Thursday, July 30, 2009

I really don't get the appeal of opinion-y TV journalism

A Chalicesseur sent me a clip from the Rachel Maddow show about "the Family" and suggested it as a subject for this blog. I watched it.*

If you want to watch it, it's here.

But I have to say that as I watched it, I didn't find myself thinking about the subject of the piece, though I stuck that in a footnote on the off chance than somebody cares.

I was like "People actually WATCH this stuff?"

For the past few weeks, I've been listening to radio and TV personalities wax on about Walter Cronkite. Let me say up front, loud and clear, that I am certain that Cronkite was a great guy. But the way people talk about him kind of creeps me out.

First off, he is usually talked ABOUT by old white guys going on about how nothing is as good as it used to be and technology is ruining everything. I'm a pretty serious believer in free speech, but if I had the power ban old white guys bitching about technology and how life used to be better, I'd give the matter serious consideration.

But even looking at how Cronkite's contemporaries talked about him creeps me out. I mean, everything I've seen suggests that LBJ actually said "If I’ve lost Walter, then it’s all over. I’ve lost Mr. Average American" when Cronkite came out against the war.

Even assuming the less scary interpretation of those words, that Cronkite was a bellwether and that LBJ thought Cronkite would figure out the war was a crock around the same time a majority of Americans would, it still gives Cronkite a creepy amount of power.

I'm really cool if my reporters never come out against a war, and watching Maddow made me realize how strongly I feel this way. Y'all know from my previous post today that I pretty much agree with Maddow when she says that Birthers' cause is the "Fringiest of Fringey McFringerson conspiracy theories."

Yet I really don't want to get my news from somebody who says that. I'd just like to hear the arguments and bssic facts, then make my own judgments**, looking up primary sources up on the internet as necessary.

At the same time, the Maddows and the O'Reillys and the Olbermanns and the Hannitys have no lack of fans, so maybe I'm alone on this one. And I can accept that. I mostly get my news from the internet, and I can't deny that Maddow is the latest in a proud tradition.


*IMHO, the best way to judge the spookiness factor of "the Family" is by their results. One of the reasons that Obama's win was a relatively easy one is that the Christian right didn't get much of what it wanted from Bush despite his promises. While Roberts and Alito don't make my top five Supreme Court justices, they are hardly as scary as what the Christian right had in mind. After eight years of the Bush presidency, Roe wasn't much weaker than it was when he took office, mainstream acceptance of gay marriage was looking more and more likely and one of the few things the Christian right got out of the administration, abstinence-only education, has lead to more pregnancies in the places where it was implemented and will be abandoned in some of them as federal support decreases.

So yeah, the "Family" doesn't exactly have me shaking in my boots despite their attempts to be kingmakers. Frankly, with their bit about dictators, they sound more like a bunch of frat boys than an actual political organization. That they keep cheating on their wives and making racist comments on the floor of Congress is not a big surprise.

If the Family DO turn out to be evil overlords, my bad, but there's my take.

** As someone who likes creative legal arguments, I have to give the Birthers props for "The constitution say that to be president you have to be 'a natural born citizen.' but the founding fathers didn't define 'citizenship' the way we do. They likely were thinking of something like the definition from "The Law of Nations” by Emmerich de Vattel written in 1758, which requires your parents to both be citizens for you to be a 'natural-born citizen.' de Vattel's definition was likely what the founding fathers meant and we should use a definition of the word "citizen" that matches what the definition of those writing the law would have been. Ergo, Obama isn't a citizen."

It's bull hockey, but it's really enjoyable bull hockey.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Music that even CC's Dad would approve of

Probably. (But he was and remains difficult to please)

I know you say to yourself, "Self, I really wish there were a UU composer out there writing moving, powerful music that would rock my congregation's world and/or just inspire me personally."

Well, wait no more. Friend of the Chaliceblog Clif Hardin is just the person you're looking for. Go check out his website.


Ps. The requiem is great stuff. I attended the first public performance and people were crying. It was probably the most powerful service I attended all that year.

Gates tapes released

I don't get why the cops took so long to release these. There's nothing especially damning here for either side.

A few points:

1. The issue of race doesn't come up until the 911 dispatcher asks. The caller describes them as "larger" (Gates is 5'7" and 150 pounds) and says one "might be hispanic." Crowley writes in his police report that the witness told him that there were "two black males with backpacks." I guess Crowley was told a different story when he got to the scene. But that's really, really odd given that the 911 call and Crowley arriving on the scene were moments apart. That she would be inaccurate is not a surprise given that she was looking at their backs for just a few minutes. That she would be inaccurate one way and minutes later be inaccurate a different way is kinda weird.

2. The suitcases are mentioned by the caller from the beginning, and are mentioned on the police radio. No one talks about backpacks on the tapes. Again, this differs from Crowley's report, but he could just have been told different things or reported inaccurate facts.

3. Crowley said in his report that he radioed from inside the house to say the man was being "uncooperative" and that is born out by the tape. He later told the New York Times that he had to step outside because Gates was being loud. Crowley's voice is VERY clear on the tapes, and Gates' is a blur in the background. At one point, it sounds like he says "No, I want..." but otherwise, his voice is an inaudible blur. It's not at all clear whether he's talking or shouting. If he is shouting, it's certainly not loud enough to make ANYTHING Crowley is saying inaudible. So yeah, Crowley's excuse that Gates was being so loud that it was "making it difficult to transmit pertinent information to the ECC or other responding units" does not seem to be true. The 911 caller has to repeat herself more than Crowley does.

4. I don't see anything in Gates' version that is contradicted directly by the tape, though Gates doesn't really talk about the times that the officer was talking on his radio, so that's not a big surprise.

5. The caller says of the two men "So, I'm not sure if this is two individuals who actually work there, I mean, who live there." I guess it was just a slip of the tongue. But it made me sad to wonder if, for a moment, she saw two big guys, one of them hispanic, and assumed they must be either breaking in or carting the luggage of the REAL guy who lived there as it reminded me of a story Will Shetterly posted about Gates buying a fancy house in Raleigh, NC, then being constantly assumed to be the help when he was in it, with workers on the renovation he was doing asking him to point them to the owner.

So that's that. I don't think the tapes really show all that much and I wonder what the fuss about releasing them was.


Wacky wedding entrance dance

I've defended people's right to do any silly thing they want that to celebrate their wedding at the reception, but something about this happening in the church portion of the wedding kinda bugs me.

What say you?

The minister seems to know about it and be into it. So I don't mean in her church specifically, that's her call. I meant as a general trend.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Memo to self:

Buy building, get this guy to decorate it.

Cool, huh?

Though the passersby are the least realistic parts, I think their inclusion so adds to the work.

