Wednesday, May 31, 2006

THIS is disturbing, y'all

It's like Billy Graham's Bible Blaster.

But much, much creepier.


On "Spin" vs. "Framing"

In the comments portion of my last post on "economic refugees," Kim and I are having an interesting argument on the nature of "spin" and "framing." I'm going to continue the discussion here because I think it is worth a wider look.

First off, I don't know what the problem with the term "undocumented worker" would be, at least from the liberal side. I've seen conservatives bitch about, say, men without medical degrees who defraud and sexually assult women by posing as gynecologists and how we should be politically correct and call them "undocumented doctors." I haven't heard what a liberal beef with that term would be, though I'm interested. There's possible confusion with Americans who are working under the table, but that doesn't seem like a big issue.

As for the rest of the "framing" vs. "spin" discussion, Kim points out that "People who work with the subtle meanings of words" tend to like "Economic Refugees" and other heavily euphemnistic terms. Those people and I have a fundamental disagreement on whether language creates thought or thought creates language.

I shall use my favorite example again. That the "Department of War" reframed its name to the "Department of Defense" did not change anyone's mind about what they do. People are so in love with the idea that coming up with a flowery name for something changes the way people think about it that they tend to deny this, but it seems obvious to me.

This is why I think both "spinning" (what your political enemies do) and "reframing" (when you do the same thing) isn't that great. I think it is most helpful when you are trying to help people accept something non-palatable that their own party is up to. As far as I can tell, people who are inclined to agree with you in the first place will cheerfully adopt your framing for anything. Everyone else will make fun of it. e.g. Bush's "Youthful Indescretions," which conservatives basically accept and liberals basically mock.

I think spinning and reframing only seriously changes peoples minds when you use terminology so far from what you're talking about that you're lying. I don't know exactly where to draw this line, but the term "refugee" for someone who is not being persued gets closer than I want to be.

As far as I can tell, the thought process was "Most people don't feel particularly sorry for comparitively large numbers of people who leave their homes and come here illegally to work. They do feel sorry for the comparitively small numbers of people whose homes have been destroyed by war and who come here legally because their government is hunting down and killing them because of their religion. So maybe if we call the first group by the second group's name, people will feel sorrier for them. And if that creates a bunch of confusion that ultimately hurts the second group, oh well. They aren't the fashionable issue these days..."

That said, I am a big fan of political correctness and believe it is only polite to call people what they want to be called. It strikes me as good manners. So when a minority group starts advocating a new term for themselves, I try to use it. I really don't actually see that there's any difference, but I will use it to go along. (I don't know how I would feel about a group wanting to use a term that was obviously misleading. The issue has never come up.)


A bad day on the protest line

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Greenpeace had a little problem the other day.

The Inquirer tells the story:

Before President Bush touched down in Pennsylvania Wednesday to promote his nuclear energy policy, the environmental group Greenpeace was mobilizing.

"This volatile and dangerous source of energy" is no answer to the country's energy needs, shouted a Greenpeace fact sheet decrying the "threat" posed by the Limerick reactors Bush visited.

But a factoid or two later, the Greenpeace authors were stumped while searching for the ideal menacing metaphor.

We present it here exactly as it was written, capital letters and all: "In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]."

Greenpeace is saying it was a joke in an early draft. They're aghast.

Don't let this happen to you.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Mixed feelings on the term "economic refugee"

George Lakoff's latest bit of "framing" or "spin," depending on one's perspective (CC thinks redefining "spin" into "reframing" is the cleverest thing George Lakoff has done), is that we should term people not in this country legally "economic refugees."

I am torn on this term for a couple of reasons and I'd like to take it apart.

The part of the term I like is: "economic." I do view immigration as fundamentally an issue of economics and it confuses me when other people don't. The "we're turning into a Spanish-speaking country!" people confuse me just as much as the "They're poor! And we're big rich Americans with infinite resources!" people do*. I'm not certain what role arguments that ignore economics should play here.

This is fundamentally an issue of economics. These folks aren't coming here because they want to be Americans. (Indeed, it must really suck for them to leave their families and their culture.) They need money. In large numbers, they send money home. Surely they want to be at home.

This indicates to me that the obvious solution is sustainable development for Mexico and consequences if Mexican leaders do not start taking better care of their people. If immigrants are no longer coming here for purely economic reasons, then the ones that do come really want to be here. Win-win, IMHO.

The part of the phrase I don't like is "refugee."

Being poor sucks. It does. But it is not the same thing as being persecuted by your government for religious or political reasons. If we loosen the term "refugee" so much that it looses meaning, what hope will these people, the ones who need us the most, have? It sucks to have to live in a substandard place, eat non-nutritious starchy food and not have access to adequate medical care. But it is not on the same scale of immediate awfulness as, say, living in a country where everyone with your skin color is being systematically hunted down and killed.

It seems common among YRUUers (and some adults) for "You're oppressing me!" to be code for "You're not letting me do what I feel like doing!" I've noticed just in my years working with youth that the impact the word "oppressed" has on me has begun to wane. Let's not do that to the word "refugee," a word that for most of us still brings to mind people truly in desperate and immediate fear for their lives.


*That said, the people complaining about the influx of poor people at least seem consistent in that they dislike the poor people here, too. That people who spend seemingly all their time complaining about America on every other issue and pointing to the superiority of every other country suddenly see letting poor people into America as the solution for fixing their lives, is indeed mystifying. Nobody is advocating transporting people looking for a better life to Europe, Australia or Canada. We KNOW those countries won't let people in. When we require noblesse oblige from someone, it's always bad old America.


This site is selling timeshares in an island tribe.

It actually seems like a cool idea, though not especially my thing.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

CC on the DaVinci Code (spoilers, and beyond the usual ones)

First off, I don't know if Elizabeth Lerner's UU World Article correctly portrays what goes on in the book. I haven't read the book.

But the movie version makes her LOOK wrong.

Lerner seems rather huffy about the fact that according to the Gnostic gospels, Mary was a religious leader, not just a wife and mother. The movie very clearly states that this was the case and that Mary was more or less left in charge. The Knights templar seem to regard her, and not any male descendents she might have had, as a Pope-like figure. The movie shows women religious leaders and free thinkers being carted off and burned as witches, making very clear the point that women have always stepped up into leadership roles, they just kept getting killed for it for awhile.

In fact, when Sophie is revealed to be Jesus' last remaining descendent (assuming the Grandmother you see at the end is on the other side, which I think we're supposed to) she is very clearly charged with doing God's work and deciding the destiny of the church on earth. Nobody even mentions that she should go out and make more Jesus babies, and to me it would have been fairly forgivable if they had, considering that is typically priority one for heirs.

Also, I saw the Sophie-as-Jesus-descendent thing coming like an hour into the movie. But "Apple" was cool.

This movie was quite heavy on the Gnosticism, and did much to promote some suckily ahistorical ideas. But it was interesting to see the "Jesus as a regular guy" concept presented and wonder what was going on in the heads of the people seated around me.


A quick reminder that the average IQ really is 100

As I was leaving The DaVinci Code tonight, a lady in front of me said:

"I saw Audrey Tautou in something else. She played a French girl in that, too."


Buy UU stock

The links at the bottom of each post may be cluing you in that I am giving heavy use of technorati a try. So I've been monkeying around on their site, trying to figure out if I should be tagging my religion posts as "Unitarian" a la Philo and Clyde or "UU" a la Arbitrary Marks and The Blue Chalice. (I'm going with "Unitarian.")

Anyway, one of the text ads at the top of the page declared that I should Buy UU stock!

I clicked. It's unrelated to us, of course. But irrationally, I would still kind of like a share of United Utilities.

Oh well.


These people are WEIRD

If Boris, Cool Disco Dan or Esperanto ever show up here, then TheCSO is in HUGE trouble.


Should this make me feel better? Or not?

Y'all know I have a thing about police raids of private citizens' homes, fueled partially by what I read at the Agitator and partially by my own experiences as the sister of a felon.

The general theory about such things is that small towns got a whole lot of Homeland Security and, being small town cops, were more inclined to use said money on weapons that on training a real SWAT team.

But according to Thought Mechanics this isn't just an American thing.

At TM, guest blogger Heather K. Dahlstrom writes about the case of a Canadian dentist who had his credit card stolen. The credit card company cancelled his account and sent him a new card, yet kept the old card active as to try to track down the criminals. The old card was used to purchase a bunch of kiddie porn off the web.

This resulted in a confusion wherein he ended up being arrested, having his frearms liscense revoked and being genrally harrassed, ending when police took a battering ram to his door at 6:20 a.m. one morning in a sting that revealed not only no porn, but that the man didn't even have his computer hooked up to the internet.

The dentist's lawsuit against the Toronto and York region police has my blessing.

