and the like were symbols that I either understood on some level or accepted that I didn't. Now even to this day, there are some things about the bible's metaphors that really turn me off. God's utter indifference to human life excepting the people he REALLY likes is too pervasive a theme to be written off as symbolism alone. I realize a lot of old epics are like this, but still...

For me it was Christianity that was the club, but I wasn't faithful enough to get in. In retrospect, my rather screwed-up home life made my own unworthyness very easy to accept. I tried to believe though, though. I built a little alter at the edge of my playroom, I conducted church services for the cats and put on elaborate biblical skits. But I still felt left out. My grandmother talked about faith in God as a gift that I was lucky to have as it meant I wasn't going to hell. That alone was good for a few sleepless nights*.

My lack of belief and my not knowing how to tell my parents about this continued through my teenage years. My skits had given way to an elaborate yearly pageant for which I wrote the script and did much of the directing. (Every other high school kid in my church had quit going seemingly guilt free, I stayed and kept working and remained anxious. That's CC for ya.) The church got a new minister, a woman, who now shows up on this blog occasionally still as "Mary-who-Dances." She was really good and she made me think, and I started to hope there might be a future for me an Christianity after all. By the time I went to college, I was taking classes on religion, though not actually attending church. I actually continued my at that point life-long habit of lying and professing a belief in God so God club members would think I was in.

My freshman year in college, I came back to visit for Christmas. Still not believing, still anxious, I sat in the back of the church at the Christmas Eve service and listened to the hyman and the readings I'd heard so many times before. I didn't believe in God, but the familiarity was still comforting. It was a candle service, but our candles weren't lit yet. I dug deep grooves into mine with my thumbnail.

Near the end of the service, Mary stood at the front of the church and asked every child under thirteen to come forward. (Neatly excluding my brothers, who were thirteen.) The kids came up and Mary lit their candles and talked to them seriously about their duty to spread light to the world. I gripped the candle, my eyes never leaving Mary.

The kids turned, and with majestic and serious expressions slowly walked back toward the pews. I understood then why churches use so many candles. People carrying candles instinctively adopt an expression that tells the world they are doing reverent and serious business. I understood this intellectually, but was still deeply moved. The kids got that bringing light to the world was a dangerous activity. One was likely to get burned or look stupid if wax got on the carpet. And they brought the light anyway. Because it was their job.

Mary watched the kids start to touch candles with the people on the ends of the pews, who then leaned over and touched candles with the person next to them, spreading the light. Seemingly spontaneously, Mary began to sing softly and almost to herself.

"Go, tell it on the mountain,
over the hills and every where..."

And the congregation picked up the words and began to sing along, mimicking Mary's soft and thoughtful tone...

"Go, tell it on the mountain,
that Jesus Christ is born..."

The kids walked and lit, and we all kept singing...

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light...

On what I'm sure is a simplistic level, I get the theatrical mechanics that went in to creating this incredibly spiritual, deeply moving moment for me, where I felt instinctively that the light, not the belief behind it, was the point. But it still worked.

The service ended and I left, determined to spread light.

It's been ten years. The church fired Mary three months later because she's a lesbian. I had another deeply spiritual moment when I was sitting in my first UU church and Katy-the-Wise calmly mentioned how illogical it is to assume people can believe whatever they want. My doubt wasn't just OK, in this new faith it was damn near a sacrament.

But of course, ten years later, I am sitting here thinking about that moment and writing about it and I find myself wanting to renew my commitment to spreading light.

Not bad, for an unbeliever.


*Christians, on the whole, really do seem to feel that one can believe whatever one wants to. Tim LaHaye's books assume this for example. Pascal's Wager does too and I recall having it explained to me from an early age by a well-meaning older man who assumed I was on the believer's side and who wanted to give me ammunition against doubt. Pascal's Wager also served as an example to little CC of how Christianity was all about what you could get God to give you and one didn't necessarily follow God for Gods own sake. I get now that this was the simplified version (Be good! Get stuff in Heaven!) that they explained to kids.

OK, only 1,025 to go...

Am labeling my posts. Did the first 300 tonight. Will do more as time permits.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


CC is having a rough time.

Nothing permanent or life-threatening or anything, but stressful.

So be nice to her, m'kay?



One of the lawyers at the firm was ordering lunch. He asked one of the assistants,

"Should I get a boring salad, or an exciting salad? Because, deep down, I just want an exciting salad."

CC found great pathos in the idea of a man who, deep down, just wants an exciting salad.


Monday, December 18, 2006

A post that started out as a response at Ms. Kitty's

Linguist Friend responded as follows to a post at Ms. Kitty's about Global Warming. I started to write a response to his response and realized it was going very far afield from her original point. So I brought the discussion here.

Here's what LF wrote:
At the 2006 GA, I was pleased to run into a friend from LA, a distinguished chemist who was very concerned about this issue, and active in the efforts to find UU
organizational support in this direction. Once I noticed that the only other person I had known well who had won a certain engineering award, like this LA friend, was Charles Stark Draper, the MIT engineer who headed the group which designed the guidance system for the first (1969) American manned moon spacecraft and lunar module. Some people feel that it is inappropriate for religious organizations to advocate in such issues, and there are important policies in terms of which that is a particular issue for the UUA. With people of that caliber available and concerned about this issue, I am more inclined to think that their opinions should be sought, and also ways to make them effective.

Wouldn't those people be more effective donating their time to an organization devoted specifically to environmental issues than starting an underfunded UU version of those same organizations from scratch?

I would say that there are two sides to advocacy for these issues, for lack of less cheesy terms, the Brain side and the Soul side. UUs naturally want to go grab the Brain side's work and do that. We want to write policies that force people to do things a certain way because that's the smart thing to do.

I've mentioned before having attended in the past a sermon on evolution where the general point was that evolution and creationism can coexist, but where the delivery of this point was preceded by recitation of the scientific facts pointing to the correctness of evolution that ran a solid fifteen minutes.

Despite our members' natural affinity for the brain side, and perhaps discomfort with the soul side, we're not very good at the brain side, because lobbying governments isn't really something religion is designed to do. We really don't have much legislative success at all to our names and working to heavily on the brain side means that people who disagree feel left out and like they have no religious home. I'll be honest, it hurt like hell when UUA President Bill Sinkford put out a statement on immigration that basically said that anybody who disagreed was a racist*. Ok, ok, you don't want me here. Well, I'm staying anyway. But will the other people who read the statement and disagree stay, too?

But I think we've done a lot of good. I just think we do it on the soul side. I've never signed a petition in coffee hour that made me more dedicated to an issue. I have, over and over, heard sermons that made me think over my values and write that check to Doctors Without Borders, pack up canned goods for my homeless shelter, and think again how public interest law might ultimately be the career field for me.

I know I'm not alone.

I respect the work people are doing on gay marriage. It is one of the few "political issues" that I find acceptable as a religious issue. That gay marriage is such an interfaith movement among religious liberals speaks to this and makes our voices stronger than they are on most other issues where we're one tiny organization of amateurs among huge organizations of professionals.

We're doing a better job on the brain side of that one, perhaps because we really belong there.

But I still don't think that's the most powerful thing we do on the issue.

I'd say the most powerful thing a UU minister can do on the issue is, well, perform those marriages. Don't tell people undecided on the issues what to do. Show them happy people starting lives together, weddings that look just like heterosexual ones full of happy familes and hope. I think the initial TV coverage of the gay weddings in San Francisco did more good than all of the petitions in the world. When gay marriage does become a legal reality, those happy couples on tv will have been the first step.

We do have to win over people's brains, but we also need to win over their souls, and that calls for a kind of reaching out that we are far less comfortable with. Because souls don't want the verifiable stuff. They don't want to hear "vote for proposition 19" or "force public schools to teach what WE want in sex ed."

Souls want to hear about truth, about beauty, about justice, about fairness, about faith.

That's a lot harder, to do, though.

I think again and again of the filibuster debate, when every liberal organization in the world was sending me screetchy emails and letters about the evil that Republicans wanted to do and how I needed to sign petitions, grab a protest sign, lie to people and tell them that freedom of speech was the issue. People talked of the filbuster's history, it's usefulness for miniority causes. We were the white hats! Republicans were the black hats!