And if you think those are cool and don't know about Ron Mueck you should check him out, too.

In classier, or at least older, art, PB enthused about the Titian show. I'm thinking that 8 hours each way on the chinatown bus is not happening and a commuter flight isn't so bad as long as I leave on a Tuesday. I'm going to see if Jana who creates wants to go.

No promises.


Ps. This is both creepy and awesome.

Things could be worse.

As much as I think the guidelines I try to set for Chaliceblog comments are pretty basic and obvious, and as clear as I feel I've made them, people do violate them sometimes.

Yet commenting situation could be far, far, worse around here and I know it.

Or, as the guy who draws XKCD puts it, "the internet has always had loud dumb people, but I've never seen anything quite as bad as the people who comment on YouTube videos."

Or to put that another way:

A review of the posting guidelines

-Try to stay on topic. If you must digress, make it an interesting digression. Your political views, beefs with other commenters, etc, etc, are not really all that interesting.

-You can be insulting, you can be pointless, but try not to be both in the same comment.

-Puns about the WVC are really freaking old and need to stay out of serious threads.
(No, I'm not arguing about what's a serious thread with you. I'm telling you that making a pun about the word verification code makes it very likely that I will at least consider kicking it and the more serious the thread is the more likely I am to kick it.)

-Don't make fun of anything in the DSM or accuse other people, jokingly or otherwise, of having conditions in the DSM. Maybe that's just a pet peeve of mine, but there are millions of blogs where you don't have to pay any attention to my pet peeves. If you can't follow this, go find one.

-We don't have a problem with ethnic slurs here or anything like that, but in general, comments that insult large groups of people who share beliefs, political affiliations, etc. (e.g. "Christians," "Atheists," "Republicans") are highly frowned upon.

Don't want your comments kicked? Act like you're at a party talking to your friends. When you're at a party, do you repeatedly interrupt serious conversations with puns that no one gives any sign of finding amusing? Do you randomly insult large groups of people, assuming that if anyone from any of these groups is offended or hurt that it's their problem? Do you insult someone who is trying to talk to someone else and/or tell people they are stupid for disagreeing with you because you are so obviously correct? Do you come up to other people's conversations and change the subject to something you find more interesting?

If so, that's why you don't get invited to many parties.

I'm glad I don't have most of the problems that the girls in the video have, but my standards for reasoned discourse are still higher. The CB used to be a fun party. I'd like to get it back there.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

I wouldn't call myself a John Travolta fan

But I really liked him in "Hairspray." I loved how he took a part that was essentially a walking fat joke in every other production and gave his portrayal a real sensitivity and depth of character. I loved how Travolta and Christopher Walked played what to me felt like a very real couple in love and I thought their number was one of the best in the show.

And having Tracy's mom be able to dance, and letting her dance, was just wonderful.

I get that a lot of people don't like his scientology inspired anti-gay rhetoric and I don't like it either. But frankly, I have these things called ovaries. And said ovaries pretty much guarantee that many, many of the great figures of history wouldn't have had much respect for me or thought I particularly needed an education or anything. So on some level, I feel like I've got to let that stuff go and focus on the good things that historical figures have done. I apply the same logic to liking Travolta's movies.

Anyway, Travolta seems to be backing away from the Church of Scientology. There were rumors that when Travolta's son died, the church were complete asses about it. So the reasons why Travolta might not feel like a scientologist seem clear enough, and that he would be brave enough to break away makes me like him more. I did a paper on cults last year and looked at quite a few scientology cases and leaving that church isn't easy.

I don't know if he will be able to do that. Maybe it's all just rumor anyway.

But I'm pulling for you, John.


CC is taking an exam now

So behave yourselves in the comments for the next four hours and feel free to appeal to the deity of your choice on my behalf. Non-theists and atheists may feel free to simply wish me well.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Giant Gates FAQ

Are you a lawyer?

Hahahaha. No.

Can you give me unofficial legal advice?

Hahahaha. No.

Can you give me unofficial regular advice?

Unless you’re Stephen L. Carter, be nice to the cops anytime you interact with them.

But I am Stephen L. Carter.

*Blush* Will you sign my very dog-eared copy of “The Emperor of Ocean Park?” I love that book.

OK, moving on, what do you think happened between Gates and Officer Crowley?

I think Gates was rude to Officer Crowley, and that pissed Crowley off and Crowley arrested him illegally.

Let’s unpack that. Why do you think Gates was rude to Crowley?

Because even in Gates’ own account he sounds like he was at least snippy. Also because I think most people are pretty cranky after flights from China to Boston.

How long does it take to fly from China to Boston?

It averages 19 hours. Dude was probably exhausted and sore and jetlagged.

Do you think Gates’ perception of racism caused him to act in a more rude way?

I’m sure his knowledge about how black men are often treated by the police upset him even more, but I doubt that was the only factor.

Do you believe that Gates initially refused to show them ID?

Even the police report said that he showed it to them fairly quickly. So if he refused once and agreed a minute later, I don’t see how that should matter.

So you think that Crowley was annoyed because Gates was rude?


Do you think Crowley was a racist?

Officer Crowley once gave a black guy mouth-to-mouth. Though there is no definitive proof in this world that somebody ISN’T a racist, I’d say that’s about as close as one can get.

Can one be a non-racist, but still be an arrogant jerk?


Why did Gates come outside?

Because the officer asked him to.


Both before he knew Gates was a Harvard professor AND afterwards according to the police report.

Was it OK for the officer to ask him to come outside before he knew he was the legal resident of the house?

I guess so, though I don't see the point. But I don't have a problem with it.

But he also asked Gates to come outside after he knew he was the legal resident of the house, and when Gates had lost his temper?.


So the officer DID go outside and try to remove himself from the situation?

Sort of. He did go outside, but he doesn't mention having given Gates his Harvard ID back, and he does mention that Gates was still asking for his name and badge number and that he wasn't going to talk to Gates anymore unless Gates followed.

So the officer carried Gates' Harvard ID outside?

Crowley mentions taking it in the report, but not giving it back. I think he took it outside with him for the following reasons:

a. Crowley said he was transmitting information from the ID in his radio call and that he was unable to make his radio call in the house. Unless Crowley memorized the ID, he would still need that to transmit the information that by his own words he was trying to transmit. The simpler explanation is that he took the ID with him.

b. Crowley would likely have written that he handed the ID back to Gates in his report as he is trying to get across the idea that Gates was acting crazily and he was acting reasonably. Taking away a man's Harvard ID and not handing it back is the sort of behavior that provokes people. Crowley does everything he can in the entire rest of the report to emphasize that he wasn't provoking Gates. So the simplest explanation is that if he'd handed the ID back, he would have written it in the report.

