Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Five things you probably didn’t know about CC

I’m picking up this blog meme from Miss Kitty’s

1. I really wish Diane Keaton were my mom.
You know that Mom character Diane Keaton plays, the slightly neurotic and interfering, but endlessly well-meaning one? I’ve seen it in several movies and her next movie that comes out Friday seems like yet another example of the archetype. I have friends who have this sort of mother, one friend’s mom interferes to the point that she actually told the CSO “I can’t make people make the right decisions, but I can make the right decisions a lot more convenient.”
I get that this is sort of creepy, and I wouldn’t want the motherliness taken to un-Diane-Keaton-like extremes. Even Keaton herself goes too far sometimes. For example, I really think she is unduly mean to Sarah Jessica Parker in “the Family Stone” when she flips out because Parker says that she wouldn’t want to have a gay son because his life would be so much harder. But she behaves that way because she loves her gay son so darn much.

My own Mother has dedicated her life to working to help poor people and taking care of the more pathological people in my immediate family. It’s admirable and great.

But I kind of wish she’d just once have set me up on a blind date with someone really inappropriate because she was worried I’d be an old maid.

2. Biscuit cans terrify me.
I have a weird little phobia of those Pillsbury biscuit cans that keep the dough under pressure. Rationally, I understand that they will not burst into flame in my hands, but I still hate them and am most comfortable holding them with tongs. At the same time, I think this is a stupid thing to be afraid of and have opened many biscuit cans in an attempt to rid myself of this fear.

I told a psychologist I know about this fear one time, hoping she could suggest a cure.

“Ugh!” she said, “Doesn’t everybody hate those things?”

3. I’m really good at a bunch of useless things. I can compose limericks in about five minutes and can write in verse or Iambic pentameter quickly, I speak Pig Latin as fast as I speak English and I frequently break the record on “Whack-a-mole” machines.

4. I taught myself to read when I was three and a half. My first books were Nancy Drew. My mom read me one chapter a night and Nancy Drew chapters always ended with a cliffhanger. It would drive me crazy to have to wait for the end.

So I taught myself to read. But I wouldn’t admit that I could read until I was seven because I believed my parents would stop reading to me if they knew. After Nancy Drew we started on Treasure Island and then all the classics my parents had read as kids, and then classics they’d always wanted to read. My mom read to me at night until I was 14 (it was mostly poetry by then), and after she stopped I didn’t sleep well for about a decade, though my sleeping has improved a lot in the last few years.

5. I can recite Yeats’ The Fiddler of Dooney from memory. It's my favorite poem.


Weird stuff you see at the post office

Monday, January 29, 2007



The Chaliceblog is, of course, a labor of love.

At the same time, it's always nice to get recognition for something you've worked hard on, and I work hard on this blog.

To wit, I'd like to ask for your vote in the UU Blog Awards

Thank you in advance,


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Kinda makes CC want to fly AirTran

According to this article, a toddler who wouldn't stop screaming got her family kicked off a plane recently.

Julie and Gerry Kulesza were headed home to Boston with their three-year-old daughter Elly on January 14 when kiddo decided to throw a massive temper tantrum as they were boarding the plane. An AirTran spokesman told the Associated Press Elly "was climbing under the seat and hitting the parents and wouldn't get in her seat."

Airtran refunded their money and gave them free tickets and they got home just fine a day later, but the family is still all over CNN talking about how terrible it is that they were not allowed to annoy the entire plane for the whole five hour flight.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I'm still alive, BTW

I just haven't had much to say recently.

I'm trying to learn to speak Spanish, so I am working my way through a Rosetta stone course. It turns out Rosetta stone courses are incredibly fun. I took two years of French in school and I have learned more Spanish today than I learned in a month of French. But at least at the beginning, Rosetta Stone is about comprehending Spanish, not being able to produce it.

Still, looking at Boris and saying "El gato es negro" pleases me way too much.

Also, I've decided to get hooked on a Mexican Soap Opera. I picked one called "Acorralada" at random. So far it's pretty good, with a lady faking some sort of illness and an attempted murder all in the first episode. Should anyone be an aficianado of the Mexican soap opera and have a better one to suggest, I'm all about that. I looked for "Betty La Fea," which "Ugly Betty" is based on, but the Tivo couldn't find it.

