Sunday, April 30, 2006

Linguist Friend Reviews "Misquoting Jesus"

Everyone is aware of the hullaballoo about the announcement of the reconstruction of the text of the Coptic Gospel of Judas in recent weeks. It will be productive if it draws more attention to progress in knowledge of the early history of Christianity, although nothing I have seen so far about the text suggests that it contributes anything new to our understanding of the events surrounding the death of Jesus. It may indeed have obscured public awareness of an intriguing book that made the New York Times non-fiction best seller list for at least two weeks earlier this spring, Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005). The "misquoting" of the title refers to the processes by which changes occurred in the Greek text of the New Testament on the way from the original autographs to the surviving Greek manuscripts, early translations, and patristic citations which constitute the evidence used to reconstruct an approximation to the original Greek texts.

Ehrman, the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, is the prolific author of three series of books. The first series consists of basic research monographs in New Testament studies, the second series consists of textbook-type overviews for clergy and scholars in training or practice, and the third series is a set of books intended for a broad audience of readers who wish to obtain an orientation to the ways of thinking and results of the scholarly study of the New Testament, the origins of Christianity, and the Hellenistic Jewish world from which it came. The first series might be exemplified by Ehrman's monograph The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (1993), the second by his textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduction (3rd ed. 2003), and the third by the present Misquoting Jesus, one of the few works which have aimed to present the methods and significance of the text-critical study of the Greek New Testament to a broad audience.

Imagine as the ordinary reader an elderly retired gentleman whom I encountered recently with his granddaughter in a bookstore. He asked me to help him find for her an edition of the Bible in French. Ideally, he said, it would be a translation based on the King James or Authorized Version, which was his standard of religious truth as well as of literary excellence. I was driven to respond partly because I realized that he lived his faith in the sense that much of his time was occupied by visiting those who spend their lives in prison in that country which has a larger proportion of its population behind bars than any other. After a confirming visit to the website of the American Bible Society, I was able to recommend a careful French translation of the Bible to him, which I knew personally because it is on my own bookshelf, but I had to inform him that it was not exactly what he had asked for, since the King James's Version was ultimately based on an edition of the Greek NT published in 1516, the text of which did not profit from the results of modern scholarship on either its text or its content. I doubt that I convinced him of this, however. How can one communicate the significance of textual research to such a broad audience?

Ehrman answers this question well on the whole. He begins the book with a self-revealing account of his own religious development which may cost him part of his potential readership, since it narrates his own start from an Episcopalian family background, his long swing through evangelical education (Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College), and then how in graduate study at Princeton Theological Seminary he encountered scholarship of a quality that forced a restructuring of his system of religious belief in a much more progressive direction. He now writes from a point of view that seems to me to have much in common with that of many Unitarians who cannot find themselves within a Christian church, but respect the importance of Christian traditions in the past and their contribution in the present. Like the popular writings of Elaine Pagels, his works for a broad audience are written to share the results of modern scholarship with a broad audience. But while Pagels has focussed on narrower problems against the general background of how discoveries such as the Nag Hammadi texts have made us reassess the breadth and variability of early Christianity, Ehrman has often written broader and more systematic overviews (e.g. his Lost Christianities, 2003). Ehrman states that Misquoting Jesus is the first work to popularize the significance of textual criticism for the study of the NT. A worthy and readable predecessor as popular writing that provides a much wider canvas for the study of the biblical text is F.F. Bruce's The Books and the Parchments (4th ed. 1984). Here Bruce gives only one chapter to the issues of the establishment of the Greek text of the NT, but they are placed within the framework of where the whole Bible came from, both testaments and the apocrypha, so that users of the English Bible can see the Bible, and the necessity of its critical study, in a broad historical context.

Ehrman provides in his first chapter a brief and readable survey of the early Greek Christian literature of the first centuries, the initial stages of Christian canon formation, and the nature of the readers and reading of such literature. In the second chapter, he describes the process of transmission of Greek NT texts during the first three centuries by manual copying by nonprofessional scribes, and the sorts of changes that could result, both accidental and intentional alterations of the text, with the resulting problem of how to determine what was the original text on the basis of the surviving evidence. Just less than half of this chapter is taken up by discussion of examples of NT passages in which such textual variations are found.

This is followed in the third chapter by a discussion of the subsequent development of a class of professional scribes of Greek Christian texts, who made the process of textual transmission more accurate and systematic. However, manuscripts of the Latin translations of the biblical texts held the field in Western Europe until the adoption of printing in Europe. An overview of the first printed editions of the Greek NT and the collection of textual variants found in thousand of passages of the Greek NT is followed by a sketch of the sorts of errors and divergences found in the manuscripts.

The fourth chapter treats a fascinating topic, the development of the logical methodology for reconstruction of the NT text, as seen in the work of selected researchers from the French Catholic scholar Richard Simon (1638-1712) to the classical methodological framework of the Anglican scholars B.F.Westcott and F.J.A.Hort, which was first published as part of their edition of the Greek NT in 1881. Ehrman does not make clear that this methodology is a special case of the deductive process found in such disciplines as formal and mathematical logic, computer programming, and formal linguistics. Thus it becomes more understandable that Westcott and Hort were both the products of not only theological but also extensive scientific training, Westcott in mathematics, and Hort in general science to the extent that he participated in the administration of the advanced scientific examinations of students at Cambridge University (the tripos) and was perhaps the first ecclesiastical supporter of Darwin in England.

In the fifth chapter, Ehrman briefly summarizes the methods of scholarly textual reconstruction , and exemplifies them in three NT passages in which their application significantly affects our theological understanding of the NT. This chapter is clearly written and should speak to the general reader so that he will see the significance of text-critical scholarship.

In the sixth chapter, however, Ehrman has been unable to resist the temptation to inject into his book a special interest of his own, the study of theologically motivated alterations of the NT text. Primarily this section deals with textual changes which were motivated by the conflicting christologies current in the early church. This is a topic which Ehrman has considered in more detail in his monograph Orthodox Corruptions of Scripture (1993) noted above. It is an important topic, but its treatment in an introductory exposition should have been more conservative. While modern textual critics will agree with few reservations with the results of the methodology presented in the preceding chapters, there is much less agreement about some of the examples presented in detail in this chapter. Even after a second reading of the book, I was able to follow some of his points only by recourse to a critical edition of the Greek text, the United Bible Societies 4th edition, and Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament2

(both 1994), standard works which do not regard some of the positions he espouses in this chapter as at all certain. Ehrman is likely to lose many of his readers here, or they might even go away from their reading with incorrect conclusions about the consensus of scholarship on some passages in the NT.

In the last substantive chapter, Ehrman deals with examples of deliberate scribal alterations in the text of the Greek NT which reflect social issues in the early Christian communities: the place of women, attitudes towards unconverted Jews, and attitudes towards pagan opponents. Ehrman attributes this process of deliberate change of the NT text primarily to the nonprofessional scribes of the second and third centuries. The discussions of social history here are substantial and will be interesting for a broad readership.

In his conclusion, Ehrman returns to the persona of his early years as an evangelical student faced with the unsettling recognition of uncertainty when faced with the textual evidence on which the NT is based. Comprehension of the scholarly process and history underlying modern printed texts of the Greek NT should help the reader appreciate the complexity of the chain of evidence on which translations are based. Like Ehrman's introduction, this chapter expounds a moving and convincing argument, gently stated in a way which perhaps can be achieved best by someone who, like Ehrman, has himself had to go through the reassessment of his attitudes towards the biblical text that Ehrman advocates. This part of the book, like the introduction, is very eloquent. Ehrman's book will be useful, not only to a broad lay readership, but also to remind ministers of what they may have studied and forgotten (or not studied), and to help them in communicating to their members the systematic reassessment of evidence, and the loss of doctrinal dogmatism, which should come from understanding the nature of textual scholarship.


Also, Mary Russell, a feminist theological scholar in Laurie King's novel, "A Monstrous Regiment of Women" (sequal to the Beekeeper's Apprentice), is researching this very subject.

Quote of the day

No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.
- W.H. Auden

For What It’s Worth, I do understand “Jesus take the Wheel”

Some months ago, I put up a post making fun of Carrie Underwood’s song “Jesus take the Wheel.”

Since then, I have gotten comments off and on, a couple every months, telling me how stupid I am and how I don’t understand the metaphor. You can look at them here.

Finally, I got sick of it and posted this comment:

You know, just because I don’t like the song doesn’t mean I don’t understand it. The message is exactly the same as that of another song, Amazing Grace.

Yes, the woman once was lost and now she’s found, was blind but now she sees.

Amazing Grace is beautiful and powerful in its simplicity. The author of Amazing Grace didn’t have to resort to a ridiculous metaphor to make his point. Carrie Underwood did.

I’m not insulting y’alls faith. I’m saying it deserves better than a syrupy, crappy song like that one.


I wonder if that will stop it.


Adventures in Bad Legislation

According to this, a state legislator in Rhode Island is considering a bill to force theater owners to allow breastfeeding women to bring their children in to live performances and concerts for free.

To me, this can only bring to mind the last time I was in the movies and was interrupted by the screaming of a toddler.

It was the eleven o'clock showing of King Kong.