Given that, I think what Gates did, follow him outside, is what just about anyone in the situation might have done.

If Crowley gave Gates the ID back and Gates followed him outside for some other reason, how would that change the situation?

Crowley probably would have written about that in his report. But it doesn't change anything legally, it just makes everyone's actions make slightly less sense.

Why did Crowley say that he wanted Gates to step outside the house?

He said that Gates was making so much noise that he couldn’t hear his radio.

How bad could the acoustics in Gates’ house possibly be?

If it is a fancy house with a lot of marble, pretty bad I guess, though the police report makes it sound like the kitchen is right off the front door, which is not typically the design of truly fancy houses.

Shouldn’t Crowley have gone ahead and stepped outside if he knew Gates was living in the house and Crowley wanted to hear his radio?

He sort of did, I just tend to think he just took Gates' ID with him. But his report says he knew other cops were around at that time so he could have turned around and told one of the cops standing in the doorway to radio in and focused on calming Mr. Gates down and apologizing.


Well, that would be the polite thing to do given the circumstances and how upset Gates was. If this wasn't a false accusation in words, it was one in deeds.

Did the officer have any good reason for wanting Gates to come outside after he knew Gates was the legal resident of the house?

Not that I’ve seen in any account of the incident.

But he told Professor Gates that he should come out on the porch if he wanted to continue the conversation anyway?


Why would Professor Gates want to continue the conversation?

Because he had asked the officer for his name and badge number and the officer said he wouldn't give them to Gates unless Gates came out on the porch. He claims that he had already given them to Gates twice, but that was still a strange thing to say if he didn't want Gates to come out on the porch.

If Gates was yelling, how was Crowley supposed to give him his name and badge number?

All Massachusetts police are required to carry cards with their names and badge number for just this situation. Crowley apparently chose not to use his.

So what was the effect of Mr. Gates going out on the porch?

It gave the officers a chance to decide he was making a ruckus in a public space and arrest him.

Is it legal to arrest a man for making a ruckus in his own house?

Not usually. If he’s threatening anyone, maybe. If it’s the middle of the night, that’s usually a ticket, not an arrest.

So if Gates had never left the house, they couldn’t have arrested him?

Certainly not legally, and I can’t even think of any trumped-up charges that would have sounded remotely plausible . The usual trumped-up charges for pissing off a police officer are either resisting arrest or disorderly conduct. Someone who isn’t getting arrested and is in his own house really obviously doesn’t qualify for either.

Can one get charged for disorderly conduct for something one does on one's own front porch?

There’s no case law that is perfectly on point. The closest I can find from Massachusetts is that you CAN get charged for it in a public street in the city and you CAN’T in your front yard if your front yard is hidden from the street by a fence. But the basic idea behind disorderly conduct is that it is the sort of behavior that is troublesome or disturbing to the general public.

Were there members of the general public around?

There were half a dozen people watching, including the lady who called in the burglary and the neighbor who gave/sold that photo of Gates to news organizations. My guess is that the folks there were effectively gawkers.

Can you give some more common examples of the sort of behavior that gets disorderly conduct charges?

Public drunkenness, soliciting prostitution, barfights where nobody gets hurt and there’s not much property damage, begging, busking, being a peeping tom. Some of those crimes have more serious versions. The disorderly conduct charge is what the serious charge gets knocked down to if the judge likes you. You know how if you’re speeding and you fight the ticket in court and the judge likes you, he knocks it down to “improper equipment” so the fine is less and you don’t get points on your license? It’s like that.

So basically the disorderly conduct charge is questionable at best?

At best.

Is it possible Gates did something else illegal?

If he did, it would be in the police report and he would have been charged with it. This was not a complicated incident. No real analysis or investigation is likely to have turned up any other charge.

Are people having a lot of trouble with this concept?

Yes, oddly enough. Let’s go through a few examples.

Are you sure Gates didn’t threaten the officer?

Yes. The officer would have mentioned it in a heartbeat and would have charged him for it.

Are you sure Gates didn’t seem like a threat to himself?

Yes. The officer would have mentioned it in the police report and charged him appropriately.

Didn't Gates disobey a police officer?

Disobeying a police officer isn't a crime everywhere, and most of the places it is, it's a crime to get in the way of an investigation or a crime to disobey during an emergency. The reports suggest that Gates did everything the officer asked him to do, albeit slowly and with protest, and things only really got heated after the officer knew Gates lived there and didn't immediately start apologizing and leaving. So the "investigation" part was over. There was no emergency going on, so that requirement doesn't apply either. And again, if the officers could have charged him with that, they likely would have.

Is it possible that the officer felt threatened by Gates?

Anything’s possible, but by the time of the arrest the officer knew Gates was a Harvard professor. And if you’ve seen the infamous photo, you know that Gates was like six inches shorter than the officers at least, much less muscular and much older.

This does not paint a threatening picture. And the officer's feelings aren't relevant to the law as long as he didn't make any threats.

Would a white guy in the same situation have gotten arrested?

Not in my experience. For example, no report I’ve seen suggests Gates cussed at the officer. My brothers (26, with at least a few inches and 75 pounds on Professor Gates) have cussed out police officers before, and the cops usually ignore it.

Speaking of your brothers, have either of them been arrested, and had the cops say something like “the fine will be $40 and we know you can pay for it because we went through your wallet?”

Not that they could recall and they’ve both been arrested many times. As far as I can tell, that was entirely to make Professor Gates feel more violated. But the only version we have of that event is Gates’ so it is possible the police would have an explanation or deny that happened. Also, it’s possible my brothers have never been arrested for a crime so piddling that the fine was only $40.

What’s the worst thing Gates is alleged to have said?

“"I'll speak with your mama outside,"

Does that sound like something a Harvard professor would say?

No, it sounds like a line of dialogue from a Pam Grier movie, which makes me think that it’s what a white guy thinks a black guy might say. I’m not inclined to believe that he really said it.

But what if he did?

Then I’m not signing up for any rhetoric classes he’s teaching, but arresting him was still illegal.

What if he called the cop a racist?

I suspect he probably did. But arresting him was still illegal.

Isn’t insulting a cop illegal?

NO! Tell your friends.

Is there anything he could have said to the cops that would have been illegal?

Physically threatening them. That aside, not that I can think of.

What about crying out that a representative of the government is doing wrong as he arrests you?

It’s pretty much exactly what the founding fathers had in mind with that whole free speech thing.

If Gates had been really sweet and polite, would this have ended easily?


If Crowley had started apologizing the moment he saw the Harvard ID, would this have ended easily?

At worst, there would have been a complaint to Crowley's department, which would have been "investigated" then ignored. Complaints about cops that don't involve violence are usually not taken particularly seriously.