When people around me start threatening to move to some country that they are sure is better than America, I tend to assume that the same obnoxious stuff goes on there. In this case, it looks like I'm right.


Decisions, decisions

Two possible plans for my day:

A. Take TheCSO to the train station so he can go to Balticon


1. Paint bathroom blue. (Yay! CC loves blue as a home decorating color)
2. See DaVinci Code movie, prepare snarky commentary for ChaliceBlog
3. Work for awhile on novel numero dos.
4. Hang out at game store with good friends OHCTV and Tina
5. Take myself to dinner at hole in the wall thai place with orgasmic $10 pad thai and read murder mystery.


B. Drive theCSO two hours or so to Balticon, then:

1. Pay a billion dollars to park and fifty bucks to get in.
2. Walk around for hours gaping at freaky sci-fi types.
3. Spend money I don't have on stupid t-shirt I won't wear that has a joke that would only be understood by .5% of Americans anyway.
4. Stand in line for an hour to buy whatever food the convention center Wendy's has left.
5. Flirt shamelessly with graphic-novel-writing hottie Neil Gaiman

Tough call.


Ps. Neil Gaiman doesn't like Barbara Bauer either.

Who is Transylvanian, hates the cross and protests stupid things?

Not one of us.

Actually, it's probably a publicity stunt.


Friday, May 26, 2006


The Lord's Prayer is compared to gospel parallels and to other early related Christian and Jewish texts. Such comparison constitutes a telescope that to some extent makes it possible to look back at the process of development of the gospel text which is the basis of comparison, although what we see there may be unexpected.
The Lord's Prayer, often considered the central Christian text, may well have been part of the sayings-text Q which contained textual material shared by the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but not Mark. It certainly circulated independently as a prayer taught to new Christian converts, probably already in the first century AD. Much of the text is dependent on and perhaps a simplification of Jewish models. It is not distinctively Christian, the first part being modelled on the Jewish Qaddish prayer. The requests which are appended to the praise of God which is the central feature of the Qaddish are consistent with Jewish usage (also in the Amidah prayer), as is the final doxology.


The Texts

Recently I was bemused when I heard a Unitarian minister comment on the use in some Unitarian-Universalist congregations of the Lord's Prayer as the classic text of Christianity. Some readers of these lines will have learned by heart at some time a somewhat more archaic version of the Lord's Prayer, Mt 6:9-13, which in the NRSV reads (following W.J.Harrelson ed. New Interpreter's Study Bible 2003):

"Our father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us to the time of trial,

but rescue us from the evil one."

Perhaps preferable translations would be, in the next to last line, "into temptation",

and in the last line "from evil". Few people learn or pray with the shorter parallel version found in Luke 11:2-4, although the form of its text is probably more original:

" Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial."

Mutual Relation of the Texts
Luke's text may seem incomplete. A number of variant manuscript readings in Luke can be accounted for as signifying a tendency on the part of scribes to import the fuller text of Matthew on the assumption that something has been left out of the available text of Luke. B.M.Metzger has pointed out this tendency for scribes to harmonize discordant parallel passages (Text of the New Testament 4th ed. 2005; Textual Commentary on the Greek NT 2nd ed. 1994, pp.130-132). The oldest Greek manuscript of Luke's version, papyrus P75 from the late second century AD, shows no such harmonization, and agrees perfectly with the text above apart from spelling details. However, of more significance is the fact that there is no corresponding text in the gospel of Mark. This passage belongs to those 220-odd verses in the gospels referred to as coming from a written Greek source labelled "Q" for the German word Quelle, used to indicate a common source of textual material which appears in both Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark, their mutual main source.

So, if there was a source text in Greek, what did it say? Did Luke cut down the fuller text in Matthew, or did Matthew elaborate on something like the shorter text of Luke? It is widely regarded that Luke's version was the original one, while it is likely that Matthews's version was elaborated for the liturgy. As the older Peake's Commentary (1937) comments in a brief but significant clause, "liturgical formulae tend to expansion rather than abbreviation".

Should churchpeople all over the world use the shorter text of Luke instead of that of Matthew? Is there any text to serve as a third witness that can clarify the issue? Of course, these are not new questions. The most common answers that I encounter come from two classic treatments of the synoptic problem, that of J.C.Scott (Horae Synopticae 1909), and that of B.H.Streeter ( The Four Gospels 1924/1956). Scott (p.108) lists the parallel texts of Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11: 2-4 as being by definition part of Q. This is still a common view of many responsible scholars. Streeter's comments suggest (p.277) that "the difference between the two versions of the Lord's Prayer, Lk. xi.1-4 and Mt. vi.9-13, is so great as to put a considerable strain on the theory that they are both derived from the same written source". Streeter notes that each version falls in a block of material peculiar to that gospel, and concludes that Q did not include the Lord's Prayer, a view that is maintained occasionally in modern discussions.

Streeter further advocates (p.508) the view that there is a third witness, but it is not in the canonical gospels. The Didache or "Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles" is an early Christian Greek text that might be described as an answer to the question "How can I be a Christian?" in a moral and liturgical sense. Occasionally I suggest that it would be a good idea to print the Didache in the NT instead of e.g. Revelation or one of the more obviously non-Pauline epistles, but so far I have no takers. Although our only Greek manuscript of the Didache was written in 1056 AD (published only in 1883), the text is widely (not universally) accepted to come from the first century AD. In the Didache, the convert is instructed to say the Lord's Prayer three times a day, in a long version (verses 8:2-3) which differs very little from that which is found in Matthew (the three forms can be found together in Kurt Aland's Synopsis quattuor evangeliorum 1996). It could be argued that any shorter form of the prayer would have been assimilated to Matthew by scribes who copied the text, as was usual in Byzantine texts of the Lord's Prayer in the gospel of Luke. However, argues Streeter, a number of other passages in the text of the Didache come from Matthew, which is referred to in it as "the Gospel", besides a single passage which appears to derive from Q. Consequently, he concludes, it is reasonable to infer that Matthew's form of the Lord's Prayer as it stands in the Didache is old and circulated independently and early in liturgical usage outside the gospel context, so that its history cannot be conceived in the same terms as those of other passages included in the sayings-source Q.

Nature of the Texts
A. Glorification
Now let us turn to a different aspect of this enigmatic text. Where does it come from? What sort of a milieu does it reflect? The first word is generally considered to represent the Aramaic word "Abba", "father". The longer form in Matthew with "in heaven" corresponds to Jewish usage, as I.Howard Marshall points out in his admirable commentary on Luke (1978) which I follow here. The first petition "hallowed be your name" corresponds to the Jewish Qaddish prayer "Exalted and hallowed be his great name in the world which he created according to his will". Qaddish is the prayer praising God, which is spoken at the conclusion of each section of the Jewish service. Five different forms of it are used for special occasions, such as when mourning for a death.

The same Qaddish prayer continues, following Marshall still, with an emphasis on the sovereignty of God, "May he let his kingdom rule in your lifetime and in your days and in the whole lifetime of Israel, speedily and soon", which is clearly parallel to "Your kingdom come". So far, the two prayers are essentially the same, except that the Christian version has been simplified and (especially in Matthew) is presented in the context of the eschatological assumption that the kingdom of God is at hand.

The third petition in Matthew "Your will be done" was absent in the original text of Luke's gospel, although it is often found there in manuscripts as a result of synoptic influence from Matthew, where it is original. A.H.M'Neile in his substantial (1915) commentary on Matthew gives a collection of Rabbinic quotations which make quite clear how much in a Jewish spirit is this line. Some take this verse as equivalent in meaning to the preceding one.

The line "on earth as it is in heaven", absent in Luke, on the other hand, has no Jewish source that my references know. M'Neile points out a similar correspondence between heaven and earth in Mt. 16:19, 18:18, and adds "If the clause was not originally part of the Prayer, its origin cannot be determined."

B. Requests
This is followed by a transition in both Luke and Matthew which M'Neile states clearly: "Aspirations for God's glory are followed by petitions for human needs" (p.79), in the line "Give us this day our daily bread", in which the Greek word translated "daily" is unusual and difficult to explain. The form of the verb "give" has more temporal generality in Luke than in Matthew. The addition of specific requests to the Qaddish is consistent with Jewish usage (R.Werblowsky and G.Vigoder Oxford Dict. of the Jewish Religion 1997); personal petitions are also part of the Amidah prayer (R.L.Eisenberg JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions 2004). Biblical sources are possible but not obvious.

"And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Mt.), "And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us" (Luke) is a Jewish conceptualization of sin as equivalent to debt for which M'Neile cites parallels both in the NT and in Jewish texts. The Greek verb "forgive" is used of forgiveness of both sins and debts in both Jewish and gentile texts. M'Neile suggests that an original Aramaic source contained a participle which does not specify tense, making possible varied tense interpretations in different versions of the prayer.