Can we, as a society, agree that there are just some places we shouldn't bring our little kids? As the daughter of a classical music aficianado, I can assure you that the many concerts I was taken to as a child were just hell for me.

Almost as bad as church.


Saturday, April 29, 2006

A post on self-published authors

I can't imagine ever self-publishing anything. And I share this guy's disdain for those who do and make a fuss about being a "published author." When I worked for a newspaper in South Carolina, I would sometimes write about a new-self-published book that someone in town has written. None of them were any good, though I always wrote nice things because I knew their moms would read it. (This basic idea has many implications for small-town journalism.)

Probably my favorite was this guy, who apparently put the story up on the internet himself as I just found it by googling him. He was a nice chap, though the real excitement came from his dad, who lived outside of town and wanted to be put on the sewer system. The father complained that a main sewer line ran under his property. What the man did not understand was that this was the main sewer pipe going out of town and was pressurized. You just can't tap in to a pressureized sewer main without a whole bunch of extra equipment. If you try, you will be faced with a great deal of backflow very, very fast.

One time after one of his diatribes, the city manager and I just stared at one another, amazed that "massive sewage firehose" was so difficult a concept to understand.

But I'm getting a bit far afield from self-publishing, aren't I?

I've written quite a bit of erotica, enough that I sometimes imagine putting a book of it together. (I'd like to call it "Menage à Whatever.") I have written several novellas, a few erotic, one coming-of-age and a few literary, and am at work on what I hope will be my second completed novel. (The first one was literary and satire, the second one is satire, chicklit and a bit of mystery.) I haven't sent the first novel off to any agents because I thought it wasn't good enough. Maybe the second one will be. Maybe not.

Maybe someday I will write a novel so good, the publishers will buy the old ones. I'm not counting on it, but it did work for John Gardner.

Probably part of the reason I don't really care about being a "published author" is that in the technical sense I already am one. My college press ran a competition where the student who wrote the best 40 pages of writing got published. My novella "Home of the Chimichanga" was published my junior year. (Please don't try to find it. It isn't very good. When I write some really good fiction, I'll tell you how to get a copy, I promise.)

But anyway, winning that competition, and the ten or twelve copies of Home of the Chimichanga on my bookshelf are enough to take the shine of the words "published author."

The post I linked to above says that really famous writers call themselves "writers" rather than "published authors." Though I don't kid myself that I will ever support myself professionally with my fiction writing, the term I'd really like is "novelist," but the dictionary says that a novelist is "A writer of novels."

"Novels," in the plural.

So I guess I'd better get back to work.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

On polluting our childrens' minds

"The free access which many young people have to romances, novels, and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth; and prevented others from improving their minds in useful knowledge. Parents take care to feed their children with wholesome diet; and yet how unconcerned about the provision for the mind, whether they are furnished with salutary food, or with trash, chaff, or poison?"
- Reverend Enos Hitchcock, Memoirs of the Bloomsgrove Family, 1790

Standard disclaimer for when UUism is insulted

Wrote this as a response to a bunch of cheesy attacks on UUism in the Salon thread.
I may keep this around. The need for it tends to come up.

Some people have good experiences with a religion. They like it and will defend it when they hear it insulted.

Some people have bad experiences with a religion, they will insult it because it hurt them.

People come to churches with different needs. (Some churches do tons of charity work, some don't. Some people WANT a church that does tons of charity work. Some don't. Some people want a minister who really challenges them, some want to be comforted...)

UU churches are especially varied. If you like one church, you won't like all of them. If you dislike one church, you probably won't dislike all of them.

Religions are like diets. You want to talk about the one that worked for you. At the same time, you have to keep in mind that it doesn't work for everybody.

At the same time, insulting someone because something worked for them that doesn't work for you doesn't make any sense at all to me.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Too Freakin' Cool

This guy needed to make a cover photo for a new publication of "War of the Worlds"

So he went to Chinatown for some squid...


The last word on the plagarist chick from Harvard

I've been following the Kaavya Viswanathan story on Dan Kennedy's always-nifty Media Nation.

I was planning a smartass response, but I can't top this.


Things only Washingtonians think about

I bet sending Condoleeza Rice a box of candy for Secretary's Day is a quick way to get canned from the State Department.


UUs make another well-known advice column

This HAS to be about OWL.

The nice thing about it is that it's a real problem. People's problems with OWL and such are most often irrational, such as people who pointlessly worry that the parents have no idea what's going on in the sex or drug education classes. (The churches that teach OWL seem to do tons of meetings with OWL parents and such. They are absolutely as informed as they care to be.)

I am certain that this boundary issues problem exists if only because my own church is so very careful to look for it. Both my application to be a YRUU leader and in my recent "how's it going" interview had questions about how active I was in the church outside of YRUU (fellowship dinner aside, not as much as I should be, but YRUU is a huge time suck) and how many friends I had outside the church (more than I have time to visit or hang out with.) This was all to make sure the high school kids weren't my only friends, which presumably leads to poor leadership and confiding weird stuff in the kids.

I was a little bit insulted by the question, (Adults who befriend mostly high school kids are not reasonable people. I should know, I dated several of them when I was a high school kid myself,) but it wasn't unreasonable to have been asked. I passed, of course, if anything, I don't feel bonded enough to the YRUUers because I haven't given it the time commitment I should. But suffice to say, these boundaries are an important thing to the people administering YRUU in my church and something every church should keep in mind.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Flight 93: Is it too soon?

So I've seen ads for the "United 93" movie that follows the action on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11 and I am the standard amount of freaked out.

Yes, I like the idea that the folk on flight 93 fought back, breached the cockpit and crashed the plane. No, I don't know if it is true. If it is true, it sounds like Hollywood, but I don't know if it should ever be a movie.

This feeling is, for me, mixed up with my unpleasant perception of the holocaust museum in Washington DC. If you've never been, it's hard to explain how distasteful I find it. Suffice to say, if the designers didn't think I would be sad enough without sad background music in places, an elevator that resembles a cattle car and being assigned the identity of an actual person who was there (they hand you a passport-sized booklet and you get to read various bits about your person's life throughout, finding out at the end what happened to them,) they well underestimated my imagination's response to a pile of shoes that had once belonged to people who were asked to remove them just before they were killed. The overtly theatrical stuff is to me distracting. (Are we really so stupid that the sadness of the situation must be so obvious?)

I've heard a lot of people complaining about the Flight 93 movie, how wrong it is, and how it is too soon to be making a movie about such tragedy. That said, everything I've read suggests that the director did everything he could to make this movie as absolutely respectful as he possible, down to listening carefully to complaints from the families of those not portrayed as action heroes. Ebert and whoever gave it two thumbs up.

But I didn't hear any of this about Hotel Rwanda. We Americans lined up in droves to see the tragedy there. If anybody considered whether showing a recent tragedy might be exploitive there, Roger Ebert certainly didn't.

Odd that a question that seems so obvious about an American tragedy doesn't even occur to us about an African one. I guess it doesn't occur to us when the tragedy feels more personal.


A good role for Angelina Jolie?

TheCSO and I are lying on a futon in our TV room, vigorously discussing who should play Russell and Holmes in the movie version of Beekeeper's Apprentice.

We've settled on Patrick Stewart as Holmes. (A big enough name, smart, authoritative, and let's face it, a hottie for an old guy. Also, a good enough actor for the whole 60 year old man befriending a 15 year old girl to not come off as too freaky. If Stewart decided it wouldn't be freaky, it wouldn't be. Patrick Stewart is just that talented.)

But the question of Mary Russell has been much more difficult. Who in Hollywood has the acting chops to play Russell, but can look 15?

CC's would like Gweneyth Paltrow as she did a really good job as a lady professor in Possession, but Gwen just doesn't look 15 anymore. (Who does?)

A suggestion of the very talented and admittedly-young-looking Kirsten Dunst lead to a discussion of the many kinds of attractive and how Dunst is just too much the cheerleader to play Russell, though Dunst is very close to brilliant in Cat's Eye.

Then, half-kidding, TheCSO suggested Angelina Jolie. Angelina Jolie dressing up as a gypsy, climbing in through a window, etc, was easy enough to imagine, though we didn't think Angelina could do justice to Mary's scholarly side or convincingly disguise herself as a secretary.

It was there that the conversation took a twist. As far as CC and the CSO can recall, Angelina had stolen the show from the male lead in every movie we've ever seen her in.

Jolie is just so fierce and wonderful and powerful. I mean, come on, a lady who walks around with a vial of her boyfriend's blood around her neck doesn't fuck around. If you don't believe her acting can truly move you, rent "Original Sin." (Goodness, the title even SOUNDS like a good name for a Angelina Jolie movie. More seriously, she takes a role that a lesser actress would play as a standard issue femme fatale and makes it deeply complicated and full of a sort of divine mystery.)

At the same time, we can't think of a role she's really suited for, outside of action hero stuff. And even then, Wonder Woman seems lame and her Catwoman would eat any Batman alive.

It's amazing Brad Pitt can hold her attention.


Ps. PB wrote an essay with a very different take on Jolie, which shows a nastier side that I can see but chose not to focus on in this post. I don't disagree that the maternal stuff is an act. I wouldn't want to be in between Jolie and anything she wants. But men's careers aren't usually judged on their personal lives.