The UUA Washington Office suggested ministers preach about judicial selection. ACtually, if you google "filibuster debate" the UUA's statement about helping the Democrats win comes in second.

Even if you’ve already called or written your senators, even if you are SICK of the debate and our action alerts on the issue, it is crucial that YOU (and your friends and family and neighbors) contact your senators ASAP to let them know that you oppose the “nuclear option” and urge them to protect the rights of the minority party by protecting the filibuster.

It was a great big Circus for the brain.

But how was that issue resolved? It was resolved when fourteen moderate senators from both sides got together and started talking. People like us were yelling at them to take extremist positions, but they started talking to each other instead.

And they worked out a compromise. The Republican party could have had the votes. They could have, and would have, taken the filibuster. But some of them knew it was wrong. The democrats who compromised caught a lot of hell for it from their own party. But it was the reasonable thing to do and they did it anyway.

Someone, at some point, had talked to their souls.

I wish it had been us.

Maybe it will be next time?


*I do disagree, not because I don't feel for people who are here illegally, but because I think that letting people in indiscriminately is a band-aid approach. Foriegn aid that helps the countries people are leaving develop economically.
America is not so great, it's just that we have money. People in poorer countries do not leave their families and come here because they are dying to become Americans, but because living in a poor country sucks. Make it suck less, they will stay home, people here who want inexpensive labor will have to pay more for poor people who are legally here and everybody's happy.

This is taking that argument a little farther, perhaps much farther than my readers will be willing to follow me on it, but I actually like Globalization and think it is a good think for American companies to be up to. We complain that Nike is exploiting workers when it moves into a community and gives small farmers the chance to make sneakers instead of farming. But the fact remains that if you're a sneaker assembly guy, you may still be poor, but your children don't starve when the crops fail.

Many bad foreign aid assumptions are made when people romanticize subsistence-level farming.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

When YRUU charades goes hardcore

So far we've had (among many others:)

The Origen of Species

the Rig Veda

The decline and fall of the Roman empire

Changing bodies, changing lives.

and a choral song in French that nobody could pronounce.

Oh, and the girl whom theCSO sent to act out "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" has been up there for like 20 minutes.



New post at "Has CC mentioned she writes fiction?"

This one is another noir mystery. I call it Expectations.


Friday, December 15, 2006

The promised exploding star story

A few days ago, I was instant messaging with a beloved minister amigo. We got to talking about wacky Christmas pageants and I mentioned a college friend’s brother, who was ten years old and playing Joseph when, at one of the rehearsals, he picked baby Jesus up, spun his head around and went “Worship me! Worship me! Watch my head spin!*”

Well, I thought of another story and told him I’d put it up on the Chaliceblog.

Presbyterian minister Mary-who-Dances once preached at a church in New York City where many of the theater folks come to worship. During their Christmas pageant, one of the shepherds pointed up at the prop star hanging by a rope from the ceiling, saying:

“And, Lo! A star is rising in the east!”

Kaa-BOOM! The congregation collectively gasped as the star exploded into an orgy of sparklers, color and fire. The star burned and crackled for a moment, then died out as quickly as it had begun.

After the show, Mary pulled aside the shepherd’s daddy, who was one of the technical guys for Phantom of the Opera down on Broadway.

She asked for an explanation.

Well, he said, if it was his kid playing the shepherd, he wanted the start to look REALLY impressive. So he went down to Chinatown and got some illegal fireworks and put them on the star and rigged it up so…

And why didn’t he warn anybody that this was going to happen?

Well, he didn’t know for certain it would work…

Anyway, that’s the exploding star story. And it may be a big exaggeration of what really happened, Mary-who-Dances can be like that.


*Umm… My college friend’s brother had some behavior problems.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Last weekend, I broke my usual habit of working in my office on Sunday afternoon, going to First Unitarian Church of Toledo (OH) to hear a morning sermon and then an afternoon lecture by Bill Schulz, recently retired after twelve years as head of Amnesty International USA. Before that, Schulz was head of the UUA for eight years, after seven years there in other positions. At present, he is on a year's sabbatical at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. An article by Schulz on his experiences in dealing with torture, and a short sketch of him by Kimberley French, can be found in the Winter 2006 issue of UUWorld. The article about him can be found on line at

His morning sermon was rather general, entitled "After the Ecstasy the Laundry: Human Rights and Our Unitarian Universalist Calling". It did not strain his voice or the opinions of the large audience, at least twice the size of the usual attendance at First Church. He brought his sermon to a close with a look back at his past twelve years, in words that I noted down at the time because they were so striking: "When I was the head of Amnesty International, I lost my faith every night, and every morning I regained it with the coming of the light."

In the afternoon, he moved on to the topic of his present concern, and hit his stride, speaking of "Restoring America's Good Name: The State of Human Rights Today". I cannot recall the details of his exposition, and those who read the newspapers do not need to hear them. But again his conclusion was telling, and his point will be well made if I retell it as best I can. He told of how one of his Polish Jewish relatives (an uncle, I think) had gone back to visit Poland repeatedly after the Second World War. There are few Jews left in Poland, and Jewish visitors are not always welcomed. On the first time that he went back there, when he visited his former village, the uncle was mocked and abused by six Polish boys. In return, the uncle told them a Jewish story. Those who have read Eli Wiesel and Martin Buber know the magic of such stories. The uncle came back to that village many times, always interacting with the young people, and somehow building and maintaining a connection with the young people who at first had mocked him. Finally, of course, he died, and the six young people who at first had mocked him, now grown, said the Mourner's Kaddish for him, the Jewish prayer spoken for the dead person by those who mourn him. You may not realize it, but you know the essence of the first part of the Kaddish prayer, because the first lines of the Lord's Prayer are based on it. But what speaks particularly to Schulz's point, although he did not say so, is its end: "He who maketh peace in his high places, may he make peace for us and for all Israel; and say ye, Amen." In view of the conduct in the world of our country in recent years, Schulz said that he was concerned as to whether there would be anyone who would say Kaddish for us if it were needed. He spoke these words loudly.


"Today I live in the gray, muffled, smelless, puffy, tasteless half-world of those who have colds."

Robertson Davies, The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks...


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Good news and Bad news re: Billy Graham's Bible Blaster

I wrote this afternoon that if a Chalicesseur would buy me the new "Left Behind" video game, I would play it and review it, both for game quality and religion content.

A Chalicesseur did that for me, which I very much appreciate. But in the comments a couple of people have compared the Left Behind game to the Simpsons Episode where the Flanders kids and Bart play "Billy Graham's Bible Blaster."

You guys do know you can play "Billy Graham's Bible Blaster" right on the internet, don't you?

Click here, which takes you to a virtual file drawer on The Simpsons website. Then click the tab for F-H, then click Rod Flanders, then click on the Bible Blasters icon.

Good news? CC's personal record is 7 heathens converted.

The bad news? Unlike in the episode, the Heathens do NOT become Unitarians if you just wing them.

Believe me, I tried over and over.

I was shooting to wing.


Get a holiday card from CC

I sent kickin' holiday cards.

If you've never gotten a holiday card from me, send me an email with your address.

Chalicechick at gmail dot com.



A kind Chalicesseur has bought me the "Left Behind" video game.

It's not going to ship for a few days, though, so expect a review right around Christmas.

And feel free to hit the Buy me stuff, I'm cute button anyway.

After all, how many religion bloggers do you know who are asking for sex worker memoirs, books on con artistry and Batman DVDs?

Actually, you don't have to answer that...


A request from CC

Having heard so much Hoopla about the "Left Behind" video game where you can shoot nonbelievers, I'd like to play it and review it for the Chaliceblog.

That said, I'm not looking to add to its sales numbers, so I'd like a used copy.

Having shelled out for lots of Christmas presents in the last few weeks, I'm feeling broke today, so I've placed a request for a copy on the amazon wishlist I have that is entitled Buy me stuff, I'm cute.