La fea mas bella (I'm missing an accent mark there, but I don't know how to do one in blogger) looks to be very close to Ugly Betty, judging from the ads, but unfortunatly, it's on the same time as "My Name is Earl" and a girl has to have her priorities...

who has noticed that the actors and actresses on Mexican Soap Operas are largely white and finds that depressing.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Streamlining our Nominations

First off, mucho thanks to everyone who nominated the Chaliceblog for various UU blog awards. We like validation here and it delighted our little competitive souls to be the most relentlessly nominated UU blog.

But LF and I have conferred and we're withdrawing from a few contests. We're pulling "If you've just joined a new faith, nobody gives a damn what you think of your old one," "Steinmetz and His Minister" and "Thoughts one has looking through a book of Renoir paintings in the waiting room of a hospice as a close friend gets her morphine drip changed," leaving "In My Father's Synagoge" as the sole entrant in the "Best Anecdote or Narrative - Single entry" category from the Chaliceblog.

Also, I thank kindly the person who tapped me for "Best Commenter" for my comments here, but I'm going to pull out of that category too.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

UU blog awards

I'd really appreciate your nominations/votes in The UU Blog Awards.



Wednesday, January 17, 2007


When I looked over my year's compositions, I realized that most of them fell into a limited set of themes. More than I would have thought reflect an overlap of Jewish background and Unitarian themes. In this group, I especially like "Linguist Friend Muses about Steinmetz and his Minister" about a great and isolated research engineer, but my favorite is "In My Father's Synagogue" on my family’s venture into church-founding in the South of a half-century ago. They reflect the functioning of very different Unitarian churches. The discussion of Albert Schweitzer’s Unitarian connections in "A Unitarian More or Less", on the other hand, brings in a more explicitly Christian background.

I try to bring something distinctive in my short studies that aim to clarify or substantiate a Greek NT text; this is material that otherwise would not usually be available to UU audiences, or to most Christian ones. Fausto and I had a vigorous and stimulating discussion about Luke 2.14 (“Season’s Greetings from Linguist Friend: "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men"”, and “A note from Linguist Friend on Luke 2.14" with related comments at The Socinian) in December. However, I think that the short sketch “Linguist Friend Puzzles over the Lord’s Prayer” in May provides a useful clarification of the significance of a prayer that is deeply meaningful to most people for whom Christianity is important. Since the sources of that prayer are mostly Jewish, of course, it could have gone into the first group.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Last year's Chaliceblog -- A retrospective


The ChaliceBlog's big news in January was the infamous Fix UUism Contest where I solicited suggestions from all over the blogosphere for ideas for improving the UUA. The theory was that we would eventually vote and present our ideas in some formal manner.

Unfortunately, while people were enthused to make suggestions, only seven people cared enough to actually VOTE. So I quietly abandoned the idea and didn't discuss it further.


I wrote a lot of posts about the death of my friend Margaret, of which Thoughts one has looking through a book of Renoir paintings in the waiting room of a hospice as a close friend gets her morphine drip changed was probably the most interesting.

Also, in The Harvard Club wants me, oh yeah, they know they do I wrote about how Harvard Divinity School has spontaneously decided I'm an Alum.

I wrote about humor and religion in Making fun of other faiths, making fun of mine.

Also, I realized that I was giving the wrong impression in Odd Happenstance of the Day

April was a really good blogging month. I wrote about what it means to exploit tragedy in Flight 93: Is it too soon? and wrote about my mixed reaction to YRUU drug education in It's like OWL, except with drugs! and I pondered the question of whether sociopaths have souls in Everything Breaks Down at Sociopathy

Also, I gave a long answer to a difficult question from a YRUU kid, and formulated my opinon on the 2006 Peacemaking resolution in How can you be a UU and kill people?


I kicked off May by pondering El Cinco de Mayo in So what were we celebrating, anyway? I wrote about some of my experiences when I hiked around India in college in A post about books becomes a post about India. I reviewed Frozen a play about sociopathy that I saw with my mother in Frozen on Mother's Day

June began with a narrative post entitled Of Courage and Beestings. I wrote about couples who are bad for one another in Poison for Each Other, Passion for Each Other. Also, I covered GA extensively with UUGA06: Boom Shaka Laka! as one of my more interesting posts. Wrapping up the month was Christianity doesn't really work for me, a slightly delayed reaction to the Lord debate.