How is it that the CSO and I never thought of this?

Herelinked is a truly fabulous solution for dealing with an unwanted relative.


CC feels so much better!

About this time yesterday morning, I had a dilemma. It was obvious that I was really sick, and I just didn't want to go to work.

Y'all have no idea how weird this is for compulsive me. In my entire 2 years at my pervious job, I took a grand total of half a sick day. I literally damaged my ears in college by ignoring ear infections so I could keep working.

My last boss had a weird thing about punishing people who took sick days and being mad at said people. She spent my half sick day painstaking compiling my to do list for the next two months. (I assume that in doing so, she was looking for evidence that I was falling behind on my work, which I wasn't. But I suppose she felt one never knew what to expect from the sort of person who took sick days.)

I recalled that my boss at my new job tends to wash her hands frequently and spray things with lysol. This person will be OK with someone actually using a sick day, methinks. So I called in and left her a message, feeling very strange doing so.

For years and years, I thought that if I were going to be miserable, I might as well be miserable at work. And my illnesses dragged on and on for a week or two.

Yesterday, I stayed in bed. I read a lot, I watched several episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and I designed the invitation for the baby shower I'm throwing in July. Recalling Patrick Stewart's pronouncement in Star Trek:The Next Generation that in the 24th century, the best medicine they have for the common cold is Earl Grey and rest, I drank like five cups of Earl Grey.

We went out for dinner for my mother's birthday and I did do that, but otherwise, I did my best to remain dormant.

And I really do feel a lot better. I'm a little stuffed up and my throat is a little sore, but I feel a good 85 percent of my usual self.

There could be something to this taking care of oneself thing.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Linguist Friend: "A Unitarian, more or less."

On a number of occasions, I have read in UU publications or heard from UU pulpits that Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) was a Unitarian. Although Unitarians responded positively to Schweitzer's person and his theology, to count him as a Unitarian is misleading. Unitarians were among the first Americans to respond to the work of Schweitzer at his hospital in Lambarene in Gabon, started in 1913, although they took some time to do so. In 1947, Dr. Charles Joy, an administrator of relief programs, and Melvin Arnold, the editor in chief of the Beacon Press, brought to Schweitzer in Lambarene a check to the amount of $ 4,000, a contribution which was significant and welcome in the post-war years. In September of 1947, there appeared a special number of The Christian Register devoted to Schweitzer, with a contribution from Joy and Arnold. However, they had been beaten out in chronological terms by an article published in the Reader's Digest the year before, written by a Catholic priest, Father John O'Brien. Schweitzer had been an outstanding intellectual figure in Europe for many years, because of his musicological, theological, and philosophical publications, and his musical performances, still preserved in recordings of his performance of the organ music of Bach.

Unitarian interest in Schweitzer did not diminish with time. Thirteen years later, in 1961, George Marshall, then minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, invited Schweitzer to become an honorary Unitarian. Schweitzer wrote back:

"I thank you cordially for your offer to make me an honoured member of the Unitarian Church. I accept with pleasure. Even as a student I worked on the problem and history of the Unitarian church and developed sympathy for your affirmation of Christian freedom at a time when it resulted in persecution. Gradually I established closer contact with Unitarian communities and became familiar with their faith-in-action. Therefore I thank you that through you I have been made an honoured member of this church."

This response was published by Marshall in the news bulletin of the Church of the Larger Fellowship on Nov. 24, 1961, and presumably is the root of the often-repeated statement that Schweitzer was a Unitarian. However, Unitarians have generally overlooked the clarification of this statement which was published in Time magazine on the following December 8, 1961. Schweitzer stated in an interview with Time:

"For a long time now I have had connections with the Unitarian church. But there is no question of my breaking with the Lutheran Church. I am a Protestant, but above all I am a scientist, and as such I can be on good terns with all Protestant churches."

I enjoy the point of view that Schweitzer expressed, speaking expressly from the Lutheran side of a divide that he was free to cross from his side, but which Unitarians are not always free to cross from their side. In some contexts they are free to share in the Christian community, and sometimes they are not. My only contribution to the field of Biblical scholarship in the broad sense was made at the invitation of a fine Lutheran scholar. More recently I have found my invited contribution to a progressive Christian campus ministry to be viewed with some suspicion by a Lutheran minister who had not read and will never read the well-thumbed Greek New Testament which is one of my constant companions. Go figure.



Brabazon, James (1975). Albert Schweitzer Putnam, New York.

Because communism is amusing

You know it's true


"Phlegm" is the watchword

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

Robertson Davies

The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks

The Con went well enough, the only infractions fairly minor ones. When I was a kid, the ChaliceDad was given to snapping "nothing is to become airborne!" when things were thrown in the house. Much to theCSO's consternation, I found a few months ago that I had picked up this phrase when a kid in a store was throwing something and I scolded him as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Turns out the phrase works well on YRUUers who throw frisbees in the sanctuary, too.

We were supposed to write our favorite vacation destination on our nametags. My area being my area, lots of people wrote "Cape Cod." Not one for vacationing, I wrote "Vacations are for slackers. Get a job, Hippie!"

It was a hit.

But I woke up this morning with a sore throat and my condition has not improved throughout the day. So now I have taken to my bed. Judge Judy is on in the background and the CSO is stopping by to discuss the roleplaying game we're working on to amuse Our-Hero-Charlie-the-Vanquisher and some of our other friends. (Premise: CC, who is leading the game, plays Sherlock Holmes who is sick in bed at 221B Baker street with a terrible headcold. The players play Baker Street Irregulars, whom he sends out to solve at first petty crimes. As they grow in Holmes' estimations and in street cred, they take on more an more interesting cases. If they get stumped, they can come back to Holmes for advice, but sometimes he will be more helpful than other times. We think we will play a few hours a week for a couple of months. Could be fun. I played a lot of RPGs in high school and every few years get a hankering to do it again for a bit. I write a plot, our friends play through it, then I forget about it for another few years. Two years ago, I did a game set in the 1930's at a Mobster's country home. Our friends had to play the members of a ladies band hired to play for the mobster's birthday and of course hijinks ensued when they got there and were hired to keep his daughter from running away with the town ne'er do well.)

Life is imitating art because my own headcold is plaguing me. My usual tactic when sick is to write letters to people I know who could use to hear cheerful words more often. I tend to get self-pitying when ill, and this is a good antidote. So I think I will go do some of that.


Has anybody proved that TV is dangerous?

I got:

I would say that Tv commercials do as much damage to that as drugs do. Let's get rid of them....:-)

in my comments box and it made me wonder. Are there any studies supporting that TV is as dangerous as people think it is? I've had this argument with LinguistFriend a few times recently as well and the issue is making me curious.

I get that it can be a contributing factor to obesity, but I guess I'm looking for something a little more direct.

To me, it seems evident that illegal drugs are easily traced to a whole range of societal ills, while television and television commercials are imperfect ways to spend one's time but to me pretty obviously not as damaging. Crystal Meth kills people, thighmaster ads do not.

I know TV violence gets a pretty bad rap, but the studies are inconclusive, as far as I've heard. My mom said once that she saw a sstudy where they let kids watch the Power Rangers and then go out on the playground. They immediately started kicking. Not kicking each other, kicking the air. On continued observation, there was a lot of air kicking, but this never actually translated into kicking each other. This is very consistent with how I remember behaving as a child.

My suspicion is that Joel is right that people are quite selective of thier vices. I don't know that I've met anyone who claims television screwed up their minds and continues to smoke up, but I'm pretty confident they exist.

But for the rest of us, if you had to choose between letting your kid watch Desperate Housewives and letting your kid smoke up, would it really be a hard choice?


Saturday, April 22, 2006

YRUU Con Haiku

Strung some prayer beads and,
learned how to crochet a hat.
The kids had fun too.


Friday, April 21, 2006

"It's like OWL, except with drugs!"

Had the end of year meeting that I assume is standard with the youth coordinator. She asked the standard questions, how I was doing, the direction I'd like to see YRUU heading in ("Life is stressful, but I'm ok" and "With more religion. I think we're too much like a scout troop as is," respectively.)

And the youth coordinator mentioned what folks want to do next year. There's teaching OWL, and the Drug Education program.

"I could do OWL, though I'd rather lead discussions about faith. What's the drug education program?"

"Well, it's sort of like OWL for drugs. THe focus is on minimizing harm. We talk about why people do take drugs the health effects of doing so and how they can do it most safely if they are going to."

All the sudden I knew exactly how religious conservatives feel when faced with OWL.

"But recreational drugs are bad for everybody," I said. "I mean, everyone agrees that meth seriously fucks you up, but people will say marijuana is harmless. Given my students and my friends who've smoked it regularly I really don't believe that. Pot smokers rarely understand how bad they smell and how obvious the odor is. When I smell that on a GRE student, I can almost always go to my grade book and find little homework done and lower scores. And the long term pot smokers I know are a lot like the long term alcoholics. If you have something that takes the pain away every time life gets difficult, you really don't develop into a whole person. My experience is, like alocholics, pot smokers are often little children emotionally."

