Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rush Limbaugh really is a big, fat idiot

This is old news by now, but it was new to me today.

The Excellence in Bullshit Broadcasting host (does he actually still use that moniker?) said recently about the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster:

"Was there no union responsibility for improving mine safety? Where was the union here? Where was the union? The union is generally holding these companies up demanding all kinds of safety. Why were these miners continuing to work in what apparently was an unsafe atmosphere?"

Ummm, it was a non-union mine.

(That part I knew, within 24 hours after the disaster, because I actually pay attention to the news.)

More here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Doing God's Work"

Two decades ago I covered labor for a major metropolitan newspaper, and in that capacity attended the United Auto Workers 1989 convention in Anaheim, California. At a previous UAW event I had already met the union's chief PR guy, and I met with him again this time. I was quite surprised to learn that he was soon to leave the union to attend divinity school.

Today Peter Laarman is executive director of a progressive Christian social justice group in Southern California and ordained in the United Church of Christ.

A friend of mine posted a link to this essay by Laarman at Religion Dispatches, a progressive religion news and commentary web site. The whole thing is very worth reading, but two passages stood out for me especially: One a critique of the media,
This was evidence, as if more were needed, of the way members of the upper echelons in government, law, and finance defer to each other. These elegantly-attired “achievatrons” (in Lewis Lapham’s coinage) merely enact a kind of kabuki when they pretend to have a spat.

It would be good if just once in a while, the corporate media would take note of this kabuki dimension. But the media’s major talking heads have their own theatrics to attend to. Witness the chatter on CNBC, Bloomberg, and CNN over whether putting some transparency into derivatives markets, limiting highly-leveraged bets, etc., would “stifle innovation.”

To my knowledge, no one holding forth on this question ever bothered to interrogate that word innovation even a tiny little bit. Last week CNN’s unsavory Ali Velshi brandished the word as a shibboleth and accused morning anchor Tony Harris of threatening to bring down the “dynamic” U.S. economy because sweet Tony dared to say that he longed for the old-fashioned kind of stock trading—the kind where your broker actually finds you a solid investment in a real enterprise. (Dynamic: there’s more throwaway jargon begging for interrogation.)
-- and the other a much more nuanced assessment of the Tea Party movement than I have seen elsewhere:

That the Tea Party crowd are actually slightly more affluent than average actually points to the precise nature of this revulsion: these people feel, with some degree of justification, that they worked hard for everything they have. And they have a sneaking suspicion—warranted, as it turns out—that today’s nattily-dressed Wall Streeters and high-level politicians have been able to ride a fast track to privilege and serious money based on insider connections, access to certain schools, etc. They have a sneaking suspicion—also warranted—that these new-class elites take advantage of special tax breaks and other sweet deals even as they continue to make the rules for everyone else and even as they decide what interest rates we drones will have to pay and what level of taxation we will have to bear.

Do not expect Main Street’s visceral rage over such presumptions of privilege—and over the special moral exemptions the excessively over-privileged carve out for themselves—to subside anytime soon. And because that rage is mixed up with so much racism and anti-Semitism and identity anxiety, it could not be more dangerous.
I don't think this necessarily contradicts the points made in a post I put up a few days ago. I do think both offer important insights.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What if Tim LaHaye had been a UAW baby?

Since this seems to be counter-factual week here at the blog, a new one came my way via The Writer's Almanac (scroll down to the last 3 grafs in the link):

His father was a machine repairman who died of a heart attack when LaHaye was nine years old. His mother had to take a job at a Ford factory to support the family. LaHaye took comfort in his local church, and when he took a job at a Christian summer camp, he began preaching. He went on to study at Bob Jones University and became an evangelical minister.

Detroit. Ford. 1935.

There was certainly a lot going on there then.

Now, it's worth noting that Ford fought for years to keep out the UAW, which didn't reach a collective bargaining agreement with the company until 1941. I don't know the detailed history, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that there might have been a segment of the work force opposed to the union for reasons of fear or ideology (or both). Was Mrs. LaHaye among them?

And how would things have turned out differently if young Tim had spent his time around the union hall instead of at the church camp?

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Imagine if the Tea Party was black": Updated

A friend of mine mentioned this post to me at church yesterday, and another friend emailed it to me today.