So hey, if you've read the Chaliceblog and enjoyed it all year and you'd like to see a review where I will thoughtfully critique the game if it deserves it, snark on the game if it deserves it, and if nothing else simply tell you, hype from both directions aside, what's actually in it, give that link a click.

If you don't have thirty five bucks you can play with lying around, don't like the Chaliceblog thirty five bucks worth or want to give the publicity of this game neither heat nor light, I can respect all of those positions and please don't feel pressured.

After someone buys me a copy, amazon should theoretically remove it from the list, though one can always email me and I will make sure that it is removed. But if amazon screws that up and I get multiple copies, I will sell extra copies to my favorite scifi used book store, match the proceeds with an equal contribution of my own and give the resulting amount to Beacon House.

Thanks in advance,


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I've been bugging theCSO to let me do this for years...

And HEY, he's out of town this week...

The UU Blogger Book Awards

I saw the Salon Book Awards and figured we could do that.

So I emailed a couple dozen of my closest friends asked them to write about their favorite books they read this year.

Here are the responses I've gotten so far, and I'm open to adding extra responsess as I get more.

Paul Wilczynski who writes Paul Wilczynski's Observations:

My favorite is "Tempting faith: an inside story of political seduction" by David J. Kuo.

Kuo is a devoted Christian who worked with a number of conservative Republicans in what was apparently an honest but naive effort to get the government to assist in solving social problems like hungry by channeling money to faith-based communities. He ended up at the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the White House, and becomes disenchanted after Bush's promise to devote $8 billion to the cause is followed by virtually no real financial commitment. He finally comes to believe that the entire program was, in fact, a concerted effort to keep the votes of conservative Christians under control by talking the talk - but not walking the walk.

Christine Robinson, who writes Iminister

"I don't know exactly what a prayer is," Mary Oliver wrote, in her poem, "A Summer's Day." It's the one about the grasshopper that ends, "And what do you plan to do with your/one wild and precious life?" UU's like that poem; we like her reminder to appreciate nature, her affirmation of our choices, and, frankly, lots of UU's like the fact that Mary didn't, at that time, know exactly what a prayer is. We like to think that our appreciative attentiveness to nature is a kind of prayer...which, of course, it is.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention...

Mary Oliver has moved on in her spiritual journey. Her latest book, 'Thirst', written after the death of her life partner, is a set of poems about grief and grieving, and about finding God. She says this in one poem:

Pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
Into thanks, and a silence in which
Another voice may speak.
She's transposed some of her language into a new key. For those who can modulate with her, it's a wonderful book!

Enrique Gomez, who writes The Blue Chalice
Book "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" by Jared Diamond.

When I started reading this book, I put everything off until I finished it. The issue at hand is well encapsulated in the title. It paints both a painful and insightful picture about how people transform their environment to the extent that the change itself becomes a main factor in the decline of their societies.

The scope of the book is epic. The chapters cover the rise of societies as different from each other as the pre-contact Papua New Guinea, post-colonial Dominican Republic, the medieval Greenland Norse settlements, the Anazasi culture in Chaco Canyon, and the modern day Bitterroot Valley in Montana . Everyone of these societies stressed their environment in a different way, and each had widely divergent responses to the precarious conditions their societies fell into as a result. Their stories deserve far more than a chapter in a book, and Diamond does a remarkable job at making them compeling and even moving. What would have been like to be the last surviving Norse in Greenland?

Chapters that I expected would be downers turnout to be spell-binding. Who knew that Montana real estate could be so complicated and troubling? What the hardrock mining industry has done over the years to this country compares to the hardest prose of any horror book I have ever read. I now worry about the history of acid drainage in the hills I live in. After reading this book, I stroll around my neighborhood and wonder what the soil looks like just below. So, I wank on the land a little differently now.

Ms. Kitty, who writes Ms. Kitty's Saloon and Road Show
My favorite book this year has been A SUDDEN COUNTRY by Karen Fisher. I picked it up because the blurb on the back cover described a novel set in country I'm familiar with, the Oregon Trail. As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I get impatient with the sometimes-romantic portrayal of the pioneer journey from Missouri and points east, along the barren, desolate, and frightening Trail.

A SUDDEN COUNTRY is at once poetic and fierce; it took me a little while to learn Fisher's style. She writes with grace but with mystery, leaving the reader at times bemused and looking back into previous chapters to refresh her memory of events. The two main characters are James MacLaren, abandoned by his Nez Perce wife and bereaved by the deaths of his three children with smallpox, and Lucy Mitchell, a remarried widow who has reluctantly accompanied her husband on a quest to the Oregon Territory. The story moves from St. Joseph, MO, to the Whitman Mission near present-day Walla Walla WA, at about the time when tensions between native peoples and white settlers was reaching its peak. The book is both beautiful and challenging.

Chalicechick, who writes this very blog:
Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is the most brilliant thing I've read in a long time.

I cannot tell you the number of insights into my own childhood I found reading this book. They are the "Ouch! But at least I understand it better now" sorts of insights.

This is NOT your standard dysfunctional family/mental illness memoir. I've read those and mostly can't stand them. The picture she draws of her father is that of a deeply sick soul, but at the same time the picture is so mixed with love and humor that it isn't a sad story really either. Just a deeply complex one.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Old guy with groovy pants

How can you look at this guy and not like him?


The Socinian takes issue with my comments on the text of Luke 2:14, comments in which I point out the general scholarly opinion for the last nearly 140 years on the reading and meaning of the original Greek text of Luke 2:14. The Socinian rejects this consensus, and adduces besides a Latin version, many examples from older English translations of the Bible to bolster an argument that the Authorized Version text reflects the original Greek reading in this passage. A basic problem in this procedure is that early English translations are as irrelevant to the establishment of the original Greek text of the NT as the study of Schlegel and Tieck's German translations of Shakespeare's plays would be for the establishment of Shakespeare's original English text.

The NT is an anthology of Greek texts. Modern scholarly editions of it have been created by textual criticism on the basis of some 5,700 Greek NT manuscripts, with secondary input from translations and quotations of the NT (B.M.Metzger and B.D. Ehrman "The Text of the New Testament", 2005). Textual criticism is partly a technical field, partly a historical one. From the technical aspect, it has a deductive basis comparable to mathematical logic, computer programming, and formal and historical linguistics. From the historical aspect, textual criticism requires reference to a large mass of material which reflects many aspects of history. This material is quite varied, and it is hard to predict which aspect will be crucial in a given case. Only part of the job is technical, and theology certainly has its role in textual criticism, as Bart Ehrman has emphasized in his book on "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture" (1993).

Now let me expand on what I mean in saying that textual criticism is at some stages a technical field. For a parallel example, if one wants to be prepared to make a qualified argument about heat conduction in solids or diffusion, one must learn to use the relevant mathematics of parabolic differential equations. By way of contrast, the Socinian displays such varied learning, enthusiasm for his subject, and commitment to his views, that the reader could easily overlook the basic question as to whether one who makes no use of Greek texts is prepared to establish the correct reading of a Greek text. For comparison, I have written two papers during the present year in which I had to make use of the collaboration of a competent Arab scholar in a study of a fascinating scientific text in classical Arabic (which I do not read) from a thousand years ago. Even in the case of very concrete subject matter with which I am well acquainted, with highly qualified collaboration, such a procedure is risky and difficult, and I have misgivings over what I have been able to accomplish with this procedure.

I work very differently in the case of a Greek NT text such as the present one, for which I am much better prepared, since Greek is the language in which I ordinarily read the NT. I ask first what is the early attestation of the Greek passage in question in the first three centuries, which means especially in the texts of the Greek papyri, most of which were unavailable to the 19th century scholars. Then I see what is the information in the latest Nestle-Aland edition, which gives selected variants of the Greek text for a wide range of NT passages, and the latest edition of the United Bible Societies, which gives a wider set of variants for each of a smaller set of Greek passages. I look at the older classic edition by Tischendorf (1869-1872), which is still of much use. Issues of the relation to one another of gospel passages of which there are multiple versions in different gospels are treated in works such as Aland's grand synopis of the gospels. Then I look into grammatical issues: the grammars of NT Greek by F.Blass and A.Debrunner, J.H.Moulton and Nigel Turner, and A.T.Robertson, and E.Mayser's grammar of the Greek papyri are all great works, and their number grows continually. Some of the Greek words in the NT are not obvious, and it is always worthwhile to check what the various editions of Bauer's wonderful NT lexicon and Kittel's theological lexicon say about an important word. The commentaries add further analysis and illumination from related material; for Luke, that of I. Howard Marshall is remarkably good. Once this preliminary work has been done, one can consider a theological question.