I wrote a peice of commentary on trying to visit a friend in the hospital entitledWhen the Black-Haired Nurse wants to know how close a friend you are. I explained the roots of a long-held antipathy of mine in What IS it with CC and Hippies

I stuck up a first draft of a law school personal statement, titling it Unhealthily Obsessed with Justice. I ended up going a different direction with the personal statement, but it was still a fun peice of writing.

Maybe I'm getting picky, but nothing I wrote in September really rocks my world. That may have something to do with the fact that I took the LSAT on September 29.

Joel at CUUMBAYA asked people to come up with an explanation of how a UU Church differs from a Star Trek fan club that does charity work, I really liked my response UUs Vs. Trekkies: Who's a Religion? And I ranted on a long-held pet peeve with If you've just joined your new faith, nobody cares what you think of your old one.

I wrote about Halloween in the Notorius C.C. I reviewed a novel with UU characters in CC reviews Beginner's Luck.

I usually don't write much in December. but I did write An Unbeliever on Christmas Eve, which I thought was pretty good.

Why we should all be Googling every Goddamn thing these days...

So the other day, a friend was telling me that science has proved that anyone can do anything. He'd seen a documentary, you see, and read some books where eminent scientists were saying that quantum theory had proved that our ability to walk on water was merely an imagined limitation. Schrodinger's Cat and all that.

I thought this was weird. I asked for the names of the scientists involved and whether the studies had been peer reviewed.

My friend was kind of shaky on the details, but lent me a book by one of the guys quoted in the film.

A bit of judicious Googling later, I had found out his "documentary" was 2004 movie What the Bleep do we know? This is an apparently slicky produced, convincing movie that was funded by a devotee of a mystic named JZ Knight, who makes her living channelling a spirit named Ramtha*

Of the scientists quoted in the movie, the most reliable-sounding is Columbia University Philosophy Profesor Dave Alpert who writes actual peer-reviewed papers. But it turns out that he gave a four-hour interview about how wrong the filmmakers were about everything, which the filmmakers edited down to make it appear that Alpert agreed with them.

There's a truly amusing Salon article on the controversy called "Bleep" of Faith

I don't know about y'all, but I blame Michael Moore.

Ok, not really, but it does disturb me that the slicky-produced documentary that lies through editing is so prevalent these days. How easy that medium makes it to present one side of the story, edited to look seamless, while leaving out such inconvenient concepts as peer review and fact checking.

Indeed, the Wikipedia article debunks the science in the movie thusly:
Most importantly, a most essential point about quantum mechanics is bypassed in this movie. Quantum mechanics deals with small systems, and quantum effects (especially Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle) are applicable only to matter on the scale of the de Broglie Wavelength. The movie exploits these effects by falsely implying that they (especially a wavefunction associated with an object and probability calculations concerning this object) are applicable to everyday objects, e.g. basketballs, humans, or fountains.

As the purported experts speak throughout the movie, they make several references to concepts, ideas, and alleged facts about quantum physics and other specific items. However, few of the scientists involved are actually professional physicists doing research in quantum mechanics, and one of those that do do such research, David Albert, has complained that his views were deliberately misrepresented.[1]

The movie also fails to explain precisely how the theory of quantum mechanics actually proves any of the mystical or religious teachings found in the film. Statements from physicists are made which are then intercut with statements from medical doctors, people who have created their own religion, and others. No logical argument connecting the findings of quantum mechanics with the movie's core message is offered.

Most of the film's claims about quantum mechanics are wildly inconsistent with what physicists have discovered from quantum mechanics. The idea that the measurement (observing capacities) of conscious observers creates reality is implied to be a widely held position in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. However, the movie's interpretation of this position is far from what most physicists actually believe.

Some of the film's experts, particularly Amit Goswami, repeatedly refer to the process of measurement and observation in quantum mechanics and speculate about the relation between consciousness and the material world. They claim, for example, that human beings have the capability to create their own reality; Dr. Miceal Ledwith even asserts that human beings have the capability of walking on water. Evidence is not offered.

In contrast, physicists do not believe this ability to freely choose the future to be true in anything other than a metaphorical sense. The facts of measurement and observation are far more prosaic. Specifically, if a system is in a state described by a wave function, the measurement process affects the state in a non-deterministic, but statistically predictable way. In particular, after a measurement is applied, the state description by a single wave function may be destroyed, being replaced by a statistical ensemble of wave functions. The nature of measurement operations in quantum physics can be described using various mathematical formalisms such as the relative state formulation or its equivalent form the many-worlds interpretation. Noted physicists such as David Deutsch do take this interpretation quite literally.