"And do not bring us into temptation

But rescue us from the evil one".

There is no reason to print the NRSV rendering as "time of trial" since the expression of time lacks justification in the Greek; which in this line is identical in Matthew and Luke. Marshall reads the text of the first line as a request to God to "cause us not to succumb to temptation" in a Hebrew usage, and M'Neile also draws on a parallel in Jewish prayer. The last line appears to have been absent in the original form of the text of Luke. The last noun phrase may equally well be translated "from evil". M'Neile points out that the adjective "evil" is well attested in the NT literature in both a masculine (the devil) and a neuter (abstract evil) form, and that either interpretation may be justified.

C. Doxology

Many manuscript sources add a doxology "For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever, Amen" (NRSV) with various expansions. Metzger (Textual Commentary pp.13-14) confirms that the doxology (ascription is his term) was an adaptation of the prayer for liturgical use. The doxology was eventually incorporated into the gospel textual tradition, resulting in its presence in the KJV. The newer Peake's Commentary (1962) comments on this verse "It was a Jewish practice to end public prayers with a doxology, although they were not in the text."

The Lord's Prayer has somehow survived well through successive transformations from its origin when Jesus introduced an Aramaic variant of the Jewish Qaddish to his followers. Especially in the secondary and longer liturgical version of its Greek translation, for Christians it became what Tertullian called "a summary of the whole gospel", and it is still meaningful for many Unitarians and Universalists. This has been possible because its meaning is very general, and ultimately does not reside in the text itself, but varies from one speaker of the prayer to another. On the other hand, there has been enough stability in these factors to make the Lord's Prayer a viable and central part of Western religious tradition. When it is considered in terms of its origins, however, it is a different part of this tradition from what it has often seemed to be.


Yeah, you don't want to go getting the internet mad at you

Remember Barbara Bauer, whom I just wrote about yesterday?

A new site is already up in her honor.


Codename: SnUUp Bloggy Blog

Over at Philo’s blog, he is cluing all GA-attending bloggers in on some blogger get-togethers (BTW, I, for one, would love to meet any Chalicesseurs, whether you have a blog or not.)

The first blogger hoedown will be Wednesday, June 21, from 9:45 to 11:15 p.m. in the Benton Room at the Renaissance Grand Hotel. You’re supposed to RSVP here before June 15 so that Deb Weiner of the UUA can have the proper amount of drinks and munchies. (CC requests gin, ice and Rose’s Sweetened Lime juice. Not that I won’t still show up even if this is a non-Gimlet occasion, but I will have had a long drive and y’all know what I’m like when I’m cranky...)

Also, Philo is putting together a lunch meeting for Thursday. Check the information board at GA or check the Chaliceblog while you’re there. In addition, I’m thinking of putting together a “blogger cell-phone directory” to facilitate spontaneous hanging out and/or snarky text messaging during the plenaries. Shoot your cell phone number to chalicechick at gmail dot com if you’d like to participate.

Also, PB is putting together a dinner for Friday night at a Tapas restaurant. rsvp here

All that said, one thing I would like to do is to start thinking about running a UU blogging workshop next GA. I’m thinking of calling it “CC’s Legends Ball”*


*Ignore me. I get like this on Fridays sometimes.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


The Skilling, Lay verdict is in!

We're such a tacky people

But I'd probably buy one of those shirts, too.


Example number 478,311 of why you shouldn’t screw with the internet

A website for writers called Absolute Write put up a list of 20 literary agents they considered scam artists. One lady on the list, Barbara Bauer, sent out some rather nasty letters threatening legal action. Their ISP pulled the plug. Absolute Write is now gone and everyone who used to read it is FURIOUS.

I should emphasize that I never read Absolute Write and I’m pretty sure I would have never heard of this if Bauer kept her mouth shut. But no, her actions have caused such an incredible amount of anger that it seems like every writing website on the internet is encouraging people to link to the list, preferably with the tag Barbara Bauer.

The angriest people in all of this have to be the other 19 people and agencies on the list. That list probably would have remained fairly obscure. I'm sure I wouldn’t ever have even seen it, but now the list has gotten huge amounts of publicity among the writing community.

For a strong indication that Barbara Bauer is not on the up and up, all you have to do is check out her website. Following her link, you can see an impressive list of publishers she has “worked with.”

What you do not see is any publishers she has “sold to.” Her links section has a few authors, but those that have published books have had them published by vanity presses.

I’ve looked at a few literary agent websites in my day. This is the only one I’ve ever seen that didn’t talk about sales.

Oh, and apparently she charges fees up front. NOT a good sign in an agent of any sort.

People with Goiter, take heed.

It's ascension day.

working anyway.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Upsides and Downsides of REALLY long lives

This article barely scratches the surface, but it was enough to get me thinking.

I have a lot of sympathy for transhumanism and I'm delighted that these issues are getting to the point where we can realistically talk about them.

Naturally, it will be rich people who get to live for 140 years first, and all of the related social issues around new technology apply.

But still, wow.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

One more question for Psyton re: Anne Lamott

Toy situation:

Duke hires you do admissions work. You've got a bunch of applications that are right on the line. You google the names. You Google "Sam Lamott from Marin County California" and it turns up this essay. Would you be as likely to admit him?

Keep in mind that you have already called him a "jackass" and a "little troll."

Assuming that you are willing to look past this essay and not let it color your perceptions of the kid, do you think that every admissions officer, every job interviewer, every potential date, Sam ever has will be as reasonable as you are?


The Catholic Church finally learns how to talk back to Madonna

For years, the Catholic Church's huffy responses to Madonna's antics have earned her only more fame. I am basically a fan, but I've thought the insulting Catholics thing was a little tired since at least that video where she makes out with the iconography.

Finally, the Catholics have learned to fight back. Here is the Catholic League's press release, in its entirety:

May 22, 2006


The singer Madonna kicked off her “Confessions” tour in Los Angeles yesterday. Between political statements and oral sex jokes, Madonna found the time to don a crown of thorns, hang from a mirrored cross and croon her ballad “Live to Tell” in front of a screen flashing images from the Third World.

Commenting on this is Catholic League president Bill Donohue:

“When the Material Girl first embraced Kabbalah, we thought her new-found faith would inspire her to show some respect for religion. It stands to reason that a woman whose faith is so important to her that she drags her rabbi to her concerts would not want to mock the faith of others.

“But I guess you really can’t teach an old pop star new tricks. Madonna has been spicing up her act with misappropriated Christian imagery for a long time now. Perhaps she can’t arouse any interest in her work without it. Poor Madonna keeps trying to shock. But all she succeeds in doing is coming across as a boring bigot.

“Do us all a favor, Madge, and stick to singing and dancing. Knock off the Christ-bashing. It’s just pathetic.”

I would have left out the "oral-sex jokes" reference at the beginning, but otherwise, it's a masterpeice of talking to her fans in their own language IMHO.

I like especially the phrase "boring bigot." It just rings in the head.

Well played.


One more on Anne Lamott

Someone in the comments asked if we know how Sam feels about being written about. In an interview with Powell's Anne Lamott said:

"I've written a few pieces about Sam at Salon, but we've had the discussion and he really doesn't want to be written about. But he also said I could publish all those older pieces; I'll be putting them together in another kind of Traveling Mercies. But I won't be writing about him."

Let's be clear. She admits he doesn't like to be written about. He has been pretty reasonable about what she wrote when he was a kid, more so than he had to be. But he doesn't want to be written about any more.

So I'm guessing getting slapped wasn't enough punishment for not doing a good enough job washing the car.

Sounds like public humiliation of being compared to Jeffrey Dahmer by your own mother in front of a national audience was part of the punishment.

Paraphrasing Calvin Trillan, the teenage years are hard enough without having to be the subject of your parents' humor columns.

But I guess Sam's life wasn't hard enough for Anne.

I'm sorry, this is one nasty woman.


Violence on TV

Kim said in the comments on Peacebang that some brain research has found that the brain stores memories of things we see on TV the same way that they store memories of actual events.

This doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

I've seen TV shows where people get migraines. I've had migraines. The experience is really different.

I've seen "The Accused," but I don't feel like a rape victim. (Or a rapist, for that matter.)

I will admit that some scenes in books really haunt me. For whatever reason, I'm really phobic about addiction, so the scene in "A Monstrous Regiment of Women" where Mary Russell is kidnapped and injected with heroin over and over creeped me out far beyond anything I've seen on TV in years.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Is it possible that Anne Lamott could suck even more than Nora Ephron does?

This is unbelieveable.

It's not even that she slaps her teenage son.

I got slapped quite a few times as a kid, but my mother never wrote about her difficulties with me in a national magazine. Thank God.