To be clear, I am not a practicing specialist in New Testament studies, but rather a user of them. I was forced to become familiar with the (especially Byzantine) textual variants of the Greek New Testament, especially the gospels, in other research, and I have maintained and expanded that familiarity over several decades. My role here is simply that of a philologically trained linguist. My only published contribution to biblical studies concerned the intertestamental literature.

To follow the present argument, there are fine books to use such as E.J.Goodspeed's "Problems of N.T. Translation" (1945), which successfully bridges between nonspecialist readers and the special information on which textual criticism is based. Goodspeed's commentary on the passage in question is readable and excellent. So is Bruce Metzger's treatment in his "Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament" (1994), but it is more technical and perhaps has a trace of Calvinist orientation.

The Socinian argues that the text in question is universalist (small u) in orientation. He believes that it is not restrictive to a particular Jewish or Christian group as I have argued. I believe that the restrictive interpretation is quite characteristic of Hellenistic Judaism and its transition into Jewish Christianity. I feel that his interpretation is very attractive, and that it would be a desirable modern modification of the text. I do not believe that his establishment of the reading and interpretation of the passage is accurate for early Christianity, which is my focus in such studies. He projects a modern interpretation into an ancient world in which it is out of place. I leave the argument in terms of the content of the passage there, because I believe that the argument on the basis of the manuscript evidence is capable of more systematic demonstration than is the theological argument. Once the text is established, the argument in terms of the content of the passage must follow the manuscript evidence.

The Socinian refers repeatedly to a "lost original verse", "lost Greek phrase", "lost phrase", "now-lost original words" of the passage in Luke 2:14. However, the Greek text of this passage which, as I have already pointed out in my preceding post, is supported by current scholarship, and is rejected by the Socinian in its translated form, is not only a preserved Greek variant, it is preserved in all of the most important early uncial manuscripts of the Greek NT. It is the original reading in Codex Sinaiticus (Sin.), is found in Codex Alexandrinus (A), is the original reading in Codex Vaticanus (B), and is found in Codex Bezae (D) and the Freer Codex (W). For any Greek NT reading to be attested by this set of manuscripts, representing the Alexandrian text (Sin., B, W in this section), the Western text (D), and the oldest form of the Byzantine text (A), constitutes an extremely strong argument for the originality of the text. The text is marked with the letter A in the edition of the United Bible Societies and in Metzger's commentary; this is explained "The letter A indicates that the text is certain". (One must distinguish, of course, between the evaluative "A" and the symbol "A" for Codex Alexandrinus.) This is a relatively straightforward argument in terms of external evidence (in F.J.A.Hort's term) which is accepted by competent scholars; theological interpretations must be adapted to it.

The Socinian gives an interesting reference in a comment to his own reply, to a discussion of this passage by T.L. Hubeart, Jr., as supporting his views. Hubeart concludes that "On balance, then, it seems more likely that the passage in this gospel of Luke would extend "good will" to all, rather than reflecting a restriction on the gift of Christ to those "in whom he is well pleased" which accords with the hyper-predestination of some theologies." His argument is in the spirit of those who wish to preserve the readings underlying the Authorized Version, disregarding the fact that at least 80,000 textual changes reflected in modern printings were made in the AV by the revisor Benjamin Blayney in his edition of 1769 (E.J.Goodspeed "As I Remember", p.169). Hubeart also attacks the work of A.T.Robertson, a very distinguished Baptist scholar of the NT, arguably the most outstanding specialist in the world on the language of the NT in his generation at the beginning of the 20th century. In particular, he attacks Robertson's treatment of this passage in Robertson's still valuable six-volume commentary on the NT with the awkward title "Word Pictures in the NT" (1930). Hubeart gives priority to what is called "the majority text" of the NT, the widely attested late Byzantine Greek text on which the early editions of the NT were based. So it is inevitable that he prefers the readings of a translation based on the early NT editions based on the Byzantine Greek text. However, the available information on the Greek text and its interpretation have expanded so greatly since the issuance of the AV in 1611 that this is a risky approach. Fortunately, this view is waning: the second edition of the "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology " (ed. Walter Elwell, 2001) has a good article on textual criticism and theology of the NT by Philip W. Comfort, the primary editor of a very useful collection (2001) of the readings of the NT papyri for the first three centuries of the common era.


I love it when they do this. -CC

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

THIS is too damn cool.

Itty Bitty: CC responds to the eclectic cleric

In a well-written post about the economics of small churches the Eclectic Cleric writes:

What makes "big" church "real" church? Well, lots of things...but mostly it's the fact that they can pay a (relatively) bigger salary to a "professional" minister. Which brings me to the truly irksome question: is the "real" mission of the church merely to provide clergy with paychecks? And if that's our tacit understanding, it's no wonder our churches aren't growing.

Of course, we all have to eat...and even though there are plenty of people (even in big churches) who would love to muzzle the ox, the laborer is worthy of their hire. Which brings me to the second irksome point: what are we actually doing to provide "value" to our "customers?" And if the very language of that question troubles you as much as it does me, then you are ready to move on to the next level.

OK, I am going to say up front that I am completely in water over my head and I am posting this with serious concerns that I am missing the point entirely. That said, as a layperson, I've come to have very little respect for tiny churches merely on the basis of the ones I have attended and heard about. I think tiny churches without ministers are very easy to romanticize if you've haven't attended one in a very long time, but I have, and what I found wasn't good.

Do I think/know ALL small churches without ministers are provincial and spiritually mediocre? Of course not. But I have seen some that are and I think that poorly-administrated small groups of people tend this way.

From my perspective, the "service" the minister provides most relevant to this discussion is being the guy (or woman) with a real vision of where the church is supposed to go and what it should be and, almost more importantly, keeping the church going in a basic religious direction. Linguistfriend has gone to a tiny church in the midwest for three years and at least TWICE in that time has there been a "sermon" that basically boiled down to somebody trying to sell something to the congregation, once reiki lessons, once a book the speaker had written that he mentioned over and over and was conveniently available for sale after the service. Reiki lesson guy had persuaded the head of the program committee to rent him a room at the church to give his lessons and do free advertising for him in the newsletter and bulletin.

I'm sorry, that just doesn't happen in a church with a minister. Even the worst minister I've ever had would not have let that happen.

Small churches without ministers are SO dependent on the personalities involved and can very quickly turn toxic if the personalities do. Even if the personalities are nice enough, there's the "Myrtle really isn't a very effective membership chair, but she's been doing it for twenty years. Your new ideas sound good, but we would hate to hurt Myrtle's feelings by implementing them" problem.

Preaching well is the best thing a minister can do to attract me to his/her church. That said, we should not be underestimating the job of being the person who can say "Jim, I know you're knowledgable and enthusiastic about environmentally-safe pesticides, and I'm delighted that you're willing to lead a lay service, but I don't think 'Safe Pesticide Sunday' is something we're going to do*. However, with your experience running a landscape company, I think you'd be the perfect guy to head up the building and grounds committee. How 'bout it?"

And anybody who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows that politics in church is a BIG issue with me and I have seen things I haven't liked on this issue from churches of all sizes. But most ministers make at least a small effort to be politically inclusive. Very small churches, in my experience, feel much less obligated to be accepting of those who are different, especially in this way.

FWIW, I have also worked for several small companies and found many of the same sorts of problems there.