Critical thinking grows more important every day.


*Incidentally, JZ Knight has been sued for telling people with AIDS to abandon their medications and be cured by her. I hate that. Why do fake mystics have to go there? Can't they steal people's money any other way without killing them?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Left Behind: Eternal Forces - A review of levels one and two

Chalicesseurs may recall that a few weeks ago, I requested somebody buy me the "Left Behind" video game, promising you a review of the game.

I recieved the game.

I've played the game.

There's a good reason why that review hasn't appeared yet.

I REALLY suck at it.

I can't get past level 2. And despite the fact that it has an interface and gameplay feel similar to "Warcraft," there's no skirmish option allowing one to just have a battle against the computer. You have to run the missions in order. And I can't get past mission 2, where you have to recruit 8 people to the army of God. I've been over and over the game board. I can only find seven people and I keep getting killed by street gangs.

Faced with the situation and my own desire to review the game, I did what I think any gamer would do--I looked on the internet for ways to cheat. Non-gamers may not realize this, but when a new game comes out, codes that let you cheat show up on the internet almost immediately. Also "walkthroughs" where someone who has beaten the game describes how to win.

None of that stuff is available for "Left behind:Eternal Forces," which made me wonder if the game has tanked. Message boards about the game exist all over the internet, but they are almost completely empty.
The game's Amazon ranking is 5000th among video games. I searched for just about every game I could think of and couldn't even find one with a lower rank. So, above all, that's good news to people who don't like the game.

Given my suckage at level 2, what I'm going to say here comes primarily from the first two levels and the tutorial. But that actually was enough to get a pretty good idea of the game and the misconceptions people have about it.

First off, you don't run around slaughtering unbelievers. Well, not exactly. Left Behind:Eternal Forces has the people on your side, the people who follow the AntiChrist, and regular people. You can kill the followers of the AntiChrist, who in some cases are trying to kill you, though you can usually sneak around them. Converting the regular people is central to the game. If you kill a regular person, which you have no motivation to do, your "spirit" drops and the unit who performs the killing will likely turn against you unless you make them pray a whole lot.

The focus on conversion is a unusual convention for a video game, and I kind of liked it as a gameplay thing. In the game, the implication is clearly that in one brief conversation a regular person is convinced to join you army and never questions you again. I was talking over the premise with Our-Hero-Charlie-the-Vanquisher a few weeks ago, and he raised the point that he didn't like that in the "Left Behind" books, the Antichrist has a sort of mind control. He can just make a person believe him totally. Not to put too fine a point on it, but in the bible Jesus is pretty good at just meeting people and instantly convincing/bribing them to abandon their wives and children and follow him (Matthew 19:27-29, Mark 10:28-30, but most clearly in Luke 5:8-11). So giving the Anti-Christ an equivilent power seems reasonable.

The violence isn't really a big deal when compared to equivilent games, and again you lose "spirit points" for killing and must pray to regain them. Of course, you can go kill again then. A more interesting mechanic would have been if any unit who killed truly repented and refused to ever kill again and thus had to be retrained as medical troops or carpenters or gospel singers or something. As it is, hitting the "prayer" button feels very automatic and becomes a totally unthinking reaction.

There are no people of color in the "Left Behind" game.

The gameplay is clunky but not awful. TheCSO has a lot more gaming experience than I do, and he says that it's really not very good. I didn't find it particularly distracting, though the scenery gets repetitive after awhile. The music was decent as video game music goes and the tutorial was really good.

TheCSO wasn't a fan of the gameplay, but I like Warcraft-like strategy games and I had fun until I got stuck.

Anyway, so there you go. There was a lot of fuss over a decent-enough game that isn't anything particularly unsual and is flawed, but reasonably fun to play.