I realize I do write about my family and husband and friends a fair amount and I take great effort to not be self-indulgent and lame about it. (My brothers are kind of an exception. But I figure once one hits the sex offender registry, nothing on the Chaliceblog is going to make one's reputation worse.)

I don't have kids, but the most insulting thing I've written about my mother is that she's kind of distant. And I told her about it. She shrugged.

In the essay, Lamott knowingly or not conveys a freakish, controlling nature and many other unattractive qualities.

If I ever start to sound like this, please tell me.

I can accept that the average person doesn't get how words (especially words spoken in front of other people, or in this case written in a national online magazine) can suck a lot more than being physically attacked.

But Lamott is a writer. She's supposed to know this stuff. Her essay is a lot more troubling than her tendency to slap people.

Nora Ephron sucks. But Anne Lamott may actually be worse.


Happy Birthday Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!

I have a complicated relationship with the idea of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I will likely go into why pretty soon, but today it would be upsporting of me not to mention it's his birthday.


I understand the deal with labyrinths now, by the way

Yesterday, the CSO and I and some of our friends went to a hippie/rennaisance festival sort of thing. After buying cheesy crafts and drinking three dollar lemonade, we hed some time while our friends were still wandering around. I went off by myself for a bit, passing people recruiting for the green party (heh) and watching little kids paint paper fairy wings.

After awhile, I came to the labyrinth.

I'd walked in the hedge maze in Williamsburg, but I'd never walked a classical labyrinth before. I gave it a shot.

I know very little about labyrinth-based spirituality other than it tends to be practicised by some of the flakier UUs I run across. That said, I found the labyrinth to be a really useful experience. To walk one feels like pacing the way one does when one is deep in thought. You pace around, but without sharp corners and about-faces that make you think. The path is simple and repetitive enough that your feet seem to know what to do and you can focus on the problems you are thinking over.

I've mentioned here that I am terrible at meditation. I either start thinking about sex or fall asleep. I actually found myself thinking over some things as I walked in the labyrinth. Eventually, theCSO joined me. We walked it once holding hands and then once alone and in silence. He said he found the experience similarly helpful.

We're thinking of getting some white rocks from Home Depot at setting up one in the back yard. I'm guessing we won't actually get around to this, but if we do I will post pictures.


Marital Fight Nostalgia

We were out to dinner with two friends last night, and they got into a huge argument in the parking lot. Unfortunately, they were our ride as we'd driven together to a restaurant an hour away. And they didn't seem to mind having their big fight in front of us.

At first, it was a bit socially awkward, but it ended up that standing there listening to them was quite instructive.

It showed pretty clearly how far TheCSO and I have come as a twosome. TheCSO and I regard ourselves as a team, and teamwork has well and truly broken down something like three times that we've been together. Otherwise, we've bitched at each other, sometimes taken frustrations out on one another before we figured out what we were doing, not always been totally great at supplying what the other needed. We're not perfect. But the idea of "us" is a truly central concept to us. Our friends have noted that to ask one of us how we are usually results in hearing about the other one as well.

We don't claim to be soulmates, but we're two people who understand one another well and are well-suited to building a life together. We're to the point now where the last time we argued, theCSO said "Why aren't we a team on this?" and we explored the issue that way.

We achieve a lot by giving one another space.

Anyway, like a lot of newlywed fights, our friends' fight took us back through the history of their last few fights. It was so obviously a stupid couple fight that they would get over that the CSO and I stood there in the parking lot and regarded one another with growing amusement.

It was so weird to watch. Our friends are still in the "competing-with-each-other-in-power-struggles-over-stupid-stuff" phase. Were we ever that immature with each other?

But some of the fights were quite recognizable. The main thrust of their fight was the classic "Husband's-long-time-close-friend-doesn't-like-the-wife-and-is-rude-to-her. What-duty-does-Husband-have-to-each-of-them?"

For us, it was almost nostalgia to watch them bitch at each other about that one. We had that fight such a long time ago.

Eventually, I said "Guys, you're not at the stage yet where an insult to your spouse feels like an insult to you. But it's going to happen."

"I'm already there," the husband said.

"No, you're not. People who are there don't have this fight. But there's nothing wrong with not being there yet. But suffice to say, you will grow apart from the friends who don't make friends with your spouse. Your friends don't have to be best friends with your spouse, but they have to treat your spouse with respect and not try to mess with your marriage. If they don't, you won't be friends with your friends any more. Even if you don't fight with them, eventually it just comes to be too much trouble to hang out with people whom your spouse doesn't get along with, especially if it is the friend who isn't making the effort. And besides, you like your spouse more."

Our friends looked at each other for a long moment.

"I don't want that to happen with you and Chris," wife said.

"Well, it will if you don't..." husband said.

And they were off agian.

TheCSO and I walked around the corner to lean up against the car, holding hands.

Our friends will get there. Every couple does it at different speeds.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

For the wrong reasons

Several people in my offline life have made a point recently that makes me uncomfortable.

"If we become a peace church," they say, "our young men will find it easier to avoid the draft."

Yesterday, a woman went even so far as to sneer "For all those boys who didn't start writing letters about how they were pacifists at age 12."

For what it's worth, according to a large organization of objectors applying for status really isn't nearly as bad as people seem to think, assuming you know three people willing to write letters about what a peaceful guy you are. You don't HAVE to be a member of a peace church. It appears that the Army doesn't want a bunch of people in their ranks who are evangelizing for pacifism. I'm sure it helps, but "become a Quaker" doesn't even make the list of suggestions.

But I have a deeper problem with this argument.

I think it's really telling that this CO thing comes up as quickly as it does. It's one of the top reasons people give for passing this SAI.

We're not talking much about how we abhor violence in all forms.

We seem to talk a lot about how we could get our hands on the privileges our government gives those who abhor violence in all forms. (Perhaps the right to spend the war as a medic or fighting forest fires in America isn't much of a privilege. But for lack of a better word...)

I love the guys in my YRUU group. I would be devestated if anything happened to one of them.

But passing a resolution so other (poorer? darker-skinned?) guys will die in their place is not something we as a church should be doing.

As UUs, we talk about "justice" a hell of a lot more than we talk about "peace." If America were in danger from a real threat, one who would take over her and treat her people badly, UUs can and should be willing to fight. Freedom is worth that. Democracy is worth that.

There is such a thing as a just war. And I think most of us would agree.

Those that don't can become a CO another way. UUism doesn't lack for opportunities to express one's pacifism. If pacifism is your thing, do it, and UUism will give you plenty of chances to express your beliefs.

But if our best, most consistently stated, reason for passing this would be to send some other religion's kids to die instead of those of ours who DON'T have strong pacifistic view, that's not good enough.

In fact, I'm sort of appalled that people keep suggesting it.


CC's Doppelganger

At the gathering of folks from my area who are going to GA, I set my bagel down across the table from a benign-looking older hippie.

"Will you be in the CUUPS both again this year?" The woman asked.

"Excuse me?" I said, looking up.

"You were in the CUUPS booth in Ft. Worth."

I smiled sweetly. "No, actually I wasn't. But I'm sure it's an easy mistake to make. There are a LOT of chubby brunette chicks in Unitarianism."

The Hippie looked at me for a long moment, "Thank you for the gift of your humor."

I think that was a smackdown.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Attention Ministers

Don't do this.


Just sayin'

An argument for parental licensing

Just sayin'


Anybody want to lend me a few million dollars?

Shortly after the Rodney King riots, the City of Los Angeles created the South Central Farm. This is believed to be the largest community garden in the Unites States. There are 350 plots where low-income families grow their own food.

Well, now the City of Los Angeles is going to close it down unless the Trust for Public Land buys the property.

You can help out here.


Foofing and youth power

I seem to have the attention of quite a few people who do youth work right now, so I thought this would be a good place to ask.

What is your opinion of "Foofing?"

I don't know that it is a Nationwide con practice, though it is big at youth cons in our area.

Basically, it is fairly benign hazing done on youth attending their first con. The foofee lays on the floor (sometimes is held down.) The foofers put a bunch of whipped cream on their stomachs and then put their faces in the whipped cream, blowing on it and making a Bronx cheer noise.

It is a bone of some contention in our youth group as our youth group is run by an (elected) group of very extroverted girls with very close to perfect bodies. They see foofing as this sacred ritual of bonding.

Of course, Frat Boys probably see some of their appalling little rituals of drinking and violence much the same way.

I imagine my chubby self as I was when I was 16 or so. Far less chubby, actually, than I am now but far more insecure. Would I have felt like the biggest girl at the youth con? If so, would I have agreed to be foofed, knowing the whole room was seeing my belly, but too afraid of not being accepted to say "no?" Would the popular kids have even thought to foof me, our would they have looked at my insecure self and known I wouldn't want that, thus excluding me and insuring I knew my discomfort was obvious?