*I have never attended a Sunday service that basically boiled down to gardening tips, but I've heard about several of them at small churches.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

FWIW, this is when I really started to feel bad for Lindsey Lohan

Since reading an interesting discussion of Micheal Richards on Radical Hapa, I've been following the Richards story anyplace I could. (Admittedly, I'm mostly looking for evidence to support my theory that Richards is having a serious mental breakdown. The YouTube of his apology on Letterman disturbed me. I've seen that exact sort of vacant look before. Nothing good came after it.)

Anyway, that's how I discovered how much people seem to hate Lindsey Lohan. The latest bit of fun is mocking her for sending out a poorly-written statement about the death of Robert Altman. You can click that link and read the statement. Now, this statement is badly written, don't get me wrong. But Lohan only has a high school education, if that, and the depressing truth is that I've seen worse from SAT students and some GRE students who are college graduates.
And when I read it, I believe she was terribly upset.

But naturally, the gossip columns are eating her alive over it, also claiming that she got drunk and rowdy at a dinner for GQ magazine, an allegation, by the way, that famous UU Keith Olbermann totally denies and he was sitting a few tables away from Lohan.

This has reminded me why I don't like gossip columns and usually don't read them. There's just a bizarre hatefulness there. The column mocks her for ending her statement on Altman with the phrase "Be Adequate" (which she admittedly mispells.) Does the column apologize or print a correction or update of any sort when people in the comments point out that praising a good performance as "adequate" was a trademak of Altman's? (A fact that can be verified on Google in about twenty seconds. But hey, since when to gossip columnists research?)

Of course not. Because they are a gossip column and "drunken Lindsey Lohan ends her statement on Robert Altman with a phrase that makes no sense" is a much more interesting story than the truth.

In the comments on the first Salon gossip column I read mentioning Lohan, a commenter writes "an Open Letter to Drew Barrymore" where he asks the reformed party girl to take Lohan out for coffee and a long talk.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if that happened?


Monday, December 04, 2006

What will today's kids be crooning?

Joel Monka caught a doo-whop special on PBS last night and the nostalgia of the old people really got to him.

At CUUMBAYA, he writes:Suddenly it occurred to me that this was another thing denied to the Hip-hop generation. That they’ve been denied a positive, uplifting cultural experience in the present is pretty clear- but they’ve also been denied in the future the kind of societal-binding nostalgia their parents have, the camaraderie of shared cultural experience the oldies induce.

I don't worry about that. After all, Baby-Boomer era music is more or less about screwing and using drugs and people seem to feel nostalgic about that.

I liked alternative as a teenager and admittedly, I didn't listen to too terribly much Hip-Hop, but I have very tender feelings toward 2 Live Crew's Banned in the USA.

Goodness, even reading the lyrics again brought back being twelve years old and standing in front of a clock radio in my bedroom really understanding for the first time how music could be art and could capture and explain great depths of feeling.

"Wisen up, 'cause on Election Day,
We'll see who's banned in the U.S.A.!"

still stirs my soul a bit.

"So all you right-wingers, left-wingers, bigots, Communists,
there IS a place for you in this world!
Because this is the land of the FREE, the home of the BRAVE!
And 2 Live is what we are!"

does too, perhaps irrationally so as the idea expressed certainly isn't very unusual, but it really spoke to me when I was a kid.

That said, most people who would make Joel's argument probably are not with me on those particular lyrics, so I will point out that the same folks who listen to rap when they are in one mood I suspect often listen to snuggly R+B when they are in another. Decades from now, Boys II Men will no doubt be gray-haired and crooning if they want to be. Also, Ne-Yo has songs like Sexy Love and So Sick that are acceptably croonable.

I particuarly like "So Sick" because it has the lyrics:

Cuz I'm so sick of love songs
So tired of tears
So done with wishing she was still here
Said I'm so sick of love songs so sad and slow
So why can't I turn off the radio?

I recall feeling EXACTLY this way when I broke up with my first serious boyfriend and a Gap commercial that I couldn't quite turn off kept making me cry. (Shut up, I was fifteen.)

Though there is a balkanization of music preference that goes along with having lots of subcultures, the fact that I mostly listened to Nirvana, Pavement, Radiohead, etc. in high school and can still talk to you about lots of the most popular Rap and R+B songs indicates that the balkanization isn't so extreme that music from another subculture can't mean something to me.

Anyway, I think our generation will be OK...


CC smites forehead. Repeatedly. Hard.

According to this, as a prank, a DJ here in DC suggested tattoing Muslims and/or making them wear armbands.

And of course, lots and lots of people were in favor of the idea.


Off to work.


Ps. I brought up some questions about anti-Racism work in my YRUU leader meeting yesterday and the head of the program said that if I wanted to take some kids to the YRUU anti-racism shindig in New Orleans in February, I could, in fact she would LOVE to see me go. I don't know if that person was sicking me on the anti-racism conference or sicking the anti-racism conference on me, but from the context I gathered one or the other was true.

I realize I come off as a contrarian, but I honestly am not asking questions like "How do cultures that mistreat women fit into the general theory that all cultures are equal and should all be respected and not judged by white American standards?" to amuse myself with my own cleverness. To me, that seems like a very basic question and one to which I don't have a really satisfactory answer myself. But it's the sort of thing one expects folks who do this stuff as a major life project to have worked out, and I haven't ever gotten a truly straight answer on that from someone who actually does anti-racism work.

who asked that question in a more thoughtful form here

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Season's Greetings from Linguist Friend: "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men"

My ears often perk up at Christmas services when the angelic host's song in Luke 2.14 is read aloud in the beautiful text of the Authorized Version (AV): "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men". The AV was based partly on early printed editions of the Greek NT, for which the main available sources were late and poor Greek manuscripts of the NT. Erasmus, the editor of the first published edition of the Greek NT text (1516 and later), lacked both adequate Greek NT manuscript resources and time to use them, and could have no concept of the appropriate principles to govern a critical edition of the Greek NT. C.R.Gregory pointed this out long ago (Textkritik des NT, 1902, II, 928-931), and less trenchantly so did Metzger in his classic manual of NT textual criticism (2005 ed. by B.Ehrman). Although the AV is widely revered, sometimes the Greek text which is its basis disagrees with the results of modern scholarship.

As an aside, the usual Latin version, which was ubiquitous in the Western world and traces of which appear in many versions, can be translated as "Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace among men of good will". This last phrase could be read to suggest (fairly reasonably) that peace is dependent on the attitude of men, an interpretation that is generally rejected as inconsistent with the theology of Luke.

Unfortunately, this passage (Luke 2.14) does not appear in the Greek texts of the NT which survive from the first three centuries of the Christian era, so scholars must rely on later sources, from the 4th century onward. They are well presented in the Nestle-Aland editions and in the United Bible Societies' editions of the Greek NT. Tischendorf, who in the 19th century added more to our knowledge of the Greek NT sources than any other scholar, reconstructed the now accepted Greek text of this passage from available sources (1869). The Revised Version (RV) of 1881, the revisors of which included F.J.A.Hort and B.F.Westcott, editors of the best critical British Greek NT text of the 19th century (also 1881), implied recognition of the correct Greek text. The RV had "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased", noting Greek variants. Bruce Metzger in his textual commentary on the NT (1994) summarized the reasoning for accepting a Greek text which would correspond to something like the RSV "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased", which was modified to "among those whom he favors" in the NRSV.

Semitic equivalents of the Greek expression meaning "men of [his] pleasure", hypothesized on the basis of the reconstructed Greek text, have subsequently been found in Hebrew and Aramaic texts from Qumran. That such Semitic phrases underlay the Greek text had long been suggested, e.g. in Matthew Black's book on the Aramaic background of the gospels and Acts (3rd ed. 1967). I.Howard Marshall's (1978) commentary on Luke provides a scholarly overview.

Thus, we know beyond reasonable doubt what are the original text, meaning, and background of this passage in Luke. However, the uncomfortable thing is that the original reading of this passage is much less congenial in a UU context than is the later and corrupted reading. The later reading extends peace and good will to men in general; one could say that it is universalist, while the original text is more restrictive, and not as open-hearted.

Perhaps partly because of its implied universalism, this defective reading of the Authorized Version has left many traces in the English-language religious tradition, perpetuated in verse and song. To some it will seem that it is an inadvertent theological improvement, but if we wish to understand the origins and development of Christian thought, it is simply an accidental dead end.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Potato, poTAHto, or something else?