It is a provocative thought experiment.

Money quote:

In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color?

To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic.

I don't think that the "dangerous and dark 'other'" marginalization is limited to blacks, either: Working-class people of whatever race, especially those challenging the current economic order, and militant gay protesters are just two groups that would, I believe, be similarly branded as thugs instead of being defended as patriots. But none of that takes away from the writer's central point.

Follow the link to see the whole post.

Update: I'm reading the comments at the site where this is posted.

Here is one I especially like (I couldn't seem to successfully link to it):

"What's there to imagine, Mr. Wise? Simply consider how low the threshold was for ACORN to have been vilified and ruined, and how quickly action was taken.

(And *then* add in the results of the separate investigations that have been conducted.) "

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance Watch

via Andrew Sullivan

Update: Listen all the way to the end. I recall reading a long time ago that Lawrence Welk would never have comics on his show because he was anxious that they would exploit his naivete to tell off-color jokes. We can see how well that worked out.

The Lawsuit Myth?

I'm a huge fan of Free Range Kids, whose proprietor was a grad school classmate. This post is no exception. But I especially liked this comment -- which called into question an assumption that even the free-rangers tend to blithely accept:
Everyone says “sue happy America” much like everyone says “the world is such a dangerous place.” It is basically the same thing – an impression from the media as to this with no definitive evidence of such.

Now, one anecdotal comment on an Internet blog is not the singular of data. But I've long suspected that the notion of America as being extraordinarily litigious is at best overblown, at worst an out-and-out falsehood perpetrated by those who would like to shield the powerful (incompetent doctors, manufacturers of shoddy products, etc.) by eviscerating about the only form of legal redress available to the powerless.

I'm sure it's a lot more complex, and there's always the "Whose ox is being gored?" factor; I'm a journalist, so naturally I'm concerned about runaway libel juries. I'm just saying that the assumption of lawsuit-happy America is one worth examining much more closely.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Plastic Adirondack Chairs

They were for sale this morning at Home Despot Depot.

on the one hand: They require no maintenance -- no paint to peel, no wood to refinish every couple of years to avoid rotting or splinters in uncomfortable places. I love sitting in an Adirondack chair.

on the other hand: They're plastic.

"Well," said DairyStateMom, "they'd give us one more source of cognitive dissonance -- sitting in our plastic chairs as we admire our organic vegetable garden."

We didn't get any.

So, a survey for you: Plastic Adirondack Chairs: Cool? Or Bull$#i+?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Well, I wasn't gonna get an iPad anyway: Updated

Now I definitely won't. [**Update: Link fixed.]

As I've said before, I'm holding out for a lower price point when it comes to e-readers, and something that's more of an open-source type device.

(via it's all one thing.)

Bottom line: e-readers, definitely cool as a concept. Apple hegemony? definitely Bull$#i+.

Update: iPad printing problem solved.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two kinds of people

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who believe the world is divided into two kinds of people, and those who don't.

OK, now that we've gotten that joke out of the way...

This is just a warm-up for a post that's been bouncing around in my head for months. So I'm categorizing it as an 'Idea Oven' item. (Check the first post in this category for a definition.)

But I think that one way one can categorize people is along lines of whether they prefer the Mainstream or the Fringe. I'm not intending either of those terms to be either pejorative or whatever the opposite of pejorative is. They're just convenient labels.

Mainstream people prefer institutions that are well-recognized, familiar, large. Fringe people are willing to take part in small, idiosyncratic, and unfamiliar institutions, if they feel those institutions speak more directly to their needs. And the thing is, you can find within each category people who may actually be fairly similar in their outlook on the particular subject at hand -- but what differentiates them is the particular modality (Mainstream or Fringe) that they prefer.

I think of them in three different contexts, and many more are possible. So: In terms of media, there's Mainstream (NY Times, NPR, your local daily newspaper or TV broadcast, probably CNN) and Fringe (blogs, the Daily Worker, Spotlight [does that far-right organ still exist? I think so]). Something like the Utne Reader or Harper's magazine might occupy a 'Mainstream' or a 'Fringe' slot depending on what it's being compared with. Andrew Sullivan used to be Fringe, but in some ways now he's more Mainstream.

In politics, there's Mainstream (Democratic Party, GOP) and Fringe (Green? Libertarian? and so on).