Was it a good idea for Gates to be all Al-Sharptony with the police?

Well, first of all, that he was Al Sharptony is my assumption, not a known fact. But while it gave Gates an unpleasant afternoon, it has raised a lot of awareness and gotten people talking about the fact that this stuff can happen to people who really haven't done anything wrong. And hey, maybe the next time the police are thinking about hassling a black guy, they will wonder if he's Cornel West and decide it isn't worth the trouble.

Why do you mostly use the police report rather than mostly using Gates' version?

Because I ultimately come to the conclusion that Crowley was in the wrong and I can do so using his own account and the arrest he made and the relevant statutes and caselaw. Being able to say "Even using Crowley's version of what happened, he was still in the wrong makes a stronger argument.

If Gates was really rude and Crowley arrested him for a trumped-up charge, then why is Crowley in the wrong and Gates not?

Because "always be polite to the police" is not a requirement to be an American citizen. "Don't make illegal arrests" IS a requirement to be a police officer.


EDIT: Robin pointed out in the comments that Crowley had asked Gates to come outside BEFORE he knew he was the legal resident of the house as well. I added some clarifications on that point.

EDIT II: I've tweaked several sections about Gates coming outside and his potential reasons for doing so and I added two extra questions to the end, one that I was asked over email and one that clarifies another point.

EDIT III: PG mentioned in the comments that whether or not Crowley kept the Harvard ID, Gates still didn't have his name and badge number and Crowley made clear that he wasn't getting it again until Gates came out on the porch. I recalled that Fairfax County police are required to carry business cards with their name and badge number. I wondered if this was true of Massachusetts police. Yes, it is. So Crowley's explanation that he COULDN'T give Gates his name and badge number because Gates was yelling so loud is also bull.


Mostly The Police report Crowley wrote

The Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts though I mostly looked them up in Lexis-Nexis rather than using that source. for the time it takes to fly from China to Boston.

This New York Times Article and its interview with Crowley

I didn't really use Gates' version much for reasons I explain above. But it is here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

CC and Natasha Lyonne could totally be friends

From an Interview with New York Magazine.

When’s bedtime?


Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
Old, yo! I remember being a terrified preteen havin’ all kinds of questionable fantasies walkin’ round there — the thrill is gone.

What do you think of Donald Trump?

I don’t.

What do you hate most about living in New York?
Bugs, mice, rats, and people.

Who is your mortal enemy?

Myself … but we’re starting to make nice.

When’s the last time you drove a car?
Some things are better left undisclosed.

How has the Wall Street crash affected you?
I’ll never sleep with Bernie Madoff again.


A fan since "But I'm a Cheerleader" and now even more of one.

One more on Gates

Diggit said something really great in my comments and I just wanted to make sure people saw it.

She wrote:

"I think it's very likely that somehow, Gates has, over the years, built up an image of himself as somewhat special and privileged. After all -- he is! And I'm certain that male Harvard profs who are white consider themselves special and privileged"

I have to say that one of the most disturbing aspects of this story to me has been the 'how DARE that black guy think he's anything special just because he's a Harvard professor.' undercurrent to some of the public reaction.

I can't speak for Harvard professors, but we sure as hell expect the professors at other good schools to have huge egos. I could tell you STORIES. And I've gone to much less fancy schools than Harvard*.

Do we only let professors keep huge egos when they are white?

CORRECTION: Diggit wasn't making the point I thought she was making. IMHO the point I thought she was making is still correct, though. We hash it out in the comments and she put in her entire original post which you can also read it in the comments here.


*I've also known plenty of humble and reasonable professors.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Henry Louis Gates speaks out

Here's an interview with Gates on his arrest.


When I was talking about how people of all races should have the right to be dicks to the police

The Henry Louis Gates incident is what I was talking about.

As I wrote about here my redneck kid brother is a total ass to the police every time they meet and that rudeness has translated into tickets and never into arrests. (Or asskickings, for that matter)

Am I assuming that Henry Louis Gates was, to some degree or another, an ass to the police?

I am, if only because most people would be in that situation. I will admit that some things Gates is alleged to have said (e.g. "Is this what it means to be a black man in America?") are a lot more believable than other things he is alleged to have said (e.g. I just don't see a Harvard professor going on about somebody's Momma.)

Again, I think in an ideal world, no one should be a dick to the police and the police should be reasonable in return. However, if there are going to be arrests and asskickings over rude behavior, white punks should get them too.


Ps. Oh and in the rare category of "racism stories with happy endings," remember that summer camp of primarily African-American kids who were turned away from the pool they had contracted to use? Tyler Perry is sending them all to Disney World.

PPs. My husband and his buddies from Charlotte, North Carolina always refer to the "crimes" that get African Americans pulled over for no reason as "driving while black." Boing boing is calling Gates' offense "Entering own home while black."

Monday, July 20, 2009

CC posts something nice about hippies

Ok, this is the sweetest thing ever.


New Chaliceblog rule I'm considering

I don't have to run new rules by the Chalicesseurs, but I like to. In that spirit, please consider: "Discussion of the word verification is grounds for your response being immediately kicked."*

Because thinking out and writing a post takes real time and effort, and when people respond with "Tee hee! My word verification says DISCO" or the equivalent, it's really fucking rude to someone who has put a lot of work into entertaining you for free. (No, the fact that people have been rude to you in the past does not justify further rudeness here.)

Also, it gets other people talking about the word verification and not the post, thus further reducing the quality of the comments and people's desire to write posts in the first place. That last point is very important to me as there may come a time when the Chaliceblog will need to become a group effort or die and if my potential guest writers have decided that the Chalicesseurs don't actually give a shit about what is being written, my guess is that "die" will be the end result.


who won't impose this rule ex post facto, and perhaps not at all, but wanted to talk about the idea.

*In the past, I have only kicked four kinds of comments:

1. Comments of my own that I rethought or wanted to fix a typo in
2. Comments that the author asked me to kick.
3. Spam
4. Comments that were not just insulting, not just pointless, but both, and I've been very sparing in kicking those.