Recalling young CC as I do, I suspect I would have publically declared "Foofing is SO lame" and gone off someplace with a book for awhile. Then I would have later noticed that I just didn't fit in and wondered why.

Being a YRUU leader is hard, y'all. When the issue came up for us, we were really torn. We want to give the youth leadership power. But the leaders they choose often really don't seem to notice or care about the power balance within the youth. Perhaps it is hard to see from where they sit, all though when we point out that foofing might make some people really uncomfortable, the standard response is:

"Well, we will just convince them to do it as a bonding thing. They'll be ok with it if we talk them into it. They might seem shy at first, but they really want to. Everyone loves foofing!"

Never was peer-pressuring the less powerful youth into doing something they really don't want to couched in so lovely a term. What's next? Telling unhappy foofees to close their eyes and think of England? (More seriously, with the bodily contact and the whipped cream, the activity does have a very sexual feel, making the power dynamics of the popular kids pressuring the less popular still creepier.)

One of the other leaders eventually came up with a "foofing compromise" detailing that foofing would be the second night, people would have to consent to being foofed the day before, there would be no pressuring and that alternate activities would be available.

The first night of the con, we caught the group playing strip poker, so foofing was cancelled.

(Neither the foofing compromise nor the decision to cancel was my decision, but I did basically agree with both. Actually, I didn't love that foofing was going to happen at all.)

We've had similar issues with other things, another example being whether we could show Rocky Horror Picture Show at an overnight. (Full disclosure: I'd probably seen the rated-R Rocky Horror a dozen times before I was eighteen. And I honestly think it didn't do me any harm. But I had a fake ID and parents that didn't give a damn.) The prevailing opinion among the youth leaders seemed to be that if some people couldn't get their parents to sign a permission slip to see a rated-R movie, that wasn't the youth leaders' problem.

What is a youth-positive way to handle these issues when we have parents to answer to as well? (As well as our own concerns that even if the popular group is ready for this somewhat heady stuff, the other kids are not.)


Friday, May 19, 2006

An unusual buttock

It is like a barber’s chair that fits all buttocks, the pin-buttock, the quatch-buttock, the brawn buttock, or any buttock.

Shakespere, once quoted by Robertson Davies in reference to newspapers.

"Miss? Would you like a free newspaper?" The man stood at a lectern labeled "Washington Post" right inside the door of my local supermarket.

"Uh, sure," I said, shifting my groceries around and evntually setting them down.

"I just have to write down a few things," The guy said, maintaining the polite fiction that I wasn't about to get a sales pitch. "How often do you buy the Washington Post?" He asked cheerily.

In this case, the most irreverent answer was the truthful one. To speak perfectly honestly, I should have said "Whenever my brothers' crimes make the Metro section. Otherwise, I read it online." But I didn't. I just said

"Oh, every once in awhile."

"Do you get another paper?"

"The Sunday New York Times."

The guy thought for a moment, then decided to try another tack.

"What's your favorite section of the Washington Post?"

"Op-Ed." I said.

His smile dimmed.

"And after that?"

"Probably the front page." (Though I get most of my world news from The Economist.)

"And after that?"


"Do you like coupons?"

"I don't really use them much. I never remember."

"How about the entertainment news?"

"Not really?"


"Nuh uh."

"Home and Garden."




At that point, he did probably the only thing he could do, which was to ignore my preferences entirely. He launched into a talk about how rather than just getting the Sunday NYT, I could get a full week of the Washington Post, with all the specialty sections I don't read. And I could pay less!

I gave my standard response to sales pitches, "Gee, I'd have to ask my husband" and he assured me that this deal was one day only.

I shrugged. "Oh well," I said.

And I walked away.

I didn't even get my paper.

I should have known the interaction wouldn't go well when he called me "Miss."


Comment on a comment

In the comments on yesterday's post on race, Joel wrote:

"Oh, by the way, if you research gender issues you’ll find the same exact language, substituting “male” for “white”. "

I thought over this off and on for much of yesterday.

And I don't think I agree.

Oh, there are feminists who take an "anyone who disagrees with me on issue X must be a sexist" attitude. But I don't think they are all that common. After all, while some feminists certainly believe that all objections to abortion are rooted in sexism, you don't hear the idea discussed all that much. Most feminists seem willing to scknowledge that the issue is more complicated than that. Meanwhile, the idea that the only possible objection to undocumented immigrants is racism is so mainstream that I'm sure Sinkford didn't think for a moment before writing We are also called to acknowledge that racism has blinded most Americans to what takes place in our own kitchens, workshops, and fields in an official statement.

Last time I discussed this issue on someone else's blog, I was immediately hit with a question about undocumented immigrants that weren't from Mexico, the clear assumption being that I was a racist who would change her mind the moment she considered the possibility that all undocumented immigrants weren't Hispanic.

(Item: The person here illegally whom I personally know best is English.)

(Item II: The idea that anyone who disagrees with you is stupid and you completely understand them and can predict why they think what they do, will be the death of liberalism.)

Anyway, while I can recognize that all extremes start to look alike after a bit, I think the way we look at these issues is fundamentally different. Nobody calls Condoleeza Rice an "Uncle Tom" because she doesn't do enough for women, after all.


A little NSA humor

This made me laugh.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Now that's good snark

I hearted the New York Times' review of The DaVinci Code.

The review is chock-full of lines like this:

In spite of some talk (a good deal less than in the book) about the divine feminine, chalices and blades, and the spiritual power of sexual connection, not even a glimmer of eroticism flickers between the two stars. Perhaps it's just as well. When a cryptographer and a symbologist get together, it usually ends in tears.

Made me smile at 8 a.m. on a Thursday. No mean feat.


CC the walking womb

This is fucked up on several levels.


New definitions of racism

I know better than to write about this topic. I typically only get myself in trouble.

But I have this congenital inability to leave well-enough alone.

And there are lots of things about race issues I still don't get.

(Part of this is that I try to apply my own experiences as a woman, perhaps where they are not as analagous as they seem to be to me.)

So here goes:

I read someplace that the Seattle Public Schools have established a rather comprehensive definition of racism.

The part that stuck out the most for me was:

Cultural Racism:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.

And I find myself wanting to unpack that paragraph.

OK, I understand the issue with "nude" crayons and such and how only giving white examples of writers and composers. And I agree.

"Defining one form of English is standard" is in the middle. At least I understand what they mean. I tend to disagree with teaching ebonics on the grounds that it cripples the people we would be teaching. You can speak more than one kind of English if you want, but one form of English is used for cover letters that will help you get a job that doesn't suck. I guess I would be OK with Ebonics taught as bilingual education, but to straight up deny, as this seems to, that one form of the language is likely to help you succeed professionally in a way other forms likely will not, is at best naive IMHO.

(Right now, on America's Next Top Model, Tyra Banks continues to give Danielle all sorts of crap because Danielle talks like she's fron Arkansas. Though real celebrities hire accent coaches, Danielle is apparently supposed to be fixing this on her own. Next season, the girls have to do their own dental work. Ok, I'm getting off track here, but I just wanted to point out that you can't even have a job LOOKING BEAUTIFUL WHILE PEOPLE TAKE PICTURES OF YOU without people giving you crap about not speaking standard American English. In the case of modeling, I'll be the first to admit that it isn't very fair. But it's the way things are and I favor incremental change where no one generation's kids get sacrificed.)

Languages do change. Widely used but technically incorrect terms like "alot" and "Y'all" will eventually join the language. A good source for how this process has occurred (and a source gauranteed to bitch about every change) is Fowler's. (Try to score the second edition in a used book store. It's all snarky and Britishy.)

But the language is not changing fast enough for the idea that there is no one correct way to speak English to be anything more than a handicap to the students who are taught that way.

OK, now the other two as racism I don't think I understand:

"Having a future time orientation," When we talked about "future time orientation" in Psych class half a decade ago, I think I remember it was all about whether you saw any point in planning for the future. Not having a future time orientation was a sign of depression. (I'm recalling here how my friend Margaret, even when in the hospice, insisted that she was there to recover and get strong enough for chemotherapy. She was going to go back to Mexico and dig pots. She was going to see me get novels published. She knew damn well she was dying, as did we, but her sisters made it clear that Margaret had said the focus of the conversation was to remain on her recovery.)

Anyway, is that what we're talking about? It can't be the whole of it, I don't think?

Emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology Now this is the sort of idea the ChaliceRelative is into. Indeed, I know lots of white liberals who like it. My general impression is that most of these ideas work best on paper.

I don't agree with viewing things this way, though I know a lot of fine people do. I don't even object to teaching kids to look at things this way. I do object to the idea that to value individualism is inherently racist.