In religion, in the U.S. Mainstream is any of the Mainline Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic church, any of the three principal branches of Judaism, and the larger Evangelical Christian churches. Islam is moving into the mainstream. Buddhism, too, and Hinduism.

Fringe is any one of the scores, probably hundreds, of small sects that occupy the entire range of belief, from small Universalist groups to millenarian fundamentalist Christian sects.

I would actually argue that UUs are much closer to Mainstream than Fringe, as an institution, but some of that depends on the context, and perhaps the cultural style in a particular UU church in a particular place.

Now, some caveats. There are of course degrees of Mainstream and Fringe, and as I already noted, a single institution can be either Mainstream or Fringe, relative to that with which it is being compared. And a person might be Mainstream in one arena of his or her life and Fringe in another -- say, Mainstream in politics but Fringe in musical tastes. Or vice versa.

Also, I'm not saying one or the other, Mainstream or Fringe, is better. And finally, over time, one can become the other: Fringe can become Mainstream, and Mainstream Fringe.

So what?

I got to thinking about this when I stumbled across the existence of a particular liberal Christian denomination that I had not heard of before. I'm not going to name it for this discussion, for a lot of reasons. And in what I say I truly mean no disrespect.

If I were looking for a Christian church, this particular denomination would theoretically be an option for me. I certainly find myself in sympathy with its basic principals and outlook as advertised on its website. I admire its embrace of diversity and its welcoming ethic.

But in all likelihood, in the course of this hypothetical search for a church [And it is just hypothetical], if I also was aware of the church that DairyStateMom happens to attend, I'd almost certainly opt for that rather than this other Christian church.


Basically I'm a fairly Mainstream guy. I feel at least slightly more at home in Mainstream settings -- which is why I'm a UU rather than having joined some more obscure but equally pluralistic/liberal faith. Or, to put it another way, UU is as "Fringe" as I'm comfortable going.

DSM's church is a well-established institution with a great deal of heritage both in the community and in terms of its denomination. Yes, the denomination's rules about ordination are not as welcoming as we would wish them to be, but I also know the senior pastor of DSM's church is at the forefront of the fight to change those rules. There is something more comforting for me about the idea of being a part of that kind of heritage. Maybe I even feel safety in numbers.

Obviously, there are other people for whom that Mainstream attribute isn't important. And I salute such courage -- or such liberation, if you will.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another quiz

This one also from Quizfarm: "What is the Kingdom of God?"

You Scored as The Kingdom as Earthly Utopia

This utopianism is found in the extremes of Liberation Theology and some early radical Anabaptism. It recognises the importance of the social and political aspects of the Kingdom but perhaps doesn't take the reality of human sinfulness into account.

The Kingdom as Earthly Utopia 67%
Kingdom as a Christianised Society 58%
Inner spiritual experience 50%
The Kingdom as a counter-system 50%
The Kingdom is mystical communion 33%
The Kingdom is a Future Hope 25%
The Kingdom as Institutional Church 17%
The Kingdom as a political state 0%

No surprise there.

Quote for the Day

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.

Galileo Galilei

via The Writer's Almanac.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Strange Attractor ponders how to experience Easter from a non-Christian perspective, and both her remarks and the comments that follow make for interesting reading.

As it happens, DairyStateMom and I both attended her church this Easter, and I found the entire service very moving, notwithstanding my non-orthodox interpretation and belief around the resurrection. Spectacular music (they bring in timpani to accompany the organ on this day) was one reason, but not the only one.

A special feature of the morning was an anthem based on the Emily Dickinson poem "Hope is the thing with feathers" -- a completely new setting for the poem, with a soaring soprano solo at the end, that had its world premiere on that day and in that place. The senior pastor's sermon began with Dickinson's story, focusing with great empathy on how Dickinson was viewed as a failure religiously in her adolescence, admitted to Mount Holyoke Seminar for Girls as one "without hope" for salvation:

From the Emily Dickinson Museum's Web site:
Mount Holyoke also believed that students’ moral and religious lives were part of its responsibility and conducted revivals that encouraged students to profess their faith. Students were organized into one of three groups: those who professed, those who hoped to and those who were without hope. Dickinson was among eighty without hope when she entered and was among twenty-nine who remained so by the end of the year.