PB has a great post where she writes about a peice of internet glurge she got, "What makes this an eye-roller to most people I know, however, is not the theology (break it down and it's just like yours and mine: Every human being possesses inherent worth and dignity, if God is present in the world, it is through the work of human hands, people are to be cherished more than things, etc.), but the sentimentality of the writing, the inclusion of angels, the effusive praise of God's grace, the misplaced quotation marks, the misuse of the word "literally," and the fact that this woman actually took her child to McDonald's for breakfast. How often do we conflate pure class snottiness with theological superiority and sophistication? How often does it close our ears and keep us from spiritual solidarity with others?"

I don't know. I have an orthodox Catholic friend who is as committed a church member as I am. When we talk about surface stuff, such as sunday school, jumble sales and potlucks, we get each other. When we talk about the really important stuff, we have some disagreements (that some Christians can read the bible and not come away with the message that it's our duty to take care of the poor mystifes me, but one sees such people all the time, ask Joel Hunter,) but mostly get each other.

But it's the issues in the middle where we feel so different.

One time I said something about not going to church to be told what to believe.

"You don't?" He said, and I almost thought there was an implied 'why else would you go?' in his tone.

I've had a Mormon very seriously ask me why I didn't run around doing evil all the time since I had told her I honestly don't believe that God is lying in wait at the end of my life to punish me for my sins. A friend's mother is very concerned that if her granddaughter should die in a car accident tomorrow, she will go to hell because my friend hasn't taken her to church.

Another Christian once told me that she didn't mind torture because it saved the lives of soldiers like her husband. I asked her if she was sure her husband's life was worth so much more than an Iraqi woman's husband's life and the question seemed to flat out amaze her. Her husband was a Christian. He was saved. He was on God's side in this war. Duh?

All of these times, I felt a huge gulf opening up between the person I was talking to and me. (OK, except when I felt the gulf between the friend's Mom and me as I heard that story secondhand.) It felt like a theological gulf rather than a cultural one, but I'm willing to be talked another way on the issue. Actually I'd LOVE to believe that greater solidarity does exist but is getting lost in translation. It's a far more optimistic vision.

OK, Chalicesseurs, what do y'all think? Are we missing that the message is roughly the same because of cultural differences? Or do the differences run much deeper than that?


New post at "Has CC mentioned she writes fiction?"

Check it out!


In my own defense, I WAS awake at 4:30am with nothing to do

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Terminal Uniqueness is thrust upon CC

A few days ago, I was talking to one of my friends, who happens to be a Christian, about how I was feeling blue. I explained that I feel blue often during the Christmas season* It's not seasonal affective disorder. It's this holiday. I really don't like Christmas.

"Well, of course you don't," she said, her voice the tiniest bit snippy. "You don't have any reason to."

I probably shouldn't have been, but I was a little bit appalled to hear it that way. She gave me significant crap about it when I became a UU, but I thought we were kinda past that. Guess not.

I thought about explaining the "Christmas as a celebration of that Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men** concept," but didn't.

Perhaps it would have been worth saying "Actually, it's not the lack of a savior that's the issue or Easter might well depress me, too. My beef is more the enforced cheer and family togetherness aspects. Christmas with my folks and brothers isn't exactly a great time and hanging out with a happy family around the holidays is fun, but at the end of the night, I often feel like Scrooge standing out in the snow, watching the Crachits celebrate together inside."

I didn't bother to say any of those things, though. I just changed the subject


*Though I generally don't write about feeling sad much as reading a depressed person's blogging doesn't even sound fun to ME.

**Because I know LinguistFriend is going to read this, I feel I have to mention that I know the "Goodwill toward men" bit is a misquotation and the phrase in the properly-translated bible isn't nearly so inclusive or loving. But UUs can still celebrate "Goodwill toward" everybody, and we often do.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

One more reason to read's GA coverage

Somebody might be insulting you there.

This is a little late to be bitching about this, I realize, but I just found out about it tonight when Jamie Goodwin was kind enough to point to a June 24 UU World article where Doug Muder accuses me of "spreading gossip" because I wrote about discussion in the plenary about how the delegates were unhappy with the Global Warming resolution.

Doug doesn't spread gossip, so he didn't write about it. Other than to snottily suggest that Philo knows what he's talking about and I'm spreading gossip when I write about the same damn thing.

Yeah, it was gossip, you see, because only the select few thousand of us who showed up to the plenary and/or treated GA like the meeting of an association were in on it.

As someone who apparently had better things to do than, you know, vote, Doug couldn't be bothered to attend the plenary, so I guess he wouldn't know that this "gossip" he's talking about was discussed for several hours of an open meeting. I'm figuring he thinks I must be getting these hot tips from someplace else. I guess he assumes that when the folks who want the UUA to lobby harder for government-imposed environmental regulations need someone to talk about their next move with, they call up good ol' CC.

That's, you know, how I get all the gossip. I'm in the GA hippie inner circle.

Uh huh.


Oh, what the hell, one more Wal*Mart story

Even I am tiring of this topic, FWIW. But sometimes an example of what I'm talking about comes along and proves so good as to be irresistable.

Accroding to this newspaper editorial, John Edwards righteously refused to give a reading of his new book at evil ol' Wal*Mart that treats its employees so badly, choosing instead to read at a nearby middle-class-approved Barnes & Noble.

Why do I care?

Because that Barnes & Noble starts it's employees at $7.00 per hour.

The Wal*Mart starts at $7.50.

Could somebody tell me again about how dislike of Walmart is based on concern for the underpaid workers?

I'm sorry, it is all about pandering for the votes of middle class people who think Wal*Mart is tacky and, consciously or not, use "The poor don't know what's best for them, we do" as an excuse to keep that big ugly store out of their backyards.

who doesn't want a big ugly Wal*Mart in her backyard either, of course, but is at least honest with herself about why.

Veronica Mars is so damn good. (Spoiler to last night's episode)

Last week's episode had Patty Hearst as a guest star.

This week, we find out that the solution to the mystery at the center of the story arc involved Stockholm syndrome.

It's the best, most thoughtfully written show on TV, kids. Seriously.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"We even use a plastic baby!"

Here's a funny news story about how people at PETA read that a church in Alaska was having a "living nativity," assumed that animals must be involved and started bothering the church about it on that flimsy justification.

For the record, there aren't animals involved. The animals in the church's "Living Nativity" are played by people and puppets.

CC played a sheep in a play when she was in the fifth grade.

Lucky we didn't get a letter.


Vote in Chutney's "most Influential Living Unitarian" poll

But please don't vote for me.


New UU blog

I used to be better about searching up new UU blogs to mention to my readers, but I've been falling down on the job recently.

Anyway, I'd like to welcome Comrade Kevin to the UU blogosphere.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

CC reviews The Big Shuffle

First off, I have to agree with just about everything Ms. Kitty says here One of her points is that the UU character seems a lame stereotype of a UU who enjoys protesting and getting arrested, but never seems to get anything accomplished that actually helps anybody. Robin notes in the comments "Unfortunately any "charicature" or stereotype is usually based on a certain amount of truth. There are lots of shallow U*Us who talk the talk but fail or refuse to walk the walk. . . and not just when it comes to social justice"

He's right, of course. But Ms. Kitty's point isn't that stereotypes can't be true*. It's that writing about stereotypes usually doesn't make for great writing. This book also has a gay guy who has an antique store, loves to cook and sings show tunes all the time. There are certainly lots of gay men who enjoy those things. But what's more interesting is when she writes against type and has characters with quirks that differ from the expected ones. The minister who hosts a poker game that the players call the "Building and Grounds committee" is a nice touch. As is the town bookie, who turns out to be a devoted family man delighted that his grandson is winning creative writing prizes. Even the gay guy turning the local girl scout troop into a finishing school of sorts is pretty funny. Because it differs from the stereotype.

The plot has Hallie returning from college to care for her eight younger siblings after the death of her father. Her biological family ends up getting a great deal of help from the family of friends she has put together in the previous two books. (I am typically a sucker for "family of friends" plots, FWIW.)