(Which, I understand, is not to say that every person who smokes pot regularly is a little kid emotionally though the anecdotal correlation is strong, at least in my life. But the teenage years and young adult years are when we, for good reasons and less important ones, do some of our most intense feeling. It seems like a pretty important time. Emotionally, we should all be there for it, IMHO. Though I'm sure people who quit using or quit drinking grow up eventually. Well, some of them do. Jokes about the president not welcome.)

The youth coordinator had sat attentively through all of this, which is to her credit as it was basically a rant. She said comforting things about how our youth generally show distate for drugs and we agreed that I was better off teaching OWL or talking about religion.

For what it's worth, if adults want to screw themselves up emotionally, that really is up to them. I don't love that my tax money goes to fix them up again, but I can see that it is the least bad option. I can even see that the drug war is not working and we should try something else, though I don't think we as a religion have much business crusading on the issue for the same reason I don't like it when we crusade on other political issues.


Nothing says "I don't have a homeowner's association" like...



If you thought the men were afraid of YOU...

I have several friends who subscribe to the Maureen Dowd theory that men are easily intimidated creatures who won't date strong women. (Seriously, Jewish guys, call me. I know a gorgeous woman who manages stores for Bennetton and wants to open up one in Tel Aviv. Too cool.)

Anyway, if you fear scaring the men away because you're a lawyer, or you read three languages, or you always know who did it on CSI halfway through or whatever, do not fear, it could be worse.

Madeline Albright can leg press 400 pounts.

Poor girl is never going to land herself a man that way.


Ps. Ok, Ok, I fixed it.

My home town paper kicks butt

Around the ChaliceAbode, we mostly bitch about the Washington Post. We read it pretty rarely, preferring the NYT on the weekends and google news during the week.

But the Washington Post did pick up for Pulitzer Prizes this week, and that rocks.

I was particularly pleased to see Robin Givhan from the Style section get the nod. This peice had me bitching for weeks about Dick Cheney, a coourius sarcamstance* for this blog. A fashion writer who really writes about the symbolism and meaning of clothes is a very good thing.


*I've picked up the phrase "a coorious sarcamstance" from Laurie R. King's fine novel The Moor. Expect to see it a lot until I get tired of it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Coolest thing to come out of the DaVinci Code

Well, I liked it...


Psyton on the Duke rape case

Psyton's blog has a spiffy new look and he has a post on the Duke rape case.


If you liked the fuzzy kitty post,

you'd probably like this blog, which has a lot of animal stuff.


CUUMBAYA on Immigration

I agree with much of what Joel has to say here. As I discussed in one of my earlier immigration posts, people are saying the same things about central American immigrants now that they said about European immigrants. (An old boss of mine who had a German last name once railed against immigrants for their lack of education, etc. The temptation to say "That's what Ben Franklin said about the Germans and you came out all right" was huge, but I managed to refrain.)

I honestly don't think that racism is at the root of it, I think the dislike of immigrants is rooted in exactly the same impulse that makes yuppies who built a beach house someplace rail against further development. People fear the tragedy of the commons. And they feared it just as much when the immigrants were white.

That said, "racism" is a very powerful word, and if we are willfully misusing it to harness its power to do some good, I can certainly understand that, but I think we should leave the more underhanded political tactics to activists, who are doing just fine with them. (From an underhanded tactics standpoint, I'm still pissed when I think of the UUAWO email I got that said the filibuster was about freedom of speech. My own religion should not be (a)lying to me or (b) assuming I never had high school civics.)

Sinkford's statement, is worth a look if only for the God-awful picture of him. (I think I saw Janice Dickenson make that pose on "America's Next Top Model" last night.)

My guess is that he takes the standard "let anyone who wants to have citizenship immediately" stance, though I don't actually know for certain what he thinks since he doesn't actually talk about laws, but ideals. That's actually OK and the proper place for a religion to be speaking from. At the same time, I agree with Joel's take that "everybody who has a conscience agrees with me and sees the issue as I do" is a rotten way for a liberal religious leader to be talking.

And I also agree with Joel that pretending that the immigrants are appearing out of clean air is sort of silly. They are coming from countries that are either (a) very poor, (b) very corrupt, and often (c) both. To say "let's let everyone into America" is to cry "band-aids! We need more band-aids!" at a gaping wound. Students who come here to study, people who love American culture, etc, might well want to be Americans. But people who are just coming for a job would probably just as soon stay with their families in central America if they could afford it.

To me, a more permanent solution would be greater foreign aid and sustainable development projects in central America. We should be putting greater economic and diplomatic pressure on other countries to take care of their poor and educate their people.

If everybody is eating, then far fewer people will want to come here. If far fewer people want to come here, then we can take care of the immigrants we get all the better.


One of my very few fuzzy kitty posts.

The cats have figured out that the CSO is away this week. This morning all three of them were in the bed with me. Thus, I don't get a whole bed to myself even when theCSO is away. Ah well.

Even better was last week. Boris, the alpha cat, is sort of mean to Cool Disco Dan and Esperanto. He had chewed a spot on his leg and I had to hold him down while TheCSO put a bandage on him. Of course, Boris makes the full range of angry cat noises and bites at my and claws me. (Anyone thinking "Why doesn't she just wrap him in a towel?" is seriously underestimating this cat.)

Anyway, this was taking place in the kitchen and I look up and Dan and Esperanto have just come in and are watching, transfixed. After a minute, Dan climbs up on the kitchen table to give himself a better view.

The Chalicerelative is always telling me how her dog is just like a person. I believed that about my cats right then.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Actually, if she met you in a bar, she wouldn't date you

The icky subway flasher got his day in court. He pled guilty and got two years probation.


Final thought for the morning

A few months ago, my church's gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender group had a service. I invited someone I know whom I thought would appreciate it.

Recently, she and I were talking and she said "It must have taken so much courage for them to get up and talk about that in front of the church. I've long wished that I could do something like that at my church, but people would just take it too badly. I just couldn't."

As much as I bitch about other aspects of UUism, I'm glad to be here.


On breaking up with Jesus

For me, religion has always seemed like a significant other. Some people pledge devotion to their one true love in high school and that's it. Some have one love for awhile, then switch in middle age. Some take awhile to settle down, but when they do, it's for life. Some never completely commit to anything and flit from faith to faith (I privately think of such people as Beliefsluts.)

One of my YRUU folks said the other day that he was his girlfriend's "pet" because she has decided she doesn't believe in love. After telling him the story of the time I as a ten-year-old announced at the dinner table that I had decided I didn't believe in marriage and wanted to live with another woman when I grew up and how my parents freaked out, I said that people often make rash decisions about such things when they are young, but my advice would be to not let oneself be a pet to early and wait and see if the girl who doesn't believe in love comes around.

I tend to think that people who flat out decide they don't believe in organized religion have a similar maturity level to that girl.

Ideally, you find a faith and really get to know it and stick to it, but sometimes things change.

Anyway, Owen Edgerton nicely plays out this theme in this essay.



Boston Legal is one of my favorite shows on television, but I made it exactly four minutes into last night's episode.

If you saw the beginning of last night's Boston Legal, not all people with Asperger's are like that. That said, the general pattern of how they behave when under lots of pressure matches my experience well.

I am a great fan of mysteries. Without thinking anything of it, I watch body parts and people interviewed about their recently murdered spouses and all sorts of things that will be highly disturbing in real life.

But that I couldn't watch.

Always odd what's going to get to you...


Seven Principles

I've been meaning to write about my beefs with the seven principles, but Peacebang expressed it perfectly:

I think they've been a help to us in the past ten years, and have become a hindrance in the past five or six. Why? Because too many overly-earnest UUs have adopted them as a quasi-creed, and because we generally grossly misinterpret the first principle and use it in a disturbingly, narcissistic "Don't Tell Me I Can't Say/Do That Cuz I Got Inherent Worth And Dignity" way that violates its original intent.

So now I don't have to.


What love looks like, what rape looks like

The Happy Feminist has
another great post,
this one about various issues relating to the Duke rape case.

This section really got me:

From where I sit, it sounds like Doe was acting like someone who was absolutely terrified. She was not acting like someone who was eager to set up the Duke lacrosse players. The guard's opinion is further fascinating to me because it illustrates very clearly the problems rape victims face. The guard for some reason felt herself qualified just by looking at Doe to determine whether Doe had been raped-- and felt no hesitation about essentially labeling her a liar. I have seen this time and again. Victims with whom I have worked have frequently been labeled as liars because they are not acting the way a rape victim is "supposed" to act.

I also have seen this as a pattern far beyond this trial. It is very weird to me that people think they know how other people would react in a given situation. For many years, I came off as really cold (I hate to hug) and it took forever to convince some people I really cared about them.

Anyway, I don't really have a point here, other than I always thought it was weird to hear "If you loved me, you would have done X." And it is weird to hear "she wasn't behaving like I think rape victims should act, so she must not be a rape victim."

Do we really know each other all that well?


Ps. I sympathize with anyone who reads this and finds a certain contradiction between my own tendency to want to figure people out and make decisions about them, and the problems I see here. The best defense I can mount is that while I can get a general impression of a person someitmes long before other people can, I still can't predict how they would react in a certian situation. I am quick to say "There's something about her I don't trust," I would never say "she's not acting like a rape victim."

