Tuesday, July 31, 2007

News Flash!

Comrade Kevin takes a break from saving the world to focus on something potentially interesting.

The category: Famous Last Words.

My personal favorite are the words attributed to Oscar Wilde.

  • My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.
    • Note: Wilde said this in the Left Bank hotel in Paris where he passed away on November 30, 1900. The wallpaper has also since gone and the room re-furnished in the style of one of Wilde's London flats. Famous last words.
Use the above link from Wikiquote to appease your morbid curiosity and learn something in the process, if you so choose.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Propaganda or Truth?

Those of you who watched last Monday's Democratic Presidential YouTube debates noticed that every potential candidate was quick to commend our troops while condemning the war. Only senile old coot/loose cannon Mike Gravel dared state that our troops were dying in vain. The truth of the matter is that Gravel is right and he could say it because he has nothing to lose.

My friend Judy's younger brother is fighting in Iraq right now as a sniper. She forwarded me this link.

Two Compassionate Soldiers Give Iraq Child Hope

You must understand that this is the sort of article I would never read. I don't trust anything the Department of Defense tells me and one of my most favorite bumper stickers is the one that states: Sure you can trust the Government. Just ask an Indian.

I think those of us on the anti-war left need to be very careful about how we condemn this War. It was founded on lies and cherry-picked intelligence, but if this article is to be believed, there is good happening in Iraq in spite of the base evil that characterizes our very presence in the region. But then again, I do believe that most peoples' nature is towards good, or at least towards what society deems as "good". It might be heartfelt or it might be obligatory, but that's the reason why, even in times of war, an enemy combatant will sneak across enemy lines to clandestinely assist a fallen foe.

When I was attending the Birmingham Unitarian church, a man rose during the Circle of Lights to express joy that the Iraqis had successfully undergone free elections for the first time in their history. He was greeted with an unpleasant silence and the unspoken disapproval of the rest of the Congregation. What he said took much courage. I'm not sure if I agree with him but you've got to admire someone who would take such a risk. I admit to being ambivalent about this subject. Wars are complex beasts. I think there beats inside the breasts of most Americans the hope that other countries in the world will be able to secure the same sort of liberties that we have the fortune of having and often take for granted. I'm not sure, however, that good intentions on the part of President Bush could ever make a country who has never tasted anything close to Democracy magically become one after one election. Democracy takes time and after all, the Democracy that we enjoy was a long time coming. The seeds of it were planted in the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. It took a long process of wars and 500 years of general evolution before the idea of Democracy had the support of most people.

I think it would be most unrealistic to expect that 500 years of evolution can be superseded and condensed into one year and one purple-thumbed election.

However, this is not to say that acts of common decency and kindness don't occur, even during unpardonable, totally unnecessary acts of combat. I firmly believe that evil and good are shades of grey and we must be careful not to resort to the same black and white viewpoint that George W. Bush and his neo-cons espouse.

R.I.P. Ingmar Bergman

As some of you know, Comrade Kevin is a major film buff. Thus, I found it very sad to hear of the death of what I consider to be one of the greatest directors of all time, Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman.

Let me qualify the statement by saying that I am not a fan of everything Bergman directed. He sometimes fell prey to the sort of mental masturbation that is common in art and in academia, but no one can deny that he was a master craftsman and a truly original presence in cinema. And I find pretension and over-reaching far more forgivable sins than sloth.

In these days of digital cameras and YouTube, I often yearn for the sort of craftsmanship that characterized many of Bergman's works. It used to be that to be a director, one needed to learn the trade of filmmaking the same as any skilled artisan. Nowadays, any yahoo with a camera can make a movie and try to pass it off as great art. It used to be that every major player on a set went through rigorous and extensive training as well as personal study to perfect his/her craft. The cinematographer and director particularly, honed their craft because they were committed to making something fresh and original. Many studied under the tutelage of their betters for years before daring to step out on their own. Nowadays, it seems to me that directors and cinematographers only learn the cursory details necessary to direct films and spout forth a million popcorn films for the masses, each designed for the implicit purpose of making money. Digital filmmaking is so easy that it cuts out the need to strictly structure a film.

To an extent, Hollywood has always been this way. The star system of early Hollywood, particularly in the silent era, churned out many a potboiler. I am reminded of the example of Clara Bow, who in her heyday released six to seven pictures a year, all of which stuck to the same saccharine, fluffy, hackneyed plots. It just seems to me that true auteurs such as Bergman and Kubrick are becoming increasingly rare these days.