The face looking out from the front page of the July 8th Toledo Blade was somehow familiar. I wondered whether the short beard and bicycle helmet were just archetypal, or somehow I had actually seen them and they had stuck in my memory. The main connection I have in Toledo is that I attend a UU church there once or twice a month, but I could not remember seeing him there. The Blade reported that a 66 year old man named Robert Brundage had been assaulted and beaten on June 22 while returning from a civic meeting under the label Jobs with Justice, one of many civic groups he participated in or organized in Toledo, the rustbelt Ohio home town to which he had returned in 1997 after a career as an research scientist and engineer in Massachusetts. Brundage was involved with over twenty civic organizations, probably far too many to maximize effectiveness, thus giving some support to the view of the personal friend who described him with respect and affection as a true eccentric. Ironically, while many of his civic efforts were aimed at bettering the lives of the poor people of Toledo, it was one of those people who assaulted him, breaking his jaw and causing bleeding into the brain, resulting in his death on July 7. And it was a good brain; he had earned a doctorate in biophysics at Brandeis University west of Boston in 1969. We might well have had mutual acquaintances, since I had friends at Brandeis in that period, although primarily in biochemistry. Brundage's topics, such as applied acoustics and biophysics, are close enough to areas in which I have published that I have an idea of how such a person thinks, which creates a sort of immediate intimacy when one meets a previously unknown colleague, for instance at the Acoustical Society. So to some extent I recognized him, although I did not know him.

Dr. John C. Jones, president of the Greater Toledo Urban League, posted on the League's website a memorial on the passing of Brundage, with an important observation. Considering the motivation of his attacker, he wrote, "Make no mistake, the answer is not as simple as "he was a bad kid". We as a community must dig deeper to address and confront the areas of dysfunction that surround our youth, from families to institutions to individuals." Toledo is a city with about 14% overall unemployment of adults of working age. For Afro-Americans such as the young man accused of attacking Bob Brundage, unemployment is appreciably higher. When I lived in Los Angeles, my memory is that at any one time about half of the young black males were in trouble with the legal system. Until recently, for some time one of that number was my adopted youngest son, who stayed and worked in LA after his parents left, and made some poor decisions. To gradually work his way through the legal system until he could become self-supporting again after that cost much of the money I had set aside for retirement. Without those resources, it would have been impossible to ever get him out of the legal maze which has an effect much more destructive than many of the petty crimes that it punishes, with the result that the United States has about one person in a hundred adults in prison, more than any other country in the world (see "Incarceration in the United States " in Wikipedia). 70% of those incarcerated are non-white. As my youngest son said wonderingly and appreciatively to me recently about the situation from which he has emerged over the past few years, "Most people don't come back from there." Instead, they often lash out at the world around them in aimless but partly understandable fury.

I attended First UU Church of Toledo on the Sunday after Brundage's death, and when I was leaving I stowed my name tag up on the board near the entrance. On the line above it, about an inch away, I saw the name tag of Robert Brundage; probably I had subconsciously noted that name on one of my visits earlier. His religious affiliation was not mentioned in the July 8 Toledo Blade article about him which I have drawn on above, although the names of a First Church UU couple active in interfaith and civic affairs, quoted in the article as friends of Brundage, would lead to that connection. Most probably I had seen him at church and stored that image. He was a friend of First Church, and he was also a friend of the rest of the world.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Consumer choice has no greater fan than CC

But even I find Trader Joe's selection of Salami rather intimidating.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Shards of Potter-y (sorry)

1. Preview before the show had yet another disaster movie where the White House gets destroyed. That never fails to get me in my gut. I could be frogmarched to another country and forced to spend the rest of my days there, and destroying the White House would still mean destroying home to me.

2. Alan Rickman didn't have as many scenes as he probably should have, but he sizzled when he was onscreen, at least partially because there weren't any scenes of him being pointlessly petty, which always detracted from the hotness of the movie.

3. Some of the changes that the movie script made improved the movie, most in subtle ways though one in a quite significant one. If anybody still cares, ask me in a week or so.

4. Years ago when I was liveblogging the Harry Potter books as I read them, I thought two scenes would be straight up awesome in the movies: the "Weasley twins drop out of Hogwarts and advertise their business" scene in book five and the "A pissed-off Hermione makes little birds appear in the air, and then sends them flying at Ron" in book six. I didn't think that the movie of five did justice to the Weasley twin exit, but I have no complaints about what the book six movie did with the birds.

5. The girl who plays Lavender Brown is REALLY hilarious. She totally overacts yet is somehow completely believable in her character.

6. Ron is kind of the butt monkey in this movie. OK, he usually sort of is, but it's doubly true in this one.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Here's a fun UUism question

I do not believe in treating the seven principles as a creed. I don't hear them used as an explanation of what we're about, I do not like to see them used as evidence for someone being a good or bad Unitarian and I certainly don't like seeing little children memorizing them in RE.

Don't want songs about them, don't want calligraphy bookmarks of them, don't want them on the wall of the church, etc, etc, and soforth.

BUT I feel I'm in a clear minority.

UUs talk constantly about we need to be able to tell people what we're about, talk about our values, etc, etc and soforth.

So they use the seven principles for that.

Here's my question.

Given that people are going to treat the seven principles as a creed anyway and that a change to them would effect everybody at least in the sense that we'd need new bookmarks and RE materials, shouldn't we have more than a bunch of GA junkies voting for them?

Should there be a special rule that if you're going to change the seven principles, they need to be ratified by X percent of congregations?



Monday, July 13, 2009

Stealing Jokes from my YRUUers' Facebook pages

Yes, it's come to this.

YRUUer's Status:

Friend's response:
I have a little extra dignity, i think you may need to borrow that.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Don't you wish you had the talent to make stuff like this?

I wish I did.

If your computer doesn't like horizontal things on the Chaliceblog, you can Watch it here.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

In other news

I discovered a poet that I really like today. Her name is Nikki Giovanni and here's an example of her work:

Possum Crossing
by Nikki Giovanni

Backing out the driveway
the car lights cast an eerie glow
in the morning fog centering
on movement in the rain slick street

Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes
a little raccoon
I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did
could not escape the cat toying with his life
Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home . . . being
naturally . . . slow her condition makes her even more ginger

We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling neighbors:
we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and
railroad crossings

All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs
think themselves invincible and pay no heed
to the rolling wheels while they dine
on an unlucky rabbit

I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it's not a deer
or a skunk or a groundhog
coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me
and into the empty passenger seat
I look . . .
relieved and exasperated ...
to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf
struggling . . . to lift itself into the wind
and live

CC singin' gospel

Another review I wrote for the City Paper.

Tomorrow, I'm going to May 39th/40th at Jana-who-Creates' request, then I'm going back to the gospel-singing show and bringing the ChaliceMom.

Oh, and I have another review to write.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

No Borat for CC, no Bruno either

Ok, to be honest, I really hated the IDEA of Borat and what clips I saw of him humiliating his easy, easy targets. (Let's embarrass some rednecks! That's new! Oh, nobody EVER makes fun of southern frat boys. Let's do that. And poor people in Eastern Europe, let's make them look REALLY stupid. Hil-LAR-ious!)

I knew from the reviews, even the positive ones, that I didn't have the stomach for that movie. But I liked Sacha Baron Cohen just fine in "Sweeney Todd" and had hopes that for his next movie making fun of poor people might get old and "Bruno" might find himself in a Whole Foods surrounded by people whom his middle class audience wasn't quite so ready to laugh at automatically.