And by the way, Cassandra struck again last night. There's a guy in a group of old friends of mine who has never liked me and has always treated me badly. I eventually distanced myself from this group due to his behavior. I hung out with them again last night, something I haven't done regularly in about two years, and found that he had started to treat them badly too and had been more or less kicked out of the group. They spent much of our hang out time parroting my complaints of two years ago back at me as if they were new information.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Caps over Thrashers, 6-4

(Why does Atlanta need a hockey team, anyway?)

The CSO and I were at Verizon Center for the last Washington Capitols game of the season. We went with other teachers from my Test Prep company. It was pretty fun.


  • Free Jersey night. And may I say that I make a Jersey that I got for free with the purchse of a five dollar ticket look GOOD.
  • When a fight broke out and my friends and I were like "Fight? This isn't a real fight? I'm not seeing blood here!" Yeah, we won't be voting for any Peacemaking resolutions.
  • They have a thing where you can text message the jumbotron. CC spent much of the night tapping out "Princeton Review Sucks!" and sending it up there.

Simple minds, simple pleasures...


Now I'm not a huge fan of protesters, but...

This is ridiculous. An Elementary school principal decided that the school needed to be "locked down" because some high schools were having walkouts protesting immigration. (Only a high school kid would think that a bunch of high school kids walking out of a high school would make an impact on anybody significant to the immigration debate.)

The problem is she read the wrong procedure and used the "lock down" procedure appropriate for nuclear attack. She had the kids going to the bathroom in buckets so they wouldn't have to leave their classrooms.

Actually, that's not the problem.

The problem is that she went straight by what she thought was the procedure, not thinking about it at all. Actually, the real problem might have been that she thought that elementary school kids needed to be locked down at all. (I protested all the time as a kid under somewhat heavy coercion from the Chalicerelative, but I can't imagine a bunch of kids doing that. Well, maybe if some obnoxious parent was encouraging it, but it's still unlikely...)

Someone should do something about this. Anybody want to all march out of work at the same time?


Monday, April 17, 2006

The resurrection of the body

PB is talking about the issue of bodily resurrection on her blog. Personally, I'm not a fan, but I did think this article on the issue was interesting.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

An evening with Our-Hero-Charlie-the-Vanquisher

TheCSO and I were feeling peckish yesterday afternoon, so we headed over to the shabby little game store in the next town over to hang out with the our friend Tina, who works there. She's married to Our-hero-Charlie-the-Vanquisher, a beloved ex-boyfriend of CC's. Tina is pregnant, which is still a bit of a head trip for CC. ((So you don't have to follow the link: CC dated OHCTV off and on for seven years. He wants give his first born son the first and middle name "Charles Fredrick," a name which goes back five generations in his family. We figured we'd call him "Fred." So off and on for seven years, CC imagined herself the mother of a kid named Fred and now his wife is going to bear a Fred instead. I don't in any way envy her and she's much better suited to OHCTV than I ever was. It's not about the guy, it's about my loose conception of what Fred would be like. (Which is either more or less disturbing depending on one's prespective.) But it's still a headtrip. Luckily, it won't be right now. Tina's having a girl and naming her "Victoria," which a certain blogger is welcome to consider a shout-out, though it isn't one.))

Anyway, there was an active Axis and Allies game going on, so theCSO and Charlie and I played Arkham Asylum, which we won twice. (Arkham Asylum is a cooperative board game that you play against the game. You should play it. It's fun. It takes hours and is incredibly freaking complicated, but it's fun.) At one point Tina said of Charlie and me "You two argue like a brother and a sister. Of course, that would make the stuff that happened in high school kinda gross..."

We decided to go out for dinner. Tina drove my car and talked to TheCSO, I was the passenger in OHCTV's car. As we drove, I asked Charlie if Tina would be having a baby shower.

"I don't think so," Charlie said. "She doesn't have that many female friends and the ones she has are really poor."

(And a collective sigh of "awww..." goes up from my readership.)

Oh fine.

We got to the restaurant and we all sat down.

"So," I said. "Can I throw the baby shower?"

Tina was very excited and very happy. Her mom is in Idaho, so I tentatively suggested that in addittion to her female friends, we invite her stepmother and her sisters, Charlie's mother and sister, my mother and a math teacher she and I both liked in high school. (I haven't mentioned that I've known Tina for fourteen years, too, have I? She's the one who engineered Charlie and I getting together in the first place.) She started listing off the female friends she did have, and she actually got quite a list together.

We will have it at TheChaliceabode. The baby is expected in August, so we will probably have it in June, perhaps the Saturday before I leave for GA. The CSO will like that as this means I will want to do a bunch more work on the house by then and probably do some repainting in the living room. I'll put up a buffet of snacks in the study, we will play whatever sort of games people play in the living room. Goodness knows I've never thrown a baby shower before, but I assume there are books on the subject. I'm sure that it will be a nice party.

But me throwing a baby shower might be the biggest headtrip of all. Honestly, it's like going to Richard Dawkins for spiritual counseling.


Cool stuff on the UU blogosphere.

A really nicely-written peice on CUUMBAYA.


Language Games and Arbitrary Marks has an insider's guide to St. Louis for all us tourists who will show up for GA.


Ps. Oh yeah, and this isn't UU, but it is appealling on many levels.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A whole new level of dysfunction.

The Chaliceparents and I live in the same neighborhood, and like many families do, we swap around some chores. TheCSO does everybody’s taxes and handyman stuff around my parents’ and brothers’ house. My mother and I swap foods and baked goods every now and again. My brothers mow our lawn and my folks take our trash and recycling to the dump in their pickup every other week or so. Today was a trash day, and my parents had a young woman whom I hadn’t met before with them.

My parents are given to taking in various deadbeats, so I didn’t pay much attention to her. We’d filled the truck when my mother finally turned and introduced her to me as my brother’s girlfriend.

“Watch out,” I said. Out of respect for my parents, I didn’t say what I usually say to Oliver’s girlfriends which is “if he hits you, call the cops.”

She giggled sweetly, “People keep telling me that...”

“A hundred million Elvis fans might not all be wrong.” She laughed and nodded as if she understood the expression. So she’s not totally dumb. She had a keychain hanging off her jeans from a grocery story discount club. So she at least occasionally buys her own food. That alone put her in the seventy fifth percentile of Oliver’s women. Her clothes were clean and from better designers than I would have expected.

I’m wary here because the last girlfriend of Oliver’s whom I liked turned out to be a fifteen-year-old runaway, and not the one he was prosecuted for.

When my mother and I were alone in the kitchen, I finally said “So is she living with you guys, too?”

“Yes,” my mother said. “But she sleeps upstairs. I won’t have her staying with those boys.” (Item: Something like three of my brothers’ friends live in my parents’ basement at any given time.)

I laughed. “Well, of course, grandmother didn’t let me stay with theCSO when he visited either.”

“Oh she’s not going to be seeing Oliver for a long time,” my mother said blithely. “After all, he’s going to be in jail for two years?”


“Yeah, on those kiddie porn charges from his earlier arrest."

"He had another trial?"

"It was SO unfair! One of Oliver’s friends admitted that some of the porn was HIS, but the police officer said Oliver had downloaded the porn and the jury believed the policeman!”

(Item: Under Virginia law, it doesn’t matter if it is your kiddie porn, if it is on your computer, you can be prosecuted.)

My mother went on to detail various other unfair aspects to the trial, none of which she actually saw because she was a witness and thus kept separate. Her entire account sounded like my mother’s perception of the Chalicerelative’s perception, which might be pretty far afield from what actually went on. TheCSO and I are going to order a transcript of the trial.

Finally I said, “Umm… You guys didn’t invite me? I took off three days from work last year for those trials?” I typically find out from “google news” when Oliver has been in trouble since it picks up my local paper. But I would have thought SOMEBODY would have told me about a trial with stakes this high. I mean, I’m hosting a family brunch tomorrow and have been in frequent contact with my family in planning logistics for that.

“Oliver said this case would be a slam dunk?”

“Since when do you take legal advice from Oliver?”

My mother sort of giggled and shrugged and she and my father and the girlfriend got back in the truck and drove away.


Ps. Even if Oliver was to some degree railroaded, he is not a good guy and has been guilty of plenty of things he didn't get punished for, so this is not particularly depressing me. The toughest moment of the morning was when I googled Oliver Smith in google news, but forgot to add "Virginia," and was thus treated to news of all of the Oliver Smiths worldwide who pitch for little league teams in California, win golf tournaments in the UK and host fundraising dinners for ladies running for county commissioner in Tennessee.

Friday, April 14, 2006

"Goodness, those GA hotels are classy,"

I thought as I looked over the list of GA hotels. I mean, check it out, y'all. We've got the Adams Mark, two different Renaissance hotels, the Holiday Inn, the Omni. And the prices top out at $130.

Now I think of these as very expensive hotels. $130 a night is probably a good deal.

But I'm a simple girl. I don't require much. Free wifi, clean sheets, maybe a hot tub someplace, and I'm happy. So I find myself asking, why do we have only the best hotels? And is there a better deal to be had in downtown St. Louis?

I'll take the second question first.