As seems to be the standard for this series, the minor characters are much better written and more interesting than the major ones, though the major ones have improved a lot.

I agree with Ms. Kitty that it is a shame that the author feels the need to lighten up the mood so much with inappropriate banter. (Of course some people are like that about death. An author could write characters being silly after a death as an expression of obvious grief. The Mary Tyler Moore episode with the funeral of Chuckles the Clown, an example Pederson even has a character mention in the book, is a really good example of that and Pederson is going for a similar feeling. But Pederson's characters are not Mary Tyler Moore and their kidding doesn't feel like grief, but just bare and appalling tackiness in the face of tragedy.)

When Pederson lets her characters grieve, the results can be wonderful. The scene after the father's funeral where Bernard has to guide Hallie through the motions of the social ritual of the post-funeral reception, is spectacular. It's pity Pederson doesn't trust her characters a little bit more and let them feel their emotions. It would make them more complex and more sympathetic.

The nitpicker in me points out that there are a lot of timing issues in this series. Hallie pickes up how to run a household almost immediately, something I'm still working on at 28 and without kids, but Italian immigrant Ottavio has learned very little English in his two years in America surrounded totally by English speakers. (I knew several people in college who spent a summer in a European country and came back sounding more or less fluent.)

On the whole, each book has been better than the last. I'm doubting PR guy will contact me about the last book in the series, but I may well pick it up and review it anyway when it comes out as I'd like to see if the writing improves still more.


*I recall reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles early in high school and thinking of the "Somewhat insecure older chap sedecues trusting young woman and then leaves her heartbroken" plot as total cheesy melodrama. Then I saw it happen to half my friends.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Big Shuffle review ought to be done tomorrow

For now, go read what Ms. Kitty had to say about it

The two stereotypical gay guys play a much smaller role in this book so far, which is a good thing, because as I neared the end of the last book I was saying to myself "If I have to read about ONE MORE person, place or thing being compared to Ethel Merman, I'm going to start screaming and never stop."

Full review tomorrow.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Jeezum crow, it looks like Caligula had dinner here.

Turkey-Excellent. Grass-fed is absolutely the way to go. Most tender and moist turkey I've ever had.
Steamed Green Beans garnished with dried cranberries- Delish. I'm going to make those every year.
Sweet Potatoes brushed with olive oil and curry powder--a little heavy with the reast of the meal. I think next year I'll just do a second steamed veggie.
Cranberry mousse-OK, but I didn't stir it enough or it settled oddly. Either way, it had this weird layered thing going on.
Ambrosia-Perfect, but theChaliceRelative's ambrosia always is. (It's all citrus and coconut, none of that weird marshmellow stuff.)
Jambalaya stuffing-The Chalicemom's specialty.
Fruit tart from Wegmans--Really good.
Pumpkin pie-Proved how unevenly our small oven cooks. But still, it was my first pumpkin pie, and I made the crust too, so that the biggest problem it had was uneven cooking speaks well for next time.

Once I had everything on the table, I said "So, we've got coke, diet coke, cranberry juice, water, skim milk, chardonnay and ginger ale. But I'm going to have a gin gimlet."

"I'll take a gimlet," the Chalicerelative calls out.

"Me, too!" My mother says.

My father also grunts his assent.

Can't pretend I'm adopted.

So I make the drinks and try mine. It'

Crooking an eyebrow at my brother Jason, who has made my liquor disappear before, I go sniff the gin bottle, which has been half full for awhile. I'm usually a whiskey drinker in the winter, I'd just run out of whiskey last week and not bought any more. But the gin bottle absolutely no longer contains gin. At some point over the last few months, my gin has been stolen and replaced with water.


Bet that didn't happen at your Thanksgiving.

who suspects Chalicesseurs are hip enough to know that a Gin Gimlet made with water instead of gin is basically really strong limeade, so the drinks were still pretty good, but jeez...

Ps. The styrofoam cups on the table are Jason's fault, too.

People who are way ahead of CC in the Thanksgiving department

include Peacebang, every one in my office (all of whom had started yesterday) and the future Mrs. LinguistFriend.

And probably everybody else in the world.

Ah well. We're eating at 8 because Jason has to work, so I'm not to worried about things. I have more cleaning than cooking to do. The cranberry mousse is started and the sweet potatoes are ready to go in the oven.

I've only had to make one "um... how do you work a vegetable steamer?" call to my Smart friend Pam, which is a good record for me. Actually not setting my napkin on fire in the middle of dinner would be an improvement on last year.

Oh, and we're sneaking out to the Jame Bond movie in a little bit.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006


CC is peevish tonight. Perhaps it's that I'm anticipating the cooking stresses of tomorrow.

And it's almost midnight and I'm very much awake.

That's my excitement.

Somebody say something entertaining.

beginning to wonder if her yearly Christmas bad mood is starting a little early.

The Coolest Thing Ever

A baby elephant in the womb

who stole the pic from National Geographic's online exhibition of baby animals in the womb.

Could someone explain this to CC?

In our building the doors to the stairwell lock behind you automatically. They aren't unlocked except at the basement level. No level is accessible from the stairwell except the basement.

Thus, you must take the elevator if you want to go upstairs.

According to this sign, fire regulations require this. But that doesn't make any sense to me.

Let's say there's a fire on the third floor. Somebody on the fifth floor tries to evacuate. He heads down thr stairs, but two floors below there's a fire. All the doors above him are locked. Now this guy is stuck in the stairwell where I'm guessing he's far more likely to die from the smoke.

Why would fire regulations ALLOW such a thing, to say nothing of requiring it?

What am I missing?


CC reviews Heart's Desire

Heart's Desire, the sequal to Beginner's Luck, does represent a big improvement, especially when it comes to characterization. Perhaps part of it is that most of the Stockton family's wackiness was revealed in the first book, and author Laura Pederson wisely doesn't feel the need to create any more quirks.

Despite this, Heart's Desire does retain the manufactured feel of Beginner's Luck in many respects. The plots seem less like real problems and more like stage business for the amusing characters. Hallie's quest to lose her virginity, yet discomfort every time she has the chance, seems logical enough if not terribly interesting. Her belief that her desire for sex makes her a sex maniac is familiar, though I felt that way at thirteen and seventeen-year-old Hallie seems a little old to be that sheltered.

She also spends the summer trying desperately to earn money*, bemoaning the fact that she won't be able to go to school unless she gets $10,000 somehow. Meanwhile, her legal guardians spend much of the book collapsing into Heppelwhite chairs and talking about their expensive doodads. It's not that Hallie is too proud to take money from them, as far as I can tell the subject never even comes up, or if it does and I missed it, it certainly isn't a big point. I'm sorry, if I loved a college age kid and saw her struggling to get the money for her education, I'd sell a couple of oriental carpets and an antique vase or two and let her go. At one point, the alcoholic monkey goes on a rampage and destroys thousands of dollars in antiques. It doesn't even occur to Hallie that what the monkey destroyed could have paid for her schooling, a detail that struck me as quite unrealistic.

Several plots resolve themselves by someone "off screen" changing his/her mind about something important for insufficient-sounding reasons. The reader hears about the climactic decision after the fact, and sometimes in a convoluted way. It's not even Deus Ex Machina, it's more like Deus-Ex-What-Just-Happened?

Miss Kitty mentioned in the comments that the third book is OK. From the book jacket, my guess is that she's right, particularly since it sounds like it has a darker tone. Humor is not this author's thing. Almost none of the banter sounds natural and most of the jokes are extremely tired. But some of the dramatic scenes were quite good and kept me reading.

Olivia's still the only Unitarian in the book as far as I recall. She's still the stereotyped church social justice lady. Jokes about how UUs aren't religious are still old.

I should emphasize that the minor characters are quite well-drawn and seem reasonable and interesting, Hallie's poker group especially.

On Friday, I will review the last book in the series so far.


*TheCSO pointed out that if a girl really wants to lose her virginity and earn money the same summer, something can often be worked out. Don't worry, I hit him with the book.