Judging by this,it's not happening and Baron Cohen is right back to humilating stage mothers, evangelical christians and, of course, rednecks in multiple settings.



Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Linguistfriend wrote this, I'm just posting it -CC

In the fall 2008 issue of the UU World, there is an interesting and generally useful note from Bill Sinkford about "Learning from the interfaith world" (p.7). The winter issue of the UU World prints comments on Sinkford's note; the present response to Sinkford's discussion was held back until it appeared that some important aspects of it would not be addressed in the UU World. Recent discussion makes it relevant again.

Towards the end of his note, Sinkford combines in one paragraph several points that are not all as clear as the preceding remarks on interfaith events and interactions. He writes "Finally, we need to get over our Christian-phobia. Unitarian Universalists will joyfully chant the Buddhist sutras, delight in midrash of traditional Jewish texts, recite Native American prayers, and sing Gospel hymns. But ask many Unitarian Universalists to join in reciting the Lord's Prayer and you are in big trouble." This theme is expanded in his next paragraph, with particular reference to the Lord's Prayer. "We must be able to respect [i.e. recite, apparently - LF] the Lord's Prayer", he writes.

Sinkford's first general point here is an important one. Christian-phobia is a chronic and serious issue, common in the UU world, which can paralyze and isolate not only individuals but whole congregations. I have sometimes felt it a great advantage that, not having been brought up as a Christian, I gain a great deal from exploration in Christian sources. I do not have to fight those fights. But for those who do have to fight them, they are very real. Sinkford seems to ignore the fact that to recommend participation in a ritual of a religion from which one has turned away may be an exquisitely painful suggestion for those UUs (the majority, probably) who have left Christianity with great personal loss and distress in dealing with friends, family, and a former religious community

Going on to Sinkford's next point, a number of UUs are comfortable in adopting the prayers or other forms of liturgy of other religious groups. To the contrary, it strikes me as illegitimate to adopt the forms of a worship in which one does not believe, outside of cases of compulsion or some extreme pastoral situations. Where a worship form takes place with which one cannot honestly agree, an alternative is simply to be silent and wait for something in which one can more comfortably share. To adopt such forms insincerely is no compliment to those who do believe in that worship, and it is easily imaginable that such quasi-worship could backfire in interaction with other religious groups.

A side issue, generally and strangely ignored, is that there is nothing inherently Christian about the Lord's Prayer, although it has been adopted as a central text of Christianity. I have pointed out on this blog, and it is widely recognized, that its text is a conglomerate of elements of Jewish prayer. Synoptic studies suggest that the shorter version in Luke (11:2-4) probably is closer to the source than the liturgically adapted usual version in Matthew (6:9-13) and the closely related version in the second-century Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, VIII 2). To treat such a text as Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer as a fetish of Christian belief is even stranger for Unitarian-Universalists than it is for Christians.

Finally, Sinkford's recommendation flies in the face of the freedom of belief which is central to Unitarian-Universalism. For him to state that UUs should be ready to participate in the worship of a religion to which many of them have no adherence is disturbingly consistent with occasions on which he has spoken for the UUA on political issues without any mandate to do so. Such conduct suggests a Roman concept of religion, according to which potential Christian martyrs were released if only they would express their worship of the emperor publicly. Apparently Sinkford has no understanding of why so many of them did not do so.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Peacebang's awesome post

Peacebang has a great post about the UUA presidential election. I'm still cooking over various parts of it in my head and I commented there about some of the things I'm thinking.

I don't think any of my comments will be new to frequent readers here who are well aware that, for example, I am very uncertain how to reach out to other cultures without being patronizing or if doing so is even possible.

Anyway, go read what she has to say, it's a thoughtful, important post.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Go read this, it's great

Jess has a really wonderful post on the Peacemaking resolution. I share lots of her questions and concerns about it.


I love stuff like this

A glucose-reader video game to encourage diabetic kids to take care of themselves. It turns a painful task into a Nintendo game by giving them points for measuring their sugar levels and keeping them within the medically-optimal range.

One of the reasons I'm a humanist, and one of the reasons I get so snotty when old white guys romanticize past decades, is that I love technology and I love how we're constantly adapting technology to solve human problems in clever ways. This sort of thing, this simple idea, is going to make the lives of diabetic kids, and the parents who are trying to teach them to take care of themselves, so much easier.

I love how human beings have this drive to create and to improve things. Even though we do make mistakes, even though some of the improvements have unintended consequences, I remain optimistic about the future because of simple ideas like this.

Awesome. Just awesome.


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Oversoul so has a point

On his blog Root and Source, Oversoul writes:

Will the Rt. Rev. explain to his Maker why he used his position and influence to enforce ancient Semitic prejudices instead of say, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, taking care of the “stranger” or visiting the sick?

would love to see a break-away group of radical Anglicans who were fundamentalist about Jesus’ calls to ethical living; imagine if they focused their money and time on imitating the Good Samaritan and not a cross between a school marm and the Pharisees...

Anyway, the full post is here. To be fair, my former Christian church did a great deal for the poor. So it's possible that these folks do too, and I suppose it would make sense that controversies like this one would be the ones to make the news.

But Oversoul's idea of "Jesus' Requirements fundamentalists" really speaks to me.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

Suspicious Dog photo

I was trying to torture Epilonius by sending him a sad puppy photo but
the best I could manage was this picture of my very skeptical pup.

Thinking about "White Privilege"

It's been a little under a year since people started to say that the fact that Obama was merely leading in the polls rather than utterly wiping the floor with John McCain was a matter of white privilege. I never believed that a young candidate with little experience of any color only barely beating an older candidate who was a war hero of any color was all that surprising, to say nothing of the unquestionably obvious example of white privilege that some people treated it as*. Especially in a nation where old people are the most reliable voters.

I was surprised (and grateful) that issues of Laurel Hallman being white or at least whiter than Peter Morales didn't come up or at least didn't come up where I could see then in the UUA election. The Sinkford administration has shown us clearly enough that electing minority leaders does not in itself attract minority members, so I'm kinda hoping we can leave identity politics out of things as much as possible henceforth or at least not treat them as reasons to vote in themselves. (Am I always going to wonder when people say that Peter Morales was "enthusiastic" but Laurel Hallman was "aggressive"? Probably.)