Digital filmmaking is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in that it greatly simplifies the process of making a film. It's a curse in that it greatly simplifies the process of making a film. My personal opinion is that I'd much rather leave art in the hands of the professionals and I fail to appreciate the kitsch factor that characterize so many films that come out these days.

Bergman's films remain fresh to these eyes even some fifty years after their conception. This is a testament to his hard work. For every Ingmar Bergman there are a million dilettantes whose works have a shelf life shorter than milk.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday Fun

My mind is fried from a night spent out late around town. Thus, I have nothing profound to say today. And as a good friend of mine pointed out, the way to attract visitors to one's blog is to occasionally post something that doesn't sound like a newspaper column and/or John Kerry.

I did meet some interesting people at the Obama meeting and after several hours of fascinating conversation, I decided to finally take my Meyers-Briggs Personality Type.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Obama is pushing Habitat For Humanity, so next Saturday, out of the goodness of my heart I will participate in manual labor for the good of the tired, poor masses yearning to have a new home. I am less than enthused that I will have to wake up at 6 am, an hour I reserve for the elderly and those who have small children. I will try to enjoy myself in spite of how undeniably NOT an morning person I am.

Christian guilt has returned (ah, how easily it comes back) and I am skipping church this morning. Shame on me. I post my favorite Wallace Stevens poem as a means of thumbing my nose at society.

A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Saudi Arms Deal in the Making

US Plans Huge Saudi Arms Deal

I suppose what angers me most about this decision is when I realize how many Saudis were part of the 11 September terrorist attacks. For the sake of oil and for maintaining stability in the region, we are willing to give vast amounts of monetary aid to a country that has been guilty of committing some of the most grievous human rights offenses. Public beheadings, persecution of LBGT citizens, and instances of having women stoned to death based on dubious evidence are but only a few examples to cite.

I've said it once and I'll say it again: The Saudis are not our friends. They look down on our form of government. They believe we are wrong to give women the right to vote and the right to exist on equal standing with men. They find homosexuality unforgivable and abysmal. They don't maintain much semblance of social mobility: one finds that the country is divided between the haves and the have nots, with few people in between.

Politics makes strange bedfellows and this is a clear cut instance of that.

As Judy suggested, and I agree, I wonder if we will have to go to war with the Saudis at some point or another. It is entirely possible, considering that we once supported Iraq during its war with Iran back in the 1980s. After all, we have a nasty habit of supporting regimes who are diametrically opposed to what we hold dear as Americans just for the sake of maintaining our interests. If the Bush doctrine were to be upheld against the Saudis if by chance they threatened to cut the supply of crude oil, then we would launch a preemptive strike against them just as we did Iraq.

If one reads read the article further, we find that there is a substantial chunk of military aid headed in the direction of Israel as well, lest we leave them out as well. Big surprise there. But as many have pointed out: Israel is not our friend, either. They appreciate our military aid, but they are a largely socialistic state who perpetuate genocide against a native people they displaced.

H/t to the British media for keeping us informed (like I'm surprised) and to Judy for finding it out for me.

Friday, July 27, 2007

And because it's Friday...

Let me see if I can channel my inner Oscar Wilde and produce some witticisms.

I stole this idea from Surviving the Workday: Spirituality at Work

Poet Observations

1. Gritty realist poets look down on nature poets because they believe nature poetry is one of the most hackneyed, overwrought forms of art ever conceived.

Nature poets look down on gritty realist poets because they believe gritty realist poetry is one of the most hackneyed, overwrought forms of art ever conceived.

Both are wrong.

2. Male poets are highly androgenous creatures. That doesn't imply that they're homosexual or bisexual.

3. The key with poetry is to make autobiography sounds like fiction. The key with prose is to make fiction sound like autobiography.

4. If a poet hasn't had at least one nervous breakdown by the age of twenty-five, then his or her credentials will be called into question.

5. Almost all poets smoke pot, have smoked pot, or would entertain the proposition at some point or another.

Add your own and have fun with the joke.

A Conclusion

I'd like to bring to an end the diatribe I began regarding my ambivalence towards sports.

Granted, we have become more civilized over the years. We have progressed past the times of the Romans and ceased to find it thrilling entertainment to watch two men brawl to the death. In medieval times, every man carried a knife, which was good thinking considering the alcohol consumption in those days was far more than it is today. Without modern sanitation, drinking the water from a pond or stream could be a risky endeavor. These days, we certainly don't hear about all the peasants who were thrown in jail immediately following the festival of St. Someone-or-Other for getting drunk and brawling with sticks.