Of course there's a better deal to be had in St. Louis.

Even the most cursory search turns up several good hotels at much better prices.

The Econo Lodge Riverfront, for example, starts at 81 bucks per night and is .3 of a mile from the convention center hotels, making it forty dollars a night cheaper than many of the hotels the UUA reccomends.

Similarly, the Hampton Inn is $105 per night if you have AAA. It is only a quarter mile from the convention center.

If you're willing to drive in for fifteen miles every morning, you can stay for as little as forty bucks a night at the Super 8 out by the airport. The drive every day will suck, but even if you pay $10 a day to park at the Holiday Inn across the street from the convention center, you'll still save a bundle.

So why, you may ask, is the UUA only making deals with the expensive hotels. What makes it worth it to potentially exclude people who could almost attend, but would seriously need to cut costs?


The UUA has a long and detailed list of requirements. The requirements, intentionally or not, strongly favor the more expensive hotels. After all, the classy hotels already use china plates and serve organic foods, and they are used to kowtowing to weird demands from rich people. Older hotels that haven't been refurbished and still lack low-flow shower heads, and of course any places where one might be expected to handle a ketchup packet, are beneath our notice.

The UUA could have made two lists, hotels and hotels that get our environmental seal of approval. But we're too pure for that, so instead we assume that of course our members want to pay something like $200 extra for five nights to shower under less water. So we exclude any hotel that doesn't meet our standards.

And we wonder why we are a religion full of yuppie white people.



Ps. Here's a hotel map of downtown St. Louis.

PPs. Boy in the Bands also notes that a new bus company will make it cheaper to get to GA from the midwest.

GA plane ticket bought!

So I must be going.


Culosi case

Here's the family's statement. I'm sure there are many good beuracracy reasons for not informing the family so they could have the man's last rights performed, but ick.


First, they came for the ninjas.

It's very easy to make fun of this story, where ATF agents randomly jumped a guy dressed as a ninja who was coming home from a costume party. Usually, I confine criticisms of the police to incidents with the county police local to me. This one was federal agents and in Georgia, but I found it so egregious that I wanted to write about it anyway.

One of the agents commented:Seeing someone with something across the face, from a federal standpoint — that’s not right

Note how she manages to justify jumping someone solely for his choice of attire AND imply that there's something wrong with the fact that local police might not have done so.

There is a point to me doing this, you know. While ninjas aren't under attack in everybody's community, there are certainly a lot of unjustified police killings in mine. (By which I mean two. But two, within a few months in one county is too many.) And, of course, you see petitions every Sunday that no one will read all about national politics.

As far as I can tell, nobody cares what happens locally.

But locally is where you can make change, and locally is where your voice is most loudly heard. "Stop domestic wiretapping!" is a nearly pointless cry. "I think our County police could use a citizens' review board. What are the channels I would need to go through to set one up?" are words that might well do some actual good.

If you are all about telling your national government what to do on issues of security, but you don't have a clue what your local cops are up to, you're wasting your chance to make real change.

I strongly suspect that it comes down to the fact that in national politics, merely having an opinion and signing a petition makes one feel like an activist. With local stuff, you really do have to work at it. (And admittedly, I haven't done anything on my police shootings, either, though I'm working up to it.)


*P.S. In the Culosi case, it has now been three months since the shooting and the results of the internal investigation have not been released. (The ballistics tests are done. How long does it take to interview a bunch of people?) The family has announced they are going to sue. Good for them.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I so wanted to like this manifesto

Bill Barr has been pumping the Euston Manifesto, a document by a bunch of very smart progressives in the UK.

At first, I was very enthused. I am predisposed toward kindness to anything that comes from the UK in the first place, and I was very happy with what I read at first.

I agree with them so much on so many things. It is indeed time to quit whining about how we got into the war in Iraq and focus on doing as much good as we can there. I agree that the Baathists are some nasty folks and to pull the troops now leave them in control is to do a disservice to human rights worldwide. I agree that treating women like crap and punishing people of the wrong religion is not a cultural choice, it is just wrong. I agree that America is flawed, but it takes some pretty severe intellectual laziness to ignore the flaws of other places to make America seem so much worse.

But as a good UU, I read the lyrics of the hymn very carefully before I sing it.

I won't be singing this one.

Here are the main points I disagree with:

1. "Democracy for everybody! Right now!" I do think that democracy is the EVENTUAL best solution for everybody. But if China becomes a Democracy right now, it will turn into post-Soviet Russia, except even less equipped to feed people. For an even simpler example, look at Pakistan. If there were a free election today, human rights would go back to the stone age. Witness the difficulty they are having right now with getting a government in Iraq that both represents the people and lets women have rights.

2. Trade unions are the Bee's Knees for everybody Trade unions, like all bureaucracies, eventually stop being about their members and start to further their own interests. I'm not saying they haven't done good things, but when the Unions have had the power to bring a company to its knees, they have often been corrupted by it. (Note also how a few years ago Northwests' mechanics utterly fucked themselves over by going to a union that promised them better stuff. The union's "no concessions" platform ended up in a strike. Had the other workers gone along with a sympathy strike, Northwest would have gone bankrupt and everyone would have been screwed. So they didn't. And with all the airlines that HAVE gone bankrupt, it was pretty simple for Northwest to hire a staff of scabs, in fact they had done so before the strike began. Now that we're out of the "broken kneecaps" phase of unions, the "have a bunch of scabs already on the payroll" plan worked fine for Northwest and thus the union utterly screwed its members and got every one of them canned.) In an increasingly global and interdependant world, I question how effective labor unions can be without seriously fucking over some other people. The recent transit strikes, where the evening news featured lots of people going "They make more than I do! And their health insurance is BETTER! Why the hell do they have to strike and keep ME from a day's pay!" seem pretty representative. People do not seem to get angry at the administration for denying workers benefits they themselves don't have. They get angry at the workers, who by refusing to do their jobs over nickles and dimes really mess with other people's lives.

3. Globalization (when it means the spread of corporations) is so bad, we should keep people from choosing it I find the idea that people should be protected from their desire to self-determine and globalize oh so patronizing. There are abusive elements to the way some big companies behave, but in the end, nobody forces people to take a job we see as crappy that helps them feed their families. As far as I can tell, many liberals have completely romanticized what living life without modern conveniences is like. Witness Pakistan, where people CAN leave the refugee camps and return to their cute little villages but are in huge numbers refusing to because the refugee camps, shantytowns though they are, have clean water, schools and medical care.

4. Anyone who is Anti-Zionist is an anti-semite Uh, no.


who owes TheCSO much credit for this peice as we talked it over together at great length.

On matters McKinney

One time in my political fundraising days, a coworker and I were manning the nametag table outside of a major fundraising event for a Congressman who shall of course remain nameless. I was writing a nametag for a lobbyist who had neglected to RSVP (grr) when I heard my new coworker having a bit of difficulty. She vigorously discussing something with a portly man in an expensive suit. Both of them looked confused.

Figuring exactly what was going on, I rushed to my coworker's side.

"Why Representative Sensenbrenner!" I cooed*. "We're so glad you could join us this evening. You're comped, of course. Why don't I take you right in to the Congressman!"

I could swear I heard my coworker mutter "he wasn't wearing his pin..." in the background as I led the powerful man away. His dignity must have been preserved because both my coworker and I kept our jobs.

It happens.


*He's not my favorite guy either, but a job's a job. At my current job, I do work with a company I very much respect. The pay is the same.

The birth-control-at-the-Pharmacy issue gets even more annoying

Two questions:

1. It's one thing to not want to be handing out the abortion pill. I don't like that, but I understand that. What what the hell is the deal with refusing to give antibiotics to a lady who has just HAD an abortion?

I'm sorry, is letting the lady get sick and die the Christian thing to do?

2. If a Christian Scientist got a job as a pharmacist and refused to do anything to help cure sick people, would we be OK with that? I don't mean to imply insult to Christian Scientists would do that sort of thing, but it's a further extension of the logic we're dealing with here. (Actually, Christian Scientists are not inherently against abortion, so this could be an interesting test case.)


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Things I didn't know about Mommies with full-time jobs until I worked with some

My new office has a lot of mothers. Some of the things I don't love about being around parents have been reinforced (e.g. You have a kid at home. You are with that kid some 16 hours a day. So why on earth do you come to work and want to talk about nothing but your kid? A chick has to read "Parents" magazine just to keep up with the conversation in the lunchroom because how to deal with the fact that Junior is biting the other kids at preschool is all anybody talks about.)

But I have learned a few new things from the experience thus far and overall, my attitude toward parents has improved.

1. You don't get sick time of your own, it all goes to when your kid is sick. Either that, or you take twice as much and everyone hates you.

2. I'm planning to go to GA. I've already filled out the form. My co-workers know two months in advance. I will do absolutely as much work as possible leading up to my time off to make it easier on them and no one will care. People with sick children do not get that chance. They call in the day of and everyone else is saddled with extra work and the less tolerant people hate them for it.

3. Parents really do develop soft skills, at least some parents do. One lady got a call last week that her 9-year-old daughter had been suspended from school. Another kid had been bugging the daughter and the daughter had whipped around and said "I'm gonna kill you!" Nobody would have batted an eyelash when I was a kid, but understandably, that's a big deal these days. Working mom is two cubes away and I can hear the conversation that follows.