Monday, November 20, 2006

CC reviews Beginner's Luck

Laura Pederson's novel Beginner's Luck has given me new faith in the publishability of my own work.

First, a bit of background. Last week, a PR chap emailed me and asked me if I'd like to review a book with some Unitarians in it. Sure, I said. Turns out it's a trilogy, and he offered to send me the whole thing. I'm only actually asked to review the third, but I will review all of them, since I don't like to start a series in the middle so I'm reading them anyway. I will try to post those reviews Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week.

The plot is solid enough and did keep me reading. It centers around Hallie, a sixteen-year-old gambling aficionado who drops out of school, runs away from home and ends up living in this house full of loveable eccentrics and doing their yard work for them. The minor characters' reactions to all of this are all reasonable, which makes the level of narrative tone-deafness exhibited in the characterization of the main characters all the more puzzling.

As this book is the story of a high-school senior told from her perspective, it took me a while to figure out whether the immaturity to the writing was intentional. Lots of things didn't quite ring true, but that could have been a narrative device of some sort to show the immaturity of the narrator.

But there are just too many places where the adults sound strangely like teenagers. and vice versa. After we've met the wacky old lady and the two gay men, who fall predictably into "Will" and "Jack" fictional gay guy archetypes, the "Will" gay guy whose name is "Gil" actually says, in an apparent attempt to justify himself to a sixteen-year-old whom he's just met, "I'm the normal one here," later adding that nobody else in the house typically knows what day it is.

I just can't see anybody over the age of twelve feeling so insecure that they would say such a thing about their own family to a total stranger, and Gil is clearly intended to be the family's voice of reason.

For another example, the Olivia, the old lady, writes pornography and once cheerfully interrupts the conversation to ask if anybody knows a good synonym for "pussy."
I had two reactions to this:


2. That's just not a realistic question. I have written pornography before. I have never needed to ask that question. Having an unusual term for a body part is not sexy, it's distracting. And if I did ask for a synonym, I would ask it including some context. We all use different words from time to time, but for fiction purposes, a man who says "vagina," a man who says "pussy," and a man who says "snatch" have three very different views of that body part and one might suspect women in general.

The main adult characters all have a Royal-Tennenbaums-esque wacky-by-design quality to them. I've read lots of books with eccentrics in them that handle eccentricity better than Beginner's Luck does. Auntie Mame and A Confederacy of Dunces' main character Ignatius J. Reilly spring immediately to mind. A Confederacy of Dunces might be one of the greatest books in modern literature so perhaps any comparison to that is unfair, but even in Auntie Mame, the characters seemed real. As theatrical as Auntie Mame is, she never feels forced and you never feel that she has a certain quality just because the reader might find it amusing.

Olivia has an alcoholic pet chimpanzee.

In places, it almost feels like the characters themselves are imagining the movie version.

The main character Hallie runs away from home without even really considering that people would worry about her. Her character in general has an odd coldness to her that makes her hard to feel for, though my impression is that I'm supposed to find her sympathetic. Also, she uses a gambling metaphor every other sentence for the first third of the book, then stops almost completely for awhile, then starts again somewhat toward the end. Gambling goes from her passion to her hobby awfully quickly and with little explanation.

So far, the Unitarianism in the series is pretty mild and is more or less treated as one more quirky thing about Olivia. Her character is clearly her church's resident old lady who does tons of social justice work, which is reasonable enough. I've never been to a UU church that didn't have one. There are a lot of UUism one liners of the "Yes, we have no religion" variety. They don't offend me, but they aren't very interesting or original, either.

If I had written this book, I would have said to myself, "it's not bad, but it's not ready for primetime, either" and not even have looked for an agent, figuring that I should use what I've learned from my first novel to write my next one. That's what I did with the novel I wrote last spring. But I'm starting to reconsider that if this Beginner's Luck book is actually publishable.

All that said, judging by the comments at Amazon I linked to above, this book's following is enthusiastic and passionate among people who like this sort of thing. To them I'd reccomend Ferrol Sams' Run with the Horseman series as I think it takes some similar ideas and does more interesting things with them.

Also, this is the first book of a trilogy. Maybe the author has learned some lessons and will apply them to the next book and it will be better.

I'll let you know on Wednesday.


John Edward's Kid: Living Proof that there are Two Americas

You know, I was about to just let this go. A few days ago, I got my hands on a copy of the world’s most sanctimonious press release from Wal*Mart, trumpeting that for all John Edwards’ crap about the evils of Wal*Mart, one of Edwards’ staffers tried to jump in line to get the Senator a Playstation 3 from Wal*Mart.

Yeah, it was pretty blogworthy, but again, this was the most sanctimonious press release ever and my tolerance for such things is low.

Then I read a little bit more on the incident. Jeff Taylor at Reason writes what I’d like to think I would have about Edwards the Wal*Mart shopper in the context of Edwards’ previous statements on the company.

That got me curious, so I started hunting around for other commentary on Edward’s statements

From the AP story:

“Edwards, the Democrats' vice presidential candidate in 2004, spoke Wednesday to supporters of union-backed on a conference call launching the group's holiday season campaign to pressure Wal-Mart for better labor standards.

In the call, he repeated a story about his son Jack disapproving of a classmate buying sneakers at Wal-Mart. "If a 6-year-old can figure it out, America can definitely figure this out," Edwards said.

For the record, John Edwards, six year old kids do not buy sneakers at Walmart.

Their parents do.

I, for one, wouldn’t buy my theoretical kid’s clothes at Wal*mart because the clothes at Wal*mart are, on the whole, fugly.

My guess is two kinds of parents buy their kids sneakers from Wal*mart:

1. Poor parents who can’t afford to do otherwise.
2. Stingy parents who (one hopes) don’t realize that little kids are brutal to each other over such things.

When I was in elementary school there was a kid whom the other kids called “K-mart Kid” because her single mom bought her cheap clothes.

Kmart Kid is now 30 and doing cool stuff in the Physics department at a University in Colorado.

But I doubt she has forgotten what she went through.

Linguist Friend has written before about his gay son, and I think mentioned that when his son was six, a friend of LF’s predicted that the son was going to grow up to be gay.

My early prediction? This Edwards kid is going to grow up to be an asshole. And even if we believe everything the Edwards campaign has said about how the Edwards had no idea the staffer buying his Christmas presents was going to use Walmart, Daddy’s pride in his son's self-righteousness leaves little question where kiddo gets it from.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Umm... That's really disturbing

I have XM radio. One of the lovely things about XM is that you can program in your favorite songs and it will tell you whenever one of them is playing on one of XM's hundreds of channels. My selections are pretty varied. I have the Eels and Radiohead and Sophie B. Hawkins, but also showtunes from Avenue Q and the Judds singing "Rockin' with the Rhythm of the Rain." (I defy you to listen to that song without feeling slightly better about the world.)

And, yes, one of my songs is Bowling for Soup's recent hit High School Never Ends. The weird thing is because XM tells me anytime it is playing anywhere on their network, I hear this song on the adult channels AND the different version that plays on the Disney channel.

So the adult version sings
The whole damn world is just as obsessed
with who's the best dressed and who's having sex

And the Disney version is
The whole wide world is just as obsessed
with who's the best dressed and who can impress

Ok, fair enough.

One of the main ideas of the song is that gossiping about celebrities is just as lame as high school kids gossiping about the popular kids, and what makes one a popular kid in high school and a celebrity are similar shallow qualities. The song makes this point by talking about several celebrities as if they are the popular kids being gossiped about.

A joke about "Katie had a baby so I guess Tom's straight" was taken out in the Disney version. Ok, again, fair enough.

But what really gets me is the adult version sings:

"How did Mary Kate lose all that weight?" which is a crack on Mary Kate Olsen's struggle with anorexia.

The Disney version?

"How does Mary Kate always look so great?"

To me, that's not the message we want to be sending on the Disney channell.

I told TheCSO about this and he pointed out that Mary Kate Olsen is a pretty hot property to Disney and the point of the change is likely not to equate anorexia with looking great, but to change a dig at one of Disney's stars into a compliment.

But still...