Instead of settling our differences with fists, knives, clubs, and guns we invented the idea of sports and debate. Both of which are far superior substitutes to outright violence.

The only thing that concerns me is that occasionally our primal instincts rear their ugly head, despite all the years of so-called civilization. As many of you have been reading, the current quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, Michael Vick, is embroiled in a scandal regarding dog fighting. That is the most barbaric thing I have ever heard of but I know that it goes on all the time. It's a phenomenon found most in the working class.

I remember I took a trip out to Northern California once: a little town called Grass Valley. Formerly a mining town, it had disintegrated into a white trash haven full of potheads and punks who found San Francisco too expensive to afford. While I was there, I talked with a woman at a coffee shop. She had adopted a pit bull but had to have him put down. The reason being is that the dog had been trained to fight. While the dog was a puppy, he had been subjected to his former owners banging shoes loudly against a garage door. The dog had undergone other torturous, evil acts to condition him to fight. When the lady adopted him, she tried every way she could to undo the programming but had to have the dog put to sleep. After the dog totally trashed her kitchen, knocking dishes off the countertop, destroying the contents of her pantry, she realized any amount of proper care she could provide the dog was a moot point.

Regarding this process of evolution: I wonder where we are going. Two arguments are currently in vogue: one states that our technology is evolving at too fast a clip--far too quickly for our minds to be able to perceive. The other states that we are merely moving closer and closer towards telepathy. I admittedly flip-flop on this argument, much like capital punishment. There are certainly valid arguments to both points.

I conclude with one of my favorite quotes from James Thurber: It's better to know some of the questions than all the answers. May it be so.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

After A Time

After yesterday's Bill Hicks induced rant, I feel subdued today. It's pointless to stay angry at things which one cannot change. As a true Scorpio, I rant and rave and then five minutes later it's gone. My emotions are constantly in a state of flux. Yet, I must admit it felt good to get it all off my chest.

I came to this realization last night after having totally lost my temper. To keep things stirred up in the Hoover system hurts us all. It hurts the school children, it hurts the reputation of the town, it hurts the teachers, and it hurts the property value of everyone who owns their own house around here. If Hoover continues to be inundated with bad press, then who will want to move here? Who will want to enroll their kids in the city system?

There comes a point in time where you just want things to die down and stop being so dramatic. One of the reasons I came to the conclusion that I could not be a lawyer is that I realized I don't have the emotional stamina to live inside a tornado. I don't thrive on confrontation and though I am highly competitive, such intensity drains me rather than invigorates me.

I deliberately try to keep my innermost thoughts and opinions off this blog. I try to keep confessional issues of my own off this blog. So I'm going against my better judgment when I reveal this to you. One of reasons I am sports-phobic is that it absolutely tears me up inside when my team loses. Some people can blow it off. Some people yell and fuss and use sports as a cathartic exercise. Once the game is over, they resume their lives. I've never been that way. All it does it keep me upset so I've learned to follow sports with a casual interest and not let it ruin my day.

There's nothing wrong with sports, per se. It's just that when it becomes about all the wrong things like money, power, greed, and personal gain that it becomes tainted. Ideally, sports teach teamwork, self-discipline, self-reliance, and perseverance. Ideally, sports become a way that communities and people from all social classes and walks of life can find common purpose.

The problem arises when tribalism and factionalism cause powerful emotions like anger, resentment, and jealousy to spiral out of control. Then we are no different from our Barbarian ancestors. It reminds me that we are not really that far away from being uncivilized ourselves and the ways in which we are rational and civilized hold an often very tenuous grasp upon us.

I know I've included this poem on two separate occasions in this blog, but I'll include it again. It's been a leitmotif in my own life and almost an incantation. Think about how often we recite the Lord's Prayer or the Serenity Prayer. Some of us do it daily, or if not daily, certainly weekly. This poem holds special resonance for me.

After a Time
by Catherine Davis

After a time, all losses are the same
One more thing lost is one thing less to lose;
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

Though we shall probe, time and again, our shame,
Who lack the wit to keep or to refuse,
After a time, all losses are the same.

No wit, no luck can beat a losing game;
Good fortune is a reassuring ruse:
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

Rage as we will for what we think to claim,
Nothing so much as this bare thought subdues:
After a time all losses are the same.