Working mom was like a freaking hostage negotiator. She was totally on the vice principal's side. Oh, of course. But the important thing was that ALL the kids learn from this situation. And... And...

I don't remember. But the upshot is that the suspenstion was cut from eight days to two and Working Mom and the Vice Principal were cooing at each other like sorority girls at the end.

Working Mom got off the phone, filled us in on what we'd all been listening to anyway, then got back to work.

The more things change...

From The New Republic...

Benjamin Franklin complained during the colonial era that Germans immigrating to Philadelphia "are generally the most stupid of their nation. ... Few of their children know English." In 1921, Arthur M. Schlesinger wrote, "The new immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, with its lower standard of living and characteristic racial differences has intensified many existing social problems and created a number of new ones."

And Henry Cabot Lodge thought the lowest of the low were the Italian Immigrants, one of whom was the Grandfather of Tom Tancredo, who today says nasty things about Central American Immigrants.

who really can't stand all the freaking yuppies who have moved into all the new condo developments in Fairfax County and torn down those old postwar Cape Cod tract houses to build their stupid McMansions. Hello? My family has been in Virginia for generations? Where do all these lawyers and lobbyists from rube states think they get off moving in and tearing down our fugly houses to build a different kinds of fugly house?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Advice for living

If someone mentions to you that they were teased as a child, don't assume you know why and confidently tell them that you would never tease somone about obvious defect one or obvious defect two. I was on the receiving end of this one recently. I was thinking about obvious defect three, but the person's enthusiastic acknowledgements of the obviousness of the two previous defects sucked.

And the time, I let it go and didn't even mention the real cause of said teasing. But it has bothered me ever since.

When things bother me, I write about them.


Everything breaks down at sociopathy

I was trying to figure out how to tell this story without mentioning that I'd had a bunch of psychological testing done. But I mentioned that last post. Again, I'm fine and have escaped some pretty serious demons through what is I assume the grace of a few well-placed strands of DNA. (Of course, the indirect effect of said demons in others was inescapable, but that's another post. Actually, it is in some ways exactly this post. People unaffected by such things don't have their minds go into places like this in the dark hours of a sleepless night. I assume.)

Anyway, so this was hours and hours of filling out multiple choice batteries, describing ink blots and making up stories to go along with pictures. When it was all over, the psychologist who had administered the tests went to her computer and was compiling my bill.

Being me, I started looking at her books as I was waiting. She had quite a few on crime and the criminal mind.

"Do you do forensic work?" I asked.

She smiled. "Yes." My bill was printing.

"Can I ask you something about that?"


"Do sociopaths have souls?"

She looked at me for a long moment, but not nearly as long a moment as a lot of people would have. "True sociopathy is not as common as most people think. But the real ones? No. They don't have souls."

"Hmmm..." I said. "I tend to agree. I confess I've been working on this one in my own head for years. As closely as I can figure, the soul is what inside us that is receptive to the force some people call "God." And I am really loath to label another human being as soulless, but that's the conclusion I'd come to. They just can't pick up on God's radio signals." She nodded as if that sounded reasonable to her. "But it upsets me that my religion breaks down at sociopathy."

She gave a tired laugh, "oh, Honey. Psychology breaks down at sociopathy, too. Everything breaks down at sociopathy."

I'm certain I thanked her for her time and said goodbye, but my memory of the conversation stops there.

(Item: Boris, one of our cats, just nosed the bedroom door open and I about jumped out of my skin.)

So, I guess what I am asking here is does anybody else have a theological framework where the concept of a person who can't really concieve that other people feel even fits?

Many people take a "Well, if my girlfriend with clinical depression loved me enough, she'd cheer up" approach to mental illness and assume that anything can be overcome by sheer willpower. That people with ADHD don't fail to focus on you every minute because they don't like you, it's just the way their heads work, is really a post of it's own, but suffice to say such thinking is useless in this contest. A friend told me once about a sociopath she knew who was genuinely broken up about the fact that his sister didn't like him any more after he stole her visiting daughter's money and left his neice stranded on vacation. He can do something really obviously awful one minute, then be distressed that his victim doesn't love him the next.

Such a person is missing peices that are necessary for a moral consciousness beyond the very basic cops and robbers level.

As a universalist, I know they well be OK in the hereafter, but how does one minister to them on earth?


Silly things people forward.

At CUUMBAAYA, Joel stuck up a post recently saying that his co-workers were forwarding around the psychopath test.

This post will make more sense if you take a second and check it out.

I came up non-pyschopath. Actually, I recently paid a lot of money to confirm that I have no psychoses whatsoever. (I'm aware that as a general rule, people who brag about how their psychological tests reveal them to be not demonstrably crazy are to be avoided. I consider myself to be an exception. Suffice to say, it's wise to get oneself tested for all of one's potential genetic diseases.)

The psychopath test is, of course, debunked on Snopes, but I still like it. I am especially fond of how, though it is surely inaccurate, it focuses on weeding out those among us who are not just sociopaths but smart sociopaths. It has been my experience that stupid sociopaths really are pretty harmless. Kind of like how one imagines a caveman focused on his own physical survival.

BTW, my coworkers are forwarding the Japanese IQ test around.

Here are the instructions are in English
1. Get everyone across the river. Only 2 persons on the raft at a time
2. The father can not stay with any of the daughters without their mother's presence
3. The mother can not stay with any of the sons without their father's presence
4. The thief (striped shirt) can not stay with any family member if the Policeman is not there
5. Only the Father, the Mother and the Policeman know how to operate the raft
6. To move the people click on them.
7. To move the raft click on the pole on the opposite side of the river.

(Actually, when I look at the instructions on the site, I could swear that the instructions are in Chinese, which would indeed make the test difficult for the average citizen of Japan. Don't totally trust me on this one. I was planning to study in China in college and I took some classes and then tutored a Chinese guy who was learning English for awhile, but my Chinese really sucks, especially when outside the comfort of the pinyin. When the CSO gets home, I will have him take a look. He's had some Japanese.)

who realizes she has conflated a few things here, but is writing this more to amuse herself than to impart valuable information on psychology, or Asian langauages.

Guh, CC can't sleep

And she's due to get up in exactly four hours and take the ChaliceRelative to get cataract surgery.


Monday, April 10, 2006


In mid-September of 1991, a few weeks after Boris Yeltsin persuaded the soldiers and tanks of the Soviet Army to neither arrest him nor open fire on Moscow crowds during the August 18-22 coup attempt, I travelled from the medical school where I worked in Los Angeles to a medical meeting in Kiev, the cultural center of ancient Russia and the capital of modern Ukraine. A flight from Atlanta to Frankfurt was followed by one from Frankfurt to Kiev. The Union of European Phoniatrists, physicians who specialize in medical aspects of voice and speech, was holding their 17th congress in Kiev on September 17th through 21st, at the invitation of the head of the Moscow research institute of phoniatry, Dr. Yurii Vasilenko, whose Ukrainian origin was obvious in the accent with which he spoke Russian. I had met him two years before at a large medical meeting in Prague, where he had promised to invite me to this Kiev meeting, which at that time was already being planned.

The meeting was fascinating, with a group of mostly German European physicians meeting together with mainly Russian and Ukrainian physicians in a hotel located on the periphery of Kiev, but the groups were largely separated by language. I was the only Russian-speaking Westerner besides an Israeli physician and one East German physician. I had been asked to lecture in English, which was understood by most of the Europeans, but when Russians conversing with me in Russian asked when I would speak, and what language I would speak in, their disappointment was patent when I replied that I had been asked to lecture in English. So, after a day or so of this, one afternoon I went back to my room and sat down and wrote out my lecture in Russian. When the time came for me to deliver my talk, it turned out that the slides were inverted in the projector. So I looked out over the auditorium and commented in Russian while the projectionist inverted the slides, "the projectionist wanted to show that I came from the other side of the world, where everyone is upside down!" When the Russians laughed at once, and then a few seconds later so did the Europeans when they got the translation of my comment, I knew that everything would work and the lecture would go well.

For the Russian and Ukrainian physicians, the meeting was a valued opportunity to

catch up with Western medical knowledge and to make personal contacts. I in turn was happy to be able to make further contact with European and Russian colleagues in the

scientific specialty of the physiology of the larynx. Furthermore, since I spent much of the first part of my academic life in the pursuit of Russian and Byzantine-Slavic studies, my visit to Kiev was also an exposure to the realia of ancient Slavic Christian religious culture. When I walked through the ancient Cathedral of St. Sophia in the city of Kiev, dating from the 11th c., at first I was puzzled at the familiarity of the Old Russian inscriptions scratched on the columns, until I recalled that I had read them long before in a Russian archeological monograph on the cathedral that was on my bookshelves at home in Los Angeles.