Anyway, I've been thinking about privilege since that point and I think we would benefit from distinguishing two types of privilege that I see as different but are often talked of interchangably: The type that everyone should have (type 1), and the type that nobody should have but that some people have anyway (type 2). Let's look at examples:

Type 1 privileges (privileges that theoretically everyone should have):

Chris Rock has a really wonderful skit called How to NOT get your ass kicked by the police. My brother has massive issues with authority and violates every tip the skit contains on a pretty constant basis. If he is pulled over, he will swear and scream and generally make the officer's life as difficult as possible. At this point the cops watch for him because, as annoying as he is, ticketing him is a great pleasure. As far as I've ever personally observed, the police officers he deals with are quite reasonable to him and take his abuse with nonchalance and mild annoyance.

A friend of mine at one point observed that if he were black, the cops wouldn't just ticket him, they'd arrest him or, well, kick his ass.

I am not saying that police officers' lives should suck more. I am saying that my brother should be, sigh, the model for how people who treat the police badly are treated. The police are public servants, and they should treat everyone decently, even people who don't particularly deserve it. If the police do get revenge, it should be in the form of watching troublemakers more carefully and giving dramatic descriptions when the judge asks how the defendant behaved at the traffic stop.

Ideally, no officer should ever go over the line, but in reality some of them do. If some asses must be kicked by officers who decide that someone is being "threatening," my brother's should be every once in awhile because the determination of who is a threat shouldn't be made on the basis of color.

TYPE II privileges (privileges that theoretically no one should have):

My husband and I know a very beautiful woman who was a plain and awkward teenager. Because she was used to thinking of herself as awkward even after she became beautiful, it took her several years to understand that she was beautiful and that she was being treated differently because of it.

Once, she said, and this is more or less a direct quote "First, the guy at the chicken place gave me a free dessert. Then I realized I'd forgotten my wallet and he said not to worry about it and to just enjoy my lunch. People are SO nice!"

Soup kitchens notwithstanding, it seems pretty clear that restaurants shouldn't make a habit of giving away lunches to the public at large. I like restaurants, after all, and I want them to continue to exist. A fast food worker giving a pretty girl a free lunch is going to happen every now and again, but generalizing that privilege to the population at large is not a desirable thing.

If we accept that John McCain got more than a negligible number of votes simply because his opponent was black, then I would think that would fall into this second category. An argument can be made that a person of one race or another would make a better public servant for a variety of reasons, though the Sotomayor hubbub over this issue suggests to me that no politician better make it too directly. But politicians from minority or poor backgrounds have been vaguely hinting at the disadvantages they've overcome and how they understand people who are struggling for a long time and everybody knows what they mean. But no one should ever get votes because of their opponent's color.

Anyway, getting back to my two categories above, to my thinking, calling one of these things "white privilege" and one of these things something else would be advantageous to the clarity of what we're talking about and minimize confusion. As the term is used today, I think it's very easy to slip into a miscommunication where white listeners feel that they are being accused of having type two privileges rather than type one privileges. In effect, the white privilege concern isn't that white people never get speeding tickets**, it's that they usually don't have to worry about getting an asskicking when they get one.

Does this make sense?


*I thought that John Edwards, who was a young, compelling, speaker with new ideas who came in 3rd in the Democratic primary was a reasonable response to "How would things be different if Obama were white?"

**Which leads to white people saying that they aren't getting speeding tickets because they aren't speeding, and thus dismissing the concern entirely.

I was going to write a touching essay about America

But this pretty much says it all.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

What about dogfighting?

A reader says in the comments:

(((So the logic is that if we make it illegal for people to own pits, we make it hard for dogfighting to exist. Groups like PETA are strongly opposed to dogfighting so they support the pit bans. If dogfighters can't have pits , they can't have fights. They will have to just shoot craps instead. PETA thinks that is much better)))

The comment later suggests that I might not have considered the issues relating to dogfighting. I have, I just think a breed specific ban won't solve them.

Let's take a slightly different example of the same logic. Child molesters, kidnappers and scumbags of all varieties love plain white vans. You can carry a lot of illegal stuff in them and nobody ever notices them since there are so many of them. So why don't we ban white vans? Three reasons spring to mind:

1. The scumbags who use them for illegal purposes are, pretty much by definition not law abiding people in the first place, so it is unlikely that more laws are going to solve the problem. Since they are already breaking the law to do what they do, at best they will probably just get a white van and put out-of-state plates on it.

2. The scumbags who don't live next to the state line will just buy a tan van, or a white SUV with tinted windows, and go back to what they were doing before.

3. The law puts a lot of innocent white van owners through a lot of aggravation for no reason.

The logic for pit bulls is the same. If someone is already fighting their dogs illegally, then they are usually doing it in a shack in the woods anyway and it is doubtful than a ban on their breed will make much difference.

Even if the pit bull ban were to work and all pit bulls were to magically vanish from this earth, I think it is WILDLY optimistic to assume that dogfighting would just stop and the fighters would content themselves with playing craps. I think, like the criminal who buys the white SUV with tinted windows, the dogfighters would accept that a different breed would be slightly less optimal for their purpose, shrug their shoulders and start training the next-most-optimal-breed for fighting. Presumably PETA will then want THAT breed banned, fighters will move on again, the cycle will continue and someday the only available dog will be the basset hound. (I'm being a bit facetious there.)

And yes, it puts innocent pit bull owners, to say nothing of innocent pit bulls, through varying degrees of aggravation and heartbreak depending on how the law treats current ownership and dogs that already exist.

Also, on a fairly regular basis in this world, a group of people will decide that another group of people is evil and is nothing but trouble and will do their level best to extinguish them because surely there would be far less crime and evil around if that pesky "breed" of people didn't exist.

There are a lot of words for the extinguishing group's behavior.

"Ethical" is not typically one of them.

I think that if you're going to run around calling yourself "ethical" you need to come up with better solutions than laws like this or change your name to "People for the Ruthlessly Pragmatic Treatment of Animals," which has a much less catchy acronym.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Pit bull mix owner has mixed feelings about this story

The city councilman who led the fight to get pit bulls banned from Sioux City might end up having his labrador retriever put down after the dog bit someone.

Pit Bulls get so much crap because they tend to be adopted and purchased by irresponsible people who fight them or train them as guard dogs. We adopted ours young, we're training her properly, and the biggest problem we have with her is that sometimes when we've been gone all day, she is so happy to see us that she follows us around jumping and licking. (We're working on that in training and we need to take her for longer walks more often to help her burn off some energy.)

Anyway, here's Malcom Gladwell's comparison of pit bull bans and racial profiling that points out the absurdity of each. I agree with Gladwell's ultimate conclusion that making arbitrary rules against breeds is bad legislation.

Of course, there are legislators who can make bad legislation worse. In Kansas City, the anti-pit bull laws included an "amnesty period" where pit bull owners could bring in their dogs for euthanization and not risk a fine. I'm assuming this means regular people like me sadly but dutifully gave their dogs away to residents of other places or even more sadly took their dogs in to be euthanized.