The sense of treachery--the want, the blame--
Goes in the end, whether or not we choose,
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

So we, who would go raging, will go tame
When what we have we can no longer use:
After a time, all losses are the same;
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Skewed Priorities

I have a confession to make. I am a closet sports fan.

And the reasons for my remaining reticent about this are many. Mostly they stem from the fact that I am often outraged at how dearly we pay for our entertainment. We, for the sake of distraction, seem to forget all sense of ethics, logic, and sanity.

This distaste of sports was further strengthened and solidified when I was in undergrad. I took a sex education class full of football players. We were asked, periodically, to submit written reports on assigned topics. Football players would read these reports, which they had obviously not written themselves, and mispronounce key words and stumble all over themselves during the delivery.

We knew that graduate assistants had written these reports for the athletes, but to challenge the administration on this point was totally futile. One professor stood up against the system and ended up being fired in the process. She refused to pass two athletes and found herself with a choice: change their grades and remain employed, or stick to your convictions and be let go. As the old saying goes: sometimes you just can't fight city hall.

I felt bad for these athletes, many of which came from small towns all over the country with one dream: to play Pro Football. Statistics have shown than the odds of going pro are very slim. We are depriving most athletes of a quality education when we do not take the time to properly educate them. If they don't make the pros (and most won't) then they are left with nothing. What tools do they have with which to build a career? Most meander at dead-end jobs and some even resort to petty crime.

Since I've moved back home, a scandal has broken out at my high school alma mater, Hoover High. Allegations of grades being changed for athletes arose about two weeks ago. As every day progresses, more and more allegations of impropriety have come into public knowledge. Now it appears that several thousand dollars worth of contributions are unaccounted for. The question that remains is, who has got the money?

The principal of the High School, who was there as an assistant when I was in school (and who I never liked), has been threatened with termination. The front page headlines this morning reveal that he has threatened to sue the school board if he is indeed let go.

The principal was high school roommates with the football coach, who has built himself the best dynasty money can buy. Under his tenure, Hoover has won several state championships in a row. It has obtained national attention both for this success and because it was prominently featured on two seasons of an MTV reality television show called Two-a-Days.

Now all hell has seemingly broken loose. I believe the next thing to be revealed will concern the dubious moral standards of the head coach, Rush Propst. It is rumored that despite being married, he has a mistress in a adjacent city and has spawned three kids with her. To add insult to injury, his wife, who he been nothing but cruel towards, is physically disabled.

Very soon, I predict, this will become a national scandal and many of you readers will hear about this.

All of this just to have a successful sports program. It reminds me of the sort of people who said they felt a sense of pride when we successfully conquered Iraq. Allow me briefly to paraphrase from one of my idols: Bill Hicks. Who are these people with such a sense of low self-esteem that they need a WAR to feel good about themselves? Who are these people with such a low self-esteem that they need a winning football program to feel good about themselves?

Instead of a war or a winning sports team, may I suggest: Sit-ups? Fruit cup? Exercise? Inner Peace? 6 to 8 glasses of water a day? Community service?

I'm not telling you how to live your lives, I'm just saying this: use your options.

We think nothing of paying our hard-earned dollars to distract us from our lives. What are we afraid of? Must we live lives of quiet desperation? Is it fair that a schoolteacher makes per year a fraction of what a professional athlete takes home in a month?

There's nothing wrong with sports, per se. They can be a positive outlet for athlete and spectator alike, but when they become all about money and nothing about positive values like community, teamwork, and discipline then their whole appeal is lost to me.

It seems as though the whole purpose of school has been lost. Academics are somehow less important than who can suit up and play on Friday night. I feel sorry for the students of the Hoover City System, because they will be the ones who will suffer the most. Due to the selfishness of the Board of Education and a corrupt sports program, they will no doubt be distracted from their studies and not get the quality education they deserve.

It's about the kids, for God's sake! When did we forget this?

I can't fight the system, but I can refuse to support the skewed priorities with my money and my attention.

Part of me says: this is the South and this is Alabama. Football is king. The legendary football Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant was far from a stellar individual. He was a heavy drinker, smoker, gambler, and womanizer. But he won ballgames. And here in the South, that's all that matters.