Is that what they're saying here?


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Washington Post Executive Editor talks about terminology

We frequently debate issues of language and terminology here at TheChaliceblog, be it the language of reverence or the proper way to refer to someone who is not in this country legally.

Today, Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie, Jr. took questions from the public in an online chat. Quite a few people asked about issues related to terminology, so I thought pass on what he had to say.

Chicago, Ill.: What is The Post's position on using the words undocumented immigrants vs illegal aliens?
It has been obvious to us who see through semantics that media who uses the latter (Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, etc.) understand the obsolescence of this government term.
Everyone knows that since Orson Welles' 1938 radio prank, aliens in the modern imagery are slimy, monstrous, non-human entities. To continue to dehumanize the 'illegals' in this manner seems overkill.
Leonard Downie Jr.: We try not to use the word aliens because it can be ambiguous. And we try to use illegal or undocumented in those instances in which either term is accurate.

Dunn Loring, Va.: Since The Post often uses the term "undocumented worker" to refer to an illegal immigrant, can we expect The Post to use a similar formulation to refer to other illegal activities, such as "undocumented driver" for driving without a license, or "undocumented doctor" for someone practicing medicine without a license? Seriously though, by using the term undocumented worker, isn't the Post taking an editorial position on the subject matter and thus losing some of its objectivity?
Leonard Downie Jr.: As I just indicated, where illegal is clearly the accurate term, we use it. A driver without a license is "unlicensed" driver.

Burke, Va.: A recent internal BBC audit recommended changing their internal style policy that prohibited the use of the words "terrorist" or "terrorism", except when quoting someone; the BBC found that by avoiding the use of these terms they were actually undermining their efforts to be accurate and credible. Do you anticipate changing The Post's policy in the near future?
Leonard Downie Jr.: We constantly review our policy and continue to use terms that are as precisely accurate as possible in each context.

Dunn Loring, Va.: According to my search of The Post's Web site, today's paper's identifies something/one as conservative at least fifteen times, while identifying something/one as liberal only three times? Why is being conservative noteworthy but something being liberal isn't?
Leonard Downie Jr.: Perhaps we did a better job in today's paper of covering conservatives than we did liberals.

As a kid, I asked my mom if illegal aliens were like E.T.

"No," she said. "They are people from other countries who come here looking for work. But they don't do their paperwork and the government sends them back if they get caught." (Naturally this is not a direct quote, but I recall that she neither defended nor condemned people here illegally in her response, but answered my question as simply as possible. This is very like my mother. Years working in low-income housing teach one a certian verbal contortionism on such issues, I'm guessing.)

"Oh, OK." I said, having lost interest in the topic.

That's pretty much all it took for me. And I really doubt that too many people reading this are fooled that the fundamental mission or behavior of "the Department of War" changed when it became "the Department of Defense."

Still, as I've said before, some people smarter than I am take the opposite view.

The whole chat is here. I thought Downie's responses were thoughtful and interesting. I don't know that language is as powerful as lots of people seem to think and tend to find these discussions a bit tedious, but surely the debates on them will rage on until we as a species develop telepathy.


Ideas for people whose spouses freak out less easily than mine does

One of my lifetime ambitions is to someday be a really cool old lady. That said, i don't think any amount of hipness I might achieve could rival
this woman, who has gone and gotten her DNR order tattoeed on her sternum.

From the article:
"She's always been a maverick," said her daughter, Mary Pat Wohlford-Wessels, assistant dean of the medical school at Des Moines University.

Wohlford-Wessels said she failed to talk her mother out of getting the tattoo.

"She said, 'Remember all those times when you were a teenager, and I said don't do this, that or the other thing? Paybacks are tough, aren't they?' "

and this:

Wohlford has no regrets about getting her tattoo "it felt kind of like a bee sting" and proposed an offer to Lietz, the shop owner.

"I told Gary I'd bring a busload of old ladies over if he'd give me a 10 percent cut."

I have never been, nor will I ever be, that spiffy.


Texas churches looking for ministers

Might want to be really careful whom they hire.

If you think I'm talking about your church, feel free to email me and ask me. I don't mind giving details of a few things people might want to know about somebody, but I'm not going to do it here.

Chalicechick at


More on high school rankings.

Newsweek came out with its high school rankings a few weeks ago and I wrote this about how pleased I was my high school had come in 85th in the nation.

When TheCSO and Psyton both pointed out that their high school had come in above mine, I thought of mentioning that this pointed to an obvious flaw in the rankings. My husband and his friend both went to a math/science magnet school. The best math/science students in Charlotte were all bussed to their school.

My high school was NEAR a math/science magnet. So some of the students who would presumably have been our best were sent there.

This factor may well make my school's achievements all the more impressive.

I thought through all of that, and realized I was being somewhat petty.

Well, now Linguist Friend has sent me this, which pretty much defenestrates the whole study.

Oh well.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Better living through cultural appropriation

"It's really not going to hurt," Dr. Siegel said, scary-looking dental tools in his hand.

I'm sure I looked like an abused puppy, but I was doing my best to be brave.

"I'll be just fine. As long as I can have sedation when I come back for my fillings." I said, spitting the last part out quickly.

"Sure," he said, making a note on his chart. "I mean, it won't hurt whether you have it or not, but you'll be calmer if you have the sedation. I can do it either way."

"Well," I said. "It seems to me that it will make your job easier to do if I'm not quite so tense."

The dentist laughed affably.

"Lady, I know you think you're scared, but believe me, you're an Israeli commando compared to some of the people I've had in this chair. Shall we finish your cleaning?"

I leaned back and opened my mouth, tensing for that awful scraping sound that accompanies a dental cleaning.

Scrape. Scrape.

Suddenly, unbidden, the words "Levi! Hold my AK-47 while I take a piss!" bubbled up to my brain as I pictured my Buddha-shaped self in brown camouflage with a canteen at my side. I had to stifle a smile to hold my mouth in the proper position.

Scrape. Scrape.

I thought about when I'd been listening to the two girls I used to babysit prepare for their bat mitvahs and one of them had said that the seven words that describe every Jewish holiday were "They attacked us, we won. Let's eat."



Scrape. Scrape.

And I thought about a close friend of LinguistFriend's whom I've never met, but who spent time in the Isreali army. LF's discriptions make her sound like the most badass person who has ever lived. SHE would be just fine in a dental chair, assuming the cavities weren't too afraid of her to set in in the first place.

Scrape. Scrape.

And somehow I survived it.

Maybe I can find an IDF beret to wear to my filling.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

"Frozen" on Mother's Day

One has to wonder about the sort of family for whom tickets to Frozen seem like an appropriate Mother's Day present.

But somehow, for us, it worked. The Chalicemom, ChaliceDad and theCSO and I had an early dinner, with Oliver's girlfriend joining us toward the end.

Then the ChaliceMom and I took the subway downtown.

From the moment "Frozen" began, with a scene so emotional that I found myself gnawing my cheek as if to somehow soothe my discomfort, I barely took my eyes off the stage.

It was a good play, though I might have enjoyed it more if it had been less well-acted. I loved the research psychiatrist, who brought a dark comedy to the peice in places. Also, the man who played the sociopath did a really wonderful job. A few things in his performance were more familiar than I wish they had been and I found myself wishing some of the physical quirks had seemed affected. The ChaliceMom didn't say much about it, but she was riveted.

The play had some problems. The playwright is too smart to believe that the question "How would you feel if somebody did that to you?" really ever brings about any real psychological insight*. I won't say the entire play hinged on that question, but the question's impact was greater than it should have been and made what came after a little too easy. What I know about these things suggests that to put oneself into another's shoes in any real sense is a capability such people just don't have.

A play about forgiveness is a tough thing for me.

I should probably have something clever to say here about the question of neurological problems as destiny and the idea that perhaps the line between sins and symptoms is blurrier than our typical view of such things allows us to imagine. The Presbyterian and the Unitarian next to her probably had somewhat differing ideas on that one, though really it gets us both because it raises questions on both original sin and perfectability grounds.

But I'm watching Desperate Housewives and drinking a large gin gimlet.

Perhaps when I'm done, I will have another.


*What is it with people who incessantly ask this question, as if they think that other people never consider another's feelings and thus this question will lead to a revelation? The question seems to frequently occur in people who have no sense of proportion whatsoever. I had a college friend who was constantly accusing me of insensitivity because I was too busy to keep up after her emotional needs, which of course were legion.

One time when I tried to excuse myself from one more bitch session about how a professor hated her, she drew herself up and asked with great dignity,

"How would YOU FEEL if your father died and your friend was too busy working on the newspaper to take a break and listen?"

"Your father died?" I remember responding.

"Well... No. But how would you feel?"