The sermon then made a segue to note the anniversary of Martin Luther King's last speech, and quoted extensively from King's sermons over some 20 years in which he called upon hope for the future and for justice.

And that, she said, summed up the Easter message: hope for the future and in the justice of the universe.

It was a message that I found resonated very deeply with me. One in which the supernatural miracle of Easter was muted in favor of Easter as a state of mind--yet one that I think someone for whom the Resurrection story as a more literal event could still feel at home with.

A week later I'm still turning it over in my mind. (In fact, I delayed publishing this, having begun the draft of it a couple of days ago, in hopes I could write something a bit more definitive and complete here.)

I am very much a pluralist and very much a Unitarian Universalist. I'm a skeptic, at best, on the supernatural elements that have traditionally been a part of Christian belief. I emphatically reject the traditional atonement theology that requires me to believe Jesus died for the sins of the world in order to ransom us from eternal damnation.

But in recent years, owing in part to sharing in some of DairyStateMom's faith life, and driven by that to do the reading I've been doing of late, I do find myself reconnecting with Christianity. Not Christianity as traditionally defined, mind you. But one in which I see a deep and inspiring meaning in the life and words ascribed to Jesus.

And I find myself taking great comfort in that turn of events, even as it challenges me in my day-to-day life.

Emergent/Postmodern Modern Liberal

Thanks to Kay, I have now taken the quizfarm quiz on "Theological Worldview" twice.

The first time I took it, I got:

You are a Modern Liberal. Science and historical study have shown so much of the Bible to be unreliable and that conservative faith has made Jesus out to be a much bigger deal than he actually was. Discipleship involves continuing to preach and practice Jesus’ measure of love and acceptance, and dogma is not important in today’s world. You are influenced by thinkers like Bultmann and Bishop Spong.

Well, I’ve never heard of Bultmann and I’ve heard of but never actually read Spong. But the basic characterization I have no quarrel with.

I didn't save the data on individual percentages for each point on the list. So tonight I took it again.

This time I got:

You Scored as Emergent/Postmodern

You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern 89%
Modern Liberal 86%
Classical Liberal 68%
Roman Catholic 43%
Neo orthodox 36%
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan 29%
Charismatic/Pentecostal 29%
Reformed Evangelical 4%
Fundamentalist 0%

But that "Modern Liberal" is pretty close behind. Maybe some of my answers were just a bit more theistic this evening, vs. this afternoon.

Certainly it fits. I'm pretty sure the picture on the "emergent" page is of Marcus Borg, whom I've been reading voraciously and very much like.

Anyhow, I'm just getting this down for the record now. Perhaps I'll have more to say about this anon.

Raising Children in an Interfaith Context

On Being Both is a blog I very much appreciate and enjoy reading.

To be honest, its issues are largely an abstraction for me: DSM and I have an interfaith (Christian/UU) marriage, but we married after my sons were already well-established in UU church life, so we have never felt a need to try to expose them equally to DSM's Christian church (even though I attend whenever I can and consider myself very much a friend of and even at home in her congregation). We have brought DSK#2 to her church twice, but that was to include him in church outings that followed the service.

Still, if our children were the product of our marriage from the start, I would want to follow an Interfaith template. I've written before about Rabbi Marc Gellman's "God Squad" column, which I generally find supportive of religious pluralism. My biggest difference with him, however, is his notion that trying to live as an Interfaith couple or family is somehow a bad idea. (I also think he tends to limit Christian doctrine largely to the traditional terms of Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity, giving short shrift to some of the more progressive interpretations. But that's another story.)

So I think Susan Katz Miller's latest blog post offers a strong and sensible rebuttal to the prejudice against raising children to be part of both parents' faith traditions.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I cannot summon the words to express my sadness and outrage at this particular news development.

Juneau County DA warns districts on sex ed law

Teaching curriculum could lead to criminal charges against teachers, he writes

Plus: Debra Haffner puts this disturbing story in a larger, even more disturbing context, but also offers a bracing response.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Faith, Choice, and Happiness

Unitarian Universalists are well-known for the way in which we not only permit, but sanctify the right of free choice in following a spiritual path. Evidence from social science suggests that an abundance of choices may correlate with a deficit of happiness. Martin Marty explores.