I had a conversation once with a woman who, back in the 1960s, had her mailbox destroyed when an intoxicated starter plowed into it with his car. By eight o'clock the next morning, Bryant and several assistants showed up with a checkbook, offering to pay out whatever it would cost to repair the mailbox. Along with the money was the implication that she wouldn't let what had transpired become public knowledge. I'm sure instances like these happened all the time.

It's pointless to fight the system. You make no headway and end up getting yourself frustrated in the process. In this regard, sports are no different than politics. As Bismark famously pointed out, "The less the people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep in the night."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Swallowing Pride

I watched all two hours of the Democratic YouTube Debates last night and I have to tell you that I was left feeling deeply demoralized. Although we are still months away from the election and months away from the first primary, I don't see how anyone is going to take the nomination away from Hillary Clinton. It seemed to me as if all the other candidates were jockeying for Vice President and/or cabinet posts. I still support Obama, but his inexperience showed as he was clearly not at ease during the debate and lacked the sort of poise that Mrs. Clinton displayed.

I don't like Hillary and I never have. So I'm trying to reconcile within myself whether I can, yet again, swallow my pride and vote for her in November of 2008.

  • Biden came across as his amusingly blunt self. I admit that I laughed when he characterized an assault rifle-toting questioner as sick and in need of help. I agree with him and have always felt nervous around anyone who refers to a gun as their "baby". This wasn't just any gun: this wasn't a shotgun or even a handgun. This was a scary looking instrument designed to kill.
  • Kucinich lost my vote and my respect when he stated that he believed in reparations for slavery. I strongly disagree with this position for a variety of reasons. For one, how would we pay for them? For another, paying reparations is tantamount to paying ransom and we all know that we value what we work for and earn far more than anything given to us. Lastly, it's in the same vein as this ridiculous white guilt complex that spawns such ill-conceived notions as Anti-Racism/Anti Oppression. I've said it once and I'll say it again. Let it die.
  • Gravelle looked like a senile old coot and reminded me of Ross Perot's VP nominee in 1992, Stockdale. He foolishly took on Obama early in the debate and so awkwardly attacked him that Obama was able to brush him off without much effort.
  • All other candidates failed to make strong impressions on me. Some of the minor candidates made good points but failed to break out of the pack
I will say this, though. I am glad that all 9 potential nominees came out strongly against No Child Left Behind. It's one of the worst pieces of legislation that has ever been passed and I've seen it give my mother fits at her job as a public school administrator.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Putting One's Foot Down

When I was younger I was much more inclined to see the world in shades of grey. Part of this was, of course, adolescent rebellion, but as I have moved closer to thirty I have developed some strong convictions. I can compromise on some matters but on certain matters I have to put my foot down. Case in point.

In this post, Nate Nelson proposes an interestingly diplomatic method of teaching sex education. In short, he believes that both abstinence-only and comprehensive sexual education models can peacefully co-exist. It is laudable of Mr. Nelson to seek a means to pull together two seemingly contradictory points of view. I do not believe, however, that such a compromise is possible.

To me, abstinence-only education is totally insufficient because it often resorts to scare tactics. In high school, I was subjected to slides of random strangers with advanced stages of syphilis. The football coach who served as some semblance of health education referred to venereal diseases in down-home fashion: The state makes me tell you guys about VD. These bad boys. You don't want 'em.

When I went through high school RE, I attended AYS. I found it to be most informative and unflinchingly honest. This was what I needed. I will say, with a great degree of pride, that none of the young ladies in my group became pregnant and none of the young men contributed to an uh-oh pregnancy.

As I think back further into my past, in fifth grade, I went through the obligatory sex education provided by the public school I attended that advanced no strong position either way, yet told us the minimum necessary information to cover all the bases mandated by the state. I remember being frustrated at how little I actually learned. As I got older, I came to understand that faced with such a loaded topic as sex education, the school system opted for the path of least resistance in an effort to avoid being sued.

That is another issue in itself, that I will touch on briefly. Public schools have become so fearful of lawsuits and bad press that they will bend over backwards to accommodate the demands of parents. Many of these are totally frivolous and completely nonsensical, but god forbid little Johnnie or Janie be deprived of whatever his or her parents want for their little bundle of joy. 80% of these lawsuits would be laughed out of court and never progress past the beginning stages of litigation. Schools have become parent-pleasers and that's part of the reason why so many kids have been raised without any sense of boundaries. They've gotten everything they wanted and their whole lives have been micromanaged by well-meaning, but highly misguided parents.