However, the most startling view of the trip had no horizon. It was the tunnels underneath the Cave Monastery in Kiev, on the riverbank above the Dnieper. The Cave Monastery, dating from the same period as the Cathedral of St. Sophia, shares with it the distinction of being part of the cradle of Russian Christianity. When invaders would ride into Kiev a thousand years ago, it was to these tunnels beneath the monastery that the monks would retreat, to emerge when the enemy departed. Religion also took a dreadful beating in Soviet Russia, and religious artefacts were systematically destroyed, sometimes in bonfires of icons. But, here at the Cave Monastery, Russian religion was reemerging, like the monks coming out of their caves.

The caves contain many artefacts and mummies of medieval monks. I had to restrain myself from discussing them with my fellow visitors, since we were forbidden to speak above a whisper in the caves. When I talked with the monks, only a few of them were older and well educated. Many were very young, and not well educated either about historical Christianity beyond the customary rituals, or learned in the Old Slavic langue of the earliest Slavic books, still the language of the Byzantine Slavic liturgy. I ached at this, and felt that I would like to come back to Kiev in a different persona and teach them the ancient language of the earliest Slavic Christian books, which served as the first common literary language of Eastern Europe in the middle ages, like Latin in the West. In the course of writing my doctoral dissertation on details of the grammar of the Old Slavic language, I had read through all of the published texts of the earliest manuscripts preserved in this language, all of which were works translated from Greek Christian literature, as well as their Greek originals, until the language of the Old Slavic texts was as transparent to me as the New York Times. However, at the Cave monastery, I realized for the first time the extent to which not only many Russian Jews, but also the Christians, had been deracinated by the years of the Soviet regime. And eerily, cliche'd though it sounds, suddenly I realized that here, in the winding tunnels beneath the Cave Monastery, I could easily imagine that I might hear the soft thud of the heartbeat of Russia.

Russia's ancient religious traditions have been a part of Russian nationalism, and sometimes part of a system of enslavement, both political and intellectual. At times they make the content of Western European religion clearer by contrast. The resentment of Western missionary efforts in Russia is partly nationalistic, but it is also part of the awareness of the extent to which East European cultural identity has been organized around the traditions of Byzantine-Slavic religion, with an intellectual style very different from the West. Those who bridge Western and East European religious traditions, like Jaroslav Pelikan and Ihor Shevchenko, have combined different worlds as surely as scholars like Harry Wolfson, who worked at the boundaries of Jewish and Christian traditions. Sometimes it is only by coming to know others that we truly recognize ourselves.


Harvard Divinity School really does seem to think I'm an alum

Now I am invited to an Alumni/ae event on May 10.


Immigration protest completely snarls DC mass transit

I could see the lines at Metro from I-66, no mean feat, I can assure you, as it means that the lines went from in the station, across a bridge that passes over the highway and presumably out into the parking lot. This is 4th-of-July-level subway traffic.

Bodes well for them having had a good turnout

Sunday, April 09, 2006

"How can you be a UU and kill people?"

a girl in my YRUU group asked. We were making brownies for a bake sale and the subject of the discussion was UUs in the military.

"Well," I said, bearing in mind that this girl goes to a quaker school, "A UU in the military could probably give you a more reasonable answer than I can, and I am trying to arrange it so one can come here and talk to the group. But as far as I know, most people are OK with the police having to kill people every now and again when those people are trying to kill them or trying to hurt somebody else. At this point, our soldiers in Iraq aren't fighting another army, they are trying to keep order and trying to keep Iraq from breaking out into a civil war. I really don't think they are killing anybody they don't strictly feel they have to. As far as I can tell, at this point they are more or less the cops. Like the cops, sometimes they don't behave as they should, but I don't doubt that any UUs over there are doing the best they can to be just and reasonable in a difficult situation."

My little soliloquy wasn't enough of an explanation, I know, but it seemed to satisfy her for the moment and the conversation moved on to other things, most notably the similarity between Quaker values and UU values. (Swoon! Why can't teaching RE ALWAYS be like that??)

I've been thinking a lot about the UUs and violence issue. There is a part of my brain that cries out for structure, and that part loves the idea of being able to say that violence is against my religion.

But in the end, I can't believe it.

TheCSO and I have had a lot of talks about the Christian Peacemaker Teams recently. He has strong objections to them, likening them to skiers who knowingly go onto a dangerous mountain then endanger rescuers when the inevitable avalanche occurs. Admittedly, the CPT was less than gracious upon being rescued, putting out a press release describing their members in glowing terms and not bothering to mention the soldiers who had rescued them. (Note that the press release says the prisoners were "released" Yeah, they were "released" when a bunch of British, American and Iraqi soldiers showed up on the doorstep of the place where they were being held. I think most of us would say they were "rescued" and I do agree with the CPT's critics that the CPT was quite uncharitable there.) After much, much negative media reaction, they did issue a statement thanking the soldiers.

What makes the issue even muddier is that these folks were only released when an insurgent who was being interrogated by the Americans gave up the address of the place where they were being held. And I think we all know what "interrogated by the Americans" means these days.

To have been saved by violence, or at least soldiers, puts these advocates of nonviolence in an almost impossible Public Relations position. Given that they had specifically requested not to be rescued, I'm not sure any statement could have remained true to their principles yet had the proper tone.

((FWIW, here's an interesting (and far more sympathetic) essay on the CPT folks from Canada. ))

I've been giving a lot of thought to the proposed study action issue.

I'm torn, and not the least by the fact that all that's being debated right now is whether we should study and discuss the thing. I'm usually a great fan of studying and discussing things, at least in the beginning. In junior high school, I played Stephen Hopkins in 1776 and greatly relished being able to say "Well, in all my years I ain't never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about. Hell yeah! I'm for debating anything. Rhode Island says yea!" every night.

My observation is that the UUA only puts out two kinds of statements, vague and intolerable. The proposed study action issue is of the first sort, asking the reader to examine the issue of violence from many perspectives*. It includes mildly annoying political ideas about identifying the forms of intervention we will support that if accepted I am certian will result in many long-winded, statements about what President Whoever believes on behalf of all the member congregations, as well as hasty assurances that we will listen to all points of view and more philosophical questions like "What are the hallmarks of peaceful cultures?" and "What role do human physiology and psychology play in the perpetuation of violence?"

But I'm pretty certian the meat of the question is "Should we become a peace church?," or as the tentative study action issue puts it, "Should we, the Unitarian Universalist Association and member congregations, reject violence in any form?"

I really think we overstate our case when we talk about becoming a peace church. Quite arguably, this war was unjust. But just wars do happen, and I don't think we should shrink from fighting them. The study action issue states "Our principles are models for peacemaking yet we act as if violence is more effective than nonviolence in certain situations." I don't see the contradiction in that. Maslow's statement that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail seems relevant here. If violence is our hammer, not every problem can be most effectively solved by violence, but some problems are nails. Sometimes, something is threatened that it is worth using violence to defend.

Besides, that "violence cannot solve problems" is a belief, and last I checked we weren't supposed to be in the business of telling our members what to believe. That's one reason why I so disliked the "tell the YRUUers how to come off as consciencious objectors" portion of the anti-recruitment YRUU class I attended. I love those guys and would be devestated if any of them died in a war, but "here's how to appear to be a consciencious objector so you can get out of getting drafted" is not the same lesson as asking them whether they have a fundamental objection to war in the first place.

I am especially suspicious of the statement that we will "Honor and support the challenges of military and law enforcement personnel and their families." I don't think I have to remind regular readers that we aren't doing so hot at that right now, and I assume things would only get worse as we got on a peace crusade. Conformity on this issue is leading to enough unpleasantness for military and veteran UUs already. As a peace church we would face many of the same problems the Christian Peacemakers are facing in trying to resolve these contradictions, except that our problems would be within our own churches as police officers and members of the armed forces found that their careers were now against their religion because a vote of GA said so.

We aren't the Quakers, the Witnesses or the Mennonites. This isn't our tradition. It could be our new tradition, but I worry that it wouldn't reflect who we are, but what we're fearing right now.

Pacifists will say that if every church were a peace church "The baptized Catholic leader of Nazi Germany, Adolph Hitler, would have been raised within a progressive peace church by a strong pacifist Catholic mother who would have nurtured and loved and protected little Adolph from the cruelty of his father and the cruelty of his society." That particular pacifist goes on to say that if only the churches were pacifist, the (as far as I know non-religious) Columbine shooters would have been well-adjusted, too.

This is an extreme, but I don't think completely unrealistic example of the sort of thinking that worries me. One who assumes that if US troops left Iraq today, then tomorrow the Iraqis would govern themselves in peaceful anarchy and everything in the region would be much improved without the police-type protection the troops are providing is also among the sweetly delusional.

Katy-the-Wise once preached that sentimentality was one of the seven deadly sins, defining it as "overvaluing something for reasons not of fact but of desire." She provided the quite UU-palatable example of parental notification laws for abortions. These laws are written with the idea that every set of parents will be warm and wise and understanding with only the good of their children at heart. The reality that some pregnant girls fear getting beaten or thrown out of the house is ignored for not fitting into the view of reality that the conservatives who write these laws have chosen.

It seems apposite to me to categorize our desire to be a peace church, along with my desire to have violence be against my religion, as falling within the sin of sentimentality.


* Though if we do accept it, one of the first suggested actions is "Advocate for peacemaking initiatives at all levels of government." That's what UUism needs. More lobbying. Because what we're doing has been such a terribly effective use of our time.