Usually when people ask "How would YOU FEEL if someone did that to you?" over some pathetic slight, my brain wants to answer "If I were a an immature git like you, I'm sure I'd be upset. But I pride myself on keeping a sense of perspective, so I doubt I'd fuss about something so very insignificant."

Friday, May 12, 2006

Moment by moment

Frequent readers of this blog must be damn sick of hearing about my wedding by now, but I’m afraid this post is slightly wedding-related.

The other night Our-Hero-Charlie-the-Vanquisher and Honorary-Sister-in-Law Tina were over for dinner. (We had “CC’s squished burritos,” HSILT’s last protein-rich meal before the doctor told her to stop eating so much protein.)

OHCtV had been at the wedding, though HSILT had to work, so we pulled out the wedding photos to show her, mostly looking for the cute one of her husband.

It was weird, y’all.

My wedding was less than two years ago, but the wedding photos had two people now dead, four couples now broken up and some six co-workers from my old job.

It was strange to see that and remember my life then. It wasn’t so different. But the things that have changed seemed so certain. My co-workers were a lot more dysfunctional, but a lot more interesting. I thought I would work there for a long time. Some of those couples were solid as a rock. If you’d known Margaret, you would have thought that she was one of those people who would never die because they might miss something.

I know intellectually that change is one of life’s only constants, but wow.

It makes me want to hire a photographer to follow me around all the time to document my life. I guess I don’t like to miss things either.

Actually, what I’d really like is a gospel choir to follow me around. Then, when I said something particularly snarky to someone who particularly deserved it, they would all go

“Oh-oh-oh YEAH”

And that would rock.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Go talk about fictional UUs at Philocrites

Philo has revived the "What fictional characters are well-suited to be UUs?" discussion, which was a favorite on beliefnet soem years ago.

Hooray for old-school beliefnetters ("old-school" being defined as "like two years ago.")

Anyway, I suspect I will have posts on:

1. Cooking vegan (Honorary-Sister-in-Law-Tina, who is pregnant, has been placed on bedrest and a low-protein diet. I'm cooking her meals for at least a few days, so I will prepare and review a few recipies from The Voluptuous Vegan and review them from a meat-eater's perspective. (OK, rarely a red meat eater, but an enthusiastic eater of fish and poultry.)

2. How we're getting housemates.

3. And assorted stuff in the news

When I get more time.



You know there is going to be legislation to stop this.

But it is still kind of funny.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A post about books that becomes a post about India

I don't have much to say this morning as yesterday I devoted most of my non-working, non-sleeping hours to Allegra Goodman's novel Intuition.

It was that good.

So that's my excitement.

Now I return to Laurie King's novel The Game, which is notable for its extremely accurate (IHMO) view of India through the eyes of a Western tourist. (Though of course Mary Russell isn't a tourist. She's solving a crime. And I might technically have been a student rather than a tourist. But one is inherently a tourist somewhere that foreign to one.)

And it is foreign. So foreign that when one returns, it is very difficult to talk about. Thus, I had the conversation "How was India?" "Oh, it was good" some three dozen times in the month I returned after my five weeks there.

The ChaliceRelative was bothered by this. She was convinced that I had been traumatized by my time there. She asked me open ended questions repeatedly and I never quite answered them to her satisfaction. I tried to tell her that I hadn't been traumatized, India is just hard to explain. Some months later, she and I were in a little shop in Alexandria, VA where I ran across a friend from college who had gone to India the previous year.

She started talking about India and I started talking about India and an hour later the ChaliceRelative was looking at her watch but seemed convinced that I was untraumatized.

In London some time later, I nearly got a waiter fired because he and I raved to one another for some fifteen minutes about the Bissau Palace Hotel in Jaipur.

Random India story: There were two old ladies who came along on our trip with us. Rather than the backpacks all the students had, they brought large suitcases under the assumption that thay would just pay somebody to haul their luggage around. There wasn't always someone to pay, so they often depended on us and in fact I actually threw myself off a moving train with one of those suitcases at one point. (I'll grant you that it wasn't moving very fast. But still, "I once leaped off the Ghandhidham Express in Mumbai while it was pulling out of the station" is a clear winner in that YRUU game where you have to tell a fact about yourself that isn't true of anyone else in the room.)

As far as I could tell, all coffee in India is made with milk. Your waiter will make you a coffee without milk if you ask for "American coffee" or just "coffee without milk." But you have to order it that way.

One time, one of the old ladies was having breakfast with a few of us. She ordered coffee. This restaurant, I should mention, was being run by a ten-year-old. Presumably the kid would come in and work breakfast, then go off to school while his parents dealt with the bigger crowds at lunch and dinner.

When the kid brought this woman her coffee, she started bitching at him because of course it had milk in it.

And I stood up and barked "First off, YOU ordered it wrong. Secondly, he's ten. I don't care if he runs a restaurant, he's still ten and you don't talk to him that way!"

I'd said it way too loud. Someone across the street was laughing at me. And my friends stared and the old lady stared and the ten year old with more professional responsibility that my nineteen-year-old self had ever had stared. And a cow walked by in the street, crunching the sandy road.

When I think of that moment, I smell spices.

India wasn't traumatic exactly, but the ChaliceRelative is probably right that I was never quite the same.


Monday, May 08, 2006

For what it's worth

I never threw any fundraising parties with hookers.

shaking her head.

Desperate Housewives thoughts

1. I thought the scene with Bree and Andrew was very well-written and well-acted. Bree brought that particular bit of difficulty on herself by messing with Peter's recovery, but still, she was just heartbreaking to watch tonight. I heart Bree.

2. Gabrielle sure did get over losing that baby quickly.

3. I'm glad Lynette gets a dramatic plot. Her husband is such a little kid.

4. Ok, so Karl did cheat on Edie with Susan. So why doesn't Edie burn KARL's house down? (I know, old complaint. But the assumption that men can't take responsibility for their own sex lives has always bugged me. It's so universal, though. I'm sure Catharine of Aragon blamed Anne Boelyn...)


Sunday, May 07, 2006

CC meets Robertson Davies' biggest fan

Yesterday it was free comic book day. I never miss a free comic book day at Edie’s, my beloved local used book store, Edie’s. (Edie’s is not actually called Edie’s. It’s called Hole in the Wall books, woefully inadequate website here.)

I didn't actually take any comic books, but sometimes on busy days, I stop by and offer to run the register for Edie while she goes and gets a cup of coffee. Also, I have a long list of books I am looking for and authors I will always buy, so Edie has a cubby for me in the back where she puts books for me. Yesterday, she'd turned up a copy of Robertson Davies' novel What's Bred in the Bone.

As I was checking out, a lady in a painted sweatshirt came through the door. She took one look at my purchase and squealed.

"That is the best book ever written!"

"Um... I like it," I managed to respond. That's a significant understatement, actually, but the woman made me nervous.

"It's about the male and female dynamic within all of us... and the marriage at Cana, and... and... I'm Robertson Davies' biggest fan!"

If pressed on the issue, I would say that it was largely about the forces that make us who we are and what it takes to live a satisfying life, but I wasn't going to get into it with this person.

"The whole Cornish Triology is good," I said.

"Yes, and the first one. About the plays and the singer," she said.

"The Salterton Trilogy?" I asked.

"Yes. That one was great. I didn't like the other one," she said.

"The Deptford Trilogy?" I asked.

"It was weird, I didn't understand it," she said.

"The one I didn't like was Murther and the Walking Spirits," I said. "My theory is that Davies was working on a new style. You can see some of that in The Cunning Man right after. But I think he died before he really got there. It's too bad. I think he was in the process of stumbling on to something new."

"Uh huh." The woman said in the tone of someone who had not actually read Murther and the Walking Spirits.

And she went back to talking and went on for awhile about how wonderful Robertson Davies was.

And I tried not to think of the epigraph to Davies' book of essays, A View from the Attic:

A book is a mirror: if a monkey looks into it an apostle is hardly likely to look out. -G.C. (Georg Christoph) Lichtenberg

But I was unsuccessful.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

So what was I celebrating, anyway?