Saturday, January 13, 2007


I have been intrigued by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) for some time, but when I have read in his work, time after time I have found mainly exhortations to carry out the doctrines of his particular form of Christianity. However, sometimes a star flashes across the sky, as in an important passage in which he reflects on his reading in the physicist Carl von Weizsaecker's then recent book on "The World View of Physics" (1943). Bonhoeffer has in mind the common point of view in terms of which religion has to do with those problems of human existence for which science so far has provided no answers. Against this point of view, he writes of Weizsaecker's book: "It has again brought home to me quite clearly how wrong it is to use God as a stopgap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that's bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat." To the contrary, he writes: "We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know; God wants us to realize the divine presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved. That is true of the relationship between God and scientific knowledge, but it is also true of the wider human problems of death, suffering, and guilt." The text can be found in the collection "A Testament to Freedom" (1995, p.506).

From Bonhoeffer's suggestion, my thoughts leapt in two directions. One was towards the Hellenistic Jewish female personification of wisdom, which in this mode of thought is broad, ranging from the knowledge of a skilled workman to the principles of virtuous life. Traces or explicit mention of such personified wisdom can be found in various sections of the New Testament, and elsewhere in early Christian writings it is sometimes found in relation to the second and third persons of the trinity, as can be seen in the wonderful "Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church " (3rd ed. 1997) and in citations under the word sophia in G.W.H.Lampe's "Patristic Greek Lexicon" (1968).

The second direction that came to mind was the concepts of God that were expressed at various times by Albert Einstein. When I was a young student, I had the privilege to know the physicist and philosopher Philipp Frank, who succeeded Einstein as professor of theoretical physics at the University of Prague in 1912. Frank knew Einstein and his work well, and wrote a classic biography of Einstein (1947). Frank noted that in some of his comments on religion, Einstein "wanted to emphasize the common ground of liberal Judaism and liberal Christianity in their conception of God." At other times, Einstein would use the term "God" as a figure of speech, as in his famous remark "God is sophisticated, but he is not malicious", indicating Einstein's personal faith that the world made sense and could be understood. It has often seemed to me that the traditional Jewish and Christian faiths are really quite conservative in their assumptions, compared to the faith of scientists that the world really does make sense, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

This is stupid, but I like it.

Alan Rickman is free to hang out in my basement anytime.

who has a lot going on and isn't up to writing right now. Don't worry, this will pass, it always does.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Odd housemate conversations

CC: I wonder if any of my pals will be at the Anti-War rally at the end of the month.
Our-hero-Charlie-the-Vanquisher: Anti-War? Ha! I know how to end the war. Say that unless the insurgents surrender, we will nuke Mecca...
TheCSO: Like, Mecha Godzilla? Wouldn't he survive the blast?

thinking, "maybe you had to be there..."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Oh those wacky Swedes...

Seen in Ikea

When a YRUU overnight and a meeting of the regional transgender group happen on the same night in the same church.

Not one kid said one thing that was disrespectful, or even implied
that there was anything unusual about the meeting. When one girl
overheard that somebody wanted the number for the local pizza place,
she pulled out her cell phone and gave it to the woman who asked.

Now on the one hand, I realize that being able to share a building
with strangers who are different without treating them in any way as
an outsider is a pretty baseline requirement for decent human

But at the same time, I know what the jackass kids I went to high
school with might have been like in the same situation. And I know
that even good people don't always live up to the ideals of tolerance.

But my YRUU kids treated the transgender folks just like everyone
else, to their faces and behind their backs.

One can have a lot of complaints about Unitarian Universalism, and I do.

But we do a few things right.



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

--Lisa Simpson

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Has anyone had a bad customer experience with United Airlines?

If so, this guy would like to hear about it.

UAL screwed his parents out of a few thousand dollars and he's collecting consumer complaints.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Is this the best damn season of CSI ever, or what?

I've got a lot going on and I'm afraid I'm not smart enough to blog about something more interesting than TV.

If I were, I would mention that two Episcopal churches in my area have broken off to join the Nigerian Anglican church. I mean, those churches accepting the leadership of an African-run denomination seems pretty amazing. I guess sometimes homophobia is stronger than racism.

But again, the last scence of CSI tonight left me gaping at the television.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Two things that disgust CC

A televangelist is getting sued for telling the world that her brother's throat cancer was healed by God. The man is now dead, but her book is still being advertised by her site:

the volume is still on sale through her website (price $15) under the blurb: "How God healed her of breast cancer and her brother healed from throat cancer"

Armed and Famous a new reality show where celebrities are trained as police officers. As one observes on "Cops," no knock raids make great television. I wonder how long it will take for them to have the celebrities participate in one. Shaq did, after all


Monday, January 01, 2007