My guess is that the drug dealers who wanted pits for protection and raised their pits to be dangerous ignored the law. This pretty much insures that when you see a pit bull story in the news in Kansas City, it will be hurting someone rather than, say, giving its life to save its owner. (Warning, that story is really heartbreaking, as is the photo attached.)

So anyway, with only the worst pit bulls left in the city to do awful things and make the news, Kansans will be even more convinced that it's a great law.

No, it's a stupid law. And like most stupid laws regarding animals PETA supports it*, saying "Are some pit bulls loving companions? Absolutely. But it is important to bear in mind that nice families rarely come to a shelter seeking pit bulls. The vast majority of people who want pit bulls are attracted to the “macho” image of the breed as a living weapon"

Um, actually, PETA, I don't think most people who come to shelters are looking for a specific breed of dog. Because, frankly, finding a specific breed at a shelter is really, really hard because they are almost all mutts. I think people who get dogs from shelters are looking to help out a dog who needs a home and to get loving companionship for themselves and pick it on personality rather than breed. We didn't know Ginsburg was a pit mix until it was casually mentioned as we were signing the papers. We just knew she was a good dog who'd had a rough life so far.

Anyway, I do hope that Councilman Aaron Rochester's dog is allowed to live. Rochestere's wife calls the dog a "great watchdog." "Great watchdogs" should not be allowed to run around without leashes. Judging by the article, the dog was left outside with the family's two children and may have interpreted something the victim did as threatening to the kids. So the issue was more an irresponsible owner than anything particularly wrong with the dog.

But I don't think he's very good at his job.


* They want laws to have a "grandfather clause" allowing current dog owners to keep their animals, so they wouldn't support Kansas City's version.

Fred Phelps and the Angry God

The Rev. Fred Phelps and his group have put out a video called "God hates the world." I'm not linking to it, you can find it if you must, but I think you should trust me to say that it's pretty much exactly what you think it is*.

I try to be positive about people like the Reverend because being negative doesn't effect anything and just makes me depressed. I'm glad to have someone in the world showing hippies what protestors look like to people who disagree with them. (Do you give a damn what they yell or what goes on those people's signs? Do you even really think about it? Even if one or two people give them the thumbs-up, does that help their cause? Excepting the emotional damage done to mourners at the funerals they picket (which gets them nothing except the satisfaction of hurting people), do the institutions picketed suffer anything other than inconvenience? When there's media coverage of them standing there, waving their disagreeable signs, does it help them get what they want? No, No, No, No are my guesses on the first few questions, I know the answer to the forth is "No" because I know their legislative goals and they haven't even begin to have been met. Anyway, when you protest, assume people feel similarly and that the only real benefit is to your ego. Which is not to say I won't be going to the big Gay rights protest in DC this fall if only to keep the ChaliceRelative out of trouble.)

For another decent thing, maybe: these are loser rednecks from Kansas who feel like they are an army from God. I can't even imagine what that feels like.

Also, they've made "Hell's Angels" into a socially acceptable group. Hey, that's something.

But mostly, when I think about Fred Phelps, I'm confused by the angry God he imagines. The being they describe, infuriated that we who have free will won't do what he wants us to without any particularly reliable guide to what he wants us to do save people who claim to know* and books written by people who claimed to know a long time ago, reminds me of nothing so much as a little kid, too young to understand how the Sims works, having a temper tantrum because the characters in his video game won't do what they want. Indeed, a God who is freaking out in any sense over human behaviors doesn't seem much worthy of worship.

To me the idea of God having any particular plan for the world and God having the power to carry out said plan doesn't really make any sense given the state of the world unless God's plan is "give people free will and see what happens," which suggests a certain emotional divorce from the process and, again, a certain unlikliness to him getting upset at people for falling in love in ways that he allows them to do so, or really anything else excepting possibly genocide, for that matter. If God were really the cause of natural disasters and used them to punish in any consistent sense, that pattern would be obvious. If God wanted people to be happy all the time or to reward only the good, that pattern would be obvious.

Indeed, the only real patterns I percieve in the universe is that the universe is mechanistic enough to run and chaotic enough to not run predictably.

Personally, I tend to conceive of God as a transcendent force for good that doesn't cause storms or do anything else to directly impact the world other than through the actions of people. Some evolutionary explanations have come up to explain the human desire to create things, for example, but none of them are much more than theoretical as far as I can tell, and note of them explain why other animals with almost-as-big-brains haven't developed SOMETHING to suggest they are more slowly proceeding down the same path. Animals cooperate and help each other in either very basic ways, or complicated-but-mechanistic ways. Human interactions are much more complex, and working together, we help each other out and we achieve things that other creatures can't conceive of, partially because of an internal drive we have to help wach other out and to create. I tend to think that (a) there's something special about humans, which is one reason to call oneself a humanist and (b) that if I'm going to believe in this transcendent force for decency and creation, I should call it something and that something might as well be "God."

So you can see why I have so much trouble with the Reverend's faith. It seems really, really alien to me to think that there's a man up in the sky getting upset over the behavior of individual humans, especially upset enough to "hate the world."

It's a common political trick to argue with the extremists on the other side, then say that you and the ENTIRE other side can't POSSIBLY understand each other. I'm not doing that. I know Christians, even fairly conservative ones, who don't really consider Phelps one of their number any more than liberals are particularly happy to own eco-terrorists or hippies who blew up buildings in the 1960s**. I've had many a frutiful dialogue with people who disagree with just about everything I've said theologically here.

But I just don't get God hating the world.


*This seems like a good time to reiterate that I don't have to follow courtroom evidence rules on my blog.

**One could set up a business-school-style rubric categorizing these folks into "obviously crazy" and "insightful" (Early Jim Jones), "obviously crazy" and "not insightful" (Average guy in Lafeyette Park with a sign quoting Revelations) "not obviously crazy" and "insightful" (the Dalai Lama in general), "not obviously crazy" and "not insightful" (the current Pope, except that thing about condoms in Africa is pretty crazy). But any two people would almost never agree completely on which prophets go where.

Honestly, non-self-proclaimed prophets who don't even necessarily write about God but write honestly and insightfully about the Human condition have done more to provoke spritual thinking in me than anyone above. IMHO, one Jane Austen novel or even one Miss Manners book teaches more by implication than these folks can spell out, though I'll be the first to admit that the Dalai Lama has his moments.

*** Those examples took a minute to think of. Say what you will about liberal extremists, they don't generally run around killing people who disagree, or haven't since the sixties. Conservative extremists are a lot deadlier and a lot quicker to write people off as collateral damage. One shouldn't judge a movement by extremists, but still...