So, last night I did what a lot of people did. I showed up at a mexican restaurant with some of my co-workers. (My day job co-workers went someplace else. These were my test prep co-workers.) I put our name in at 5:30 for a table and it took until 7:30 to seat us. I'm really anal about not drinking and driving, so I ended up just having one strawberry margarita that Jennifer Beautiful bought for me when I wasn't expecting it.
At some point in my night, between the sticky sweet margarita and the greasy nachos and the flirting and the teasing and the shotgun career and relationship advice that characterize a night out with one's buddies, I started to wonder. What were we call celebrating?
Our group, which was probably about a dozen people at its biggest, had three asian women and an african-american guy, the rest were white. (And how white we were. People who leave their academic or civil service or law firm jobs and go teach MCAT preperation to a bunch of aspiring med students tend to be as preppy-aspiring and uncool as people get.) We were so British-looking as a group that it was almost more likely that we would be celebrating a French loss than a Mexican victory. As far as I could tell, the only latinos in the whole restaurant were the ones running the place. I had planned to tip 50 percent and did, though my waittress turned out to be African-American.
Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I wondered why we did what we did. Truth be told, I am no great fan of the mexican government. In terms of the immigration question, American conservatives are quick to blame the undocumented workers for being poor and seeking out a better life, the liberals are incensed that conservatives dare see our financial resources as being finite. Nobody thinks to blame the Mexican government and the corrupt politicians who leave office hundreds of thousands of dollars richer. People in Mexico who protest the government tend to get shot or disappear. Maybe they would have been better off if Napoleon had won.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Old Movie star icons

At my office we use Yahoo instant messenger for interoffice communication. Such messaging systems let one pick an "icon" to represent oneself. I wanted an icon of Katharine Hepburn, but I couldn't find one.

So I made some icons of old movie stars. Feel free to take and use them. Blogger makes them look sort of funky here, but they will work well for the purpose. Garbo didn't come out right, but I may put her up later. These should work for both AIM and Yahoo instant messenger.


Thursday, May 04, 2006


A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail note from a colleague on an organization's board of directors, a colleague of Sephardic Jewish provenance, in the course of which she quoted well-known lines which she tentatively (but at least correctly) attributed to the Pharisee Rabbi Hillel. Hillel, originally from Babylonia, was famous as an influential exegete and teacher whose later life probably overlapped the childhood of Jesus chronologically. Of course, the lines she cited were the classic lines of Hillel variously rendered, which in Francine Klagsbrun's wonderful "Voices of Wisdom" (1980) are stated "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" When I followed up the source, I learned that this saying is found in the section of the Talmud entitled "The Wisdom of the Fathers" (in Hebrew, Pirke Abot; published separately in Judah Goldin "The Living Talmud. The Wisdom of the Fathers and Its Classical Commentaries", Univ. Chicago Press 1955, p.69-70). Goldin describes the content of the treatise as "a collection of maxims, sayings of the Synagogue Fathers from the Men of the Great Assembly (sometime between the latter half of the fifth and third centuries B.C.) down through descendants of Rabbi Judah the Prince in the third century of the Common Era. These maxims are a record of the Fathers' preoccupations, their emphases and values, and their epigrammatic formulation of reflections on what constitutes God-fearing, civilized conduct and thought." (ibid p.10). The maxims, of course, come with commentary on every sentence and clause. This saying of Hillel is found in the first chapter, preceding those of the more conservative Pharisaic Rabbi Shammai, who flourished during the same period. The conflict between these two rabbis on a few issues, and between their students on further ones, is legendary.

The Talmudic context of the treatise is perhaps surprising. In earlier editions of the Talmud, the treatise in question was placed in the section on jurisprudence or damages, near the end, between the treatise on idolatry and that on decisions. My aged English-language Babylonian Talmud (2nd ed. trans. M.L.Rodkinson, Boston 1918) places it before all of the other treatises on jurisprudence, because it deals with the ethics of life and therefore, in the view of the editor, should be given precedence. Such a location is sometimes not without significance. I was startled recently to realize that the placement of the Talmudic discussion of community charity within the section on the law of partnerships mutely implied an extension of partnership relations to the level of the whole community.

This particular Talmud did me the honor of taking up residence on my shelves about a quarter of a century ago. At that time, when I lived in Iowa City, my friend John Else, a minister of the Disciples of Christ who has subsequently become a distinguished practitioner of microeconomics in the third world, and his Jewish woman friend Nina, found it in a local bookstore, and gave me the first volume for Christmas (!). John and Nina, of course, knew how compulsive I am, and that I could not bear to see such an important set of books split up, so of course I was driven to go buy the other volumes immediately. But John and Nina also made clear that someone who had read as many Greek Christian texts as I had should at least make the acquaintance of the main compilation of the post-Tanakh Jewish legal and doctrinal tradition. Since I had the good fortune to grow up in a time and place in which I found myself in regular contact with a relatively liberal and open Jewish community, in contrast to the relatively conservative and closed Christian community of that time and place, that was a reasonable assumption. I did not, on the other hand, learn to use the Talmud in my youth, as described movingly by Chaim Potok in his novels of Jewish youth of half a century ago ("The Chosen", "The Promise"), so that no doubt I missed much in it and still do so.

The commentary of R. Nathan printed in my Talmud interprets the lines of Hillel in relation to the necessity to reach a reward and do good deeds during life, since after death noone can do these things for one. "For a living dog fareth better than a dead lion" in the words of Ecclesiastes 9:4. Many other sources cited in Goldin's edition (ibid pp.69-70) expand these thoughts in a rich train of contemplation on how one should behave in life, in relation to the need for self-reliance, for the need to act virtuously while one can on the basis of that freedom of action which has been granted by God, for inquiry as to the needs of the day, for going beyond the necessity to take care of one's bodily needs to the obligation to serve the Lord and perfect one's soul. Even if one has striven to do right things oneself, one is also obligated to teach others to do so. And as one goes through life, one should strive in one's youth to acquire good qualities and habits, since they are hard to acquire in old age (Maimonides). Finally, "Let no man say, "Today I am busy with my work; tomorrow I will turn to the task of perfecting myself." Perchance the opportunity will not present itself. And even if it does present itself, that particular day has vanished utterly and an opportunity of serving the Lord has been lost; it can never again be recovered (Rabbi Jonah)." For me, at least, although I must interpret some details metaphorically, that is hard to argue with.

The closest that I have come personally to that world was in 1989 when I visited the synagogues of Prague, as a side visit to a medical meeting held in a city which constitutes a great open-air Baroque museum. One day, a Cincinnati surgeon came back to the meeting with a bewildered report that in the Jewish City of Prague he had seen a synagogue where there was buried a medieval rabbi who had invented a robot. I immediately realized that he had somehow come close to the burial-place of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (c. 1520-1609), known as the Maharal of Prague, said to be the creator of the golem, of which Eli Wiesel has written in a book that is almost as magical as its subject. The golem was a primitive man made of clay, who would do the bidding of his creator, and especially would defend the Jews of Prague in the case of danger of a pogrom. Belief in such creatures was sufficiently widespread at that time that whether a golem would count as the tenth man in the minyan, the quorum for liturgical purposes, was an issue on which there was serious discussion.The golem, however, could not speak, so that at times I have thought that I have spent my life in the search for what distinguishes a human being from a golem.

After the reminder of the resting-place of Rabbi Judah Loew from my colleague from Cincinnati, on the next day that I had an afternoon free from the meetings, I made a tour of the ancient Prague synagogues. I preserve a small album of photographs bought then, to keep fresh the power of my impressions from them. But when I entered the graveyard of the Klaus synagogue, I seemed to be led by some invisible guiding force, around the building to the far end of the synagogue from the entry. There I found the prominent tomb of Rabbi Judah Loew. In its cracks, visitors had inserted written messages to God on pieces of paper, in the belief that the occupant of the tomb would be able to transmit them to His attention on their behalf. And I know that some readers of these lines will doubt that very much, but I do not want to do so.

Linguist Friend

When Helen Thomas gave the graduation speech at my high school

Kim asked me what I remembered about Helen Thomas' speech.

Graduation was on the football field that year and it was really hot. I wasn't graduating, but some of my friends were. One friend came in rather dissheveled for some reason, so I took her in the bathroom and fixed her up, putting some makeup on her and smoothing her robe. As a result, my seats for the graduation weren't good.

I paid careful attention to her talk as I wanted to be a reporter myself when I grew up. Some things I remember:

-I first heard the phrase "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" from Thomas, who used it about journalism, not religion.

-She talked about how she had chosen a field where she would always be learning, but even those of us who picked different paths should always be learning ourselves.

- The internet means that we are all connected. So the peoples of the world should should stop bitching at each other.

-My generation is in charge now, do our best.

All in all, not a graduation speech that rocked anyone's world. James Carville was funnier the following year, as was Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales when Jason graduated. But I've heard quite a few graduation speeches and Thomas' was one of the better ones. Washington Post Columnist Judy Mann gave a terrible speech my year and Chairman of the NEA Dana Gioia didn't impress me at theCSO's college graduation.

After the speech, everybody else was running to congratulate the graduates, I let the moms and dads do that and ran up and talked to Thomas. I don't remember much of the conversation. She advised me to write all I could if I wanted to be a reporter. I do remember she had a delightful enthusiasm in the way she spoke. It was engaging and made me want to keep talking if only to bond with such a cool woman. I bet that quality has come in handy for her.