I do tend to see some things in terms of right versus wrong. I see abstinence education as wrong because 1) it is insufficient 2) it is unrealistic 3) it is no longer relevant. Pandora's Box has already been opened. As I've mentioned before in previous entries, we have become a hyper-sexual culture and I think a reason (among many) why mental illness, personality disorders, and eating disorders are so prevalent amongst today's youth is created by this schizophrenic, psychotic, distorted view of sexuality that is perpetuated in the name of greed, cowardice, and ignorance.

h/t to Uneek

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pulled From Today's Headlines

Today, The New York Magazine published an article on juvenile sex offenders and the problems that have been created by this lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality that is so pervasive in society. I admit this article enraged me in many ways.

How Can You Distinguish a Budding Pedophile From A Kid With Boundary Problems?

The same logic that was responsible for three strikes and you're out as well as for prosecuting minors for capital murder is firmly in place in this circumstance as well. What enraged me more than anything is that, as I stated in my previous entry, we like to treat the effects of a problem as a quick fix, rather than examine the causes. Perhaps examining the causes would take more effort. Perhaps examining the causes would force us to examine ourselves and many of us would much rather take the coward's way out and opt for a feel-good, knee-jerk response.

I blame the media for sensationalizing childhood sexual abuse. To an extent, being open with this admittedly socially taboo topic is a step in the right direction, but television shows like Nancy Grace and To Catch a Predator have effectively preyed on our sense of moral outrage for the sake of ratings. We love to call gotcha. We love it when evildoers are put in their place and in this respect these shows are no different than any other programs which resort to cheap theatrics and hyperbole to make a profit. This is in the same vein as the "pretty white rich blonde female in distress" theme that gave us nauseatingly endless coverage of Natalee Holloway and Jon Benet Ramsey.

To conclude, one of my favorite movies is a documentary on Idi Amin entitled General Idi Amin Dada. The closing credits state that we, as humans, should consider ourselves complicit in allowing bloodthirsty dictators such as Amin to thrive and survive unchallenged. We, the human race, created Amin. We created Hitler. These were not simple accidents. Clearly there is a part of all of us that despite the guise of so-called civilization remains barbaric and carnal.

There is a part of each and every one of us that is to blame when even one child is molested.

A Survivor's Story

I must admit that I've mulled over posting this for a while. For starters, it's not easy for me to talk about but I think the time has come for me to address this topic, painful though it may be.

The recent discussion in the blogosphere prompted by Barack Obama's assertion that sex education ought to begin in childhood compels me to speak. I agree with him. In the last decade alone, I have seen media become more and more sexualized. I'm speaking primarily about the internet, popular music, and television, but this culture as a whole has become hyper-sexualized. What was taboo in the '90s is tame compared to today. For example, I remember the controversy about Sir Mix-A-Lot's song "Baby Got Back" and the accompanying music video. Today, it wouldn't cause anyone to bat so much as an eyelash.

I'm glad we're having this discussion. A mere thirteen years ago, after all, Joycelyn Elders was forced out of her position as President Clinton's Surgeon General for proposing that sex education ought include an additional focus on masturbation. Still, I admit to having my doubts. I wonder what has changed since that time and if the American people are finally willing to confront that we live in a society where sex and sexual images are pervasive. Yet, we are still very much a Puritanical nation which condemns sex as shameful but thinks nothing of using sex as a means to make money.

A fellow blogger posed the question as to whether or not childhood sex education could help children from being exploited by pedophiles. I'll be honest. I don't know. To better illustrate this point, I need to refer to my own story of survival.

When I was a young boy, I was molested by the father of my two playmates. As is typical in such matters, I don't remember the abuse. The mind locks down on the memories as a means of protection--it's a coping mechanism invoked by the brain during times of intense trauma. So to answer her question: I'm not sure any amount of foreknowledge would have prevented the abuse. My parents tried to keep me safe in every way they could, but the abuse happened anyway. They weren't negligent or unfit to raise me.

In honesty, short of locking your child up in his or her room, there's absolutely no 100% fail-proof method.

Had I known what was happening to me, could I have prevented it? I doubt it. My trust was violated by an adult. I might have been better able to conceptualize it and know that it was wrong but being that I was a painfully shy, withdrawn, highly introverted child I was an easy target. Out of shame, I never vocalized what had happened to me for years. It was only later, through analyzing particularly unusual comments made by my playmates during the time the abuse was going on as well as noticing substantial gaps in my memory that I became aware of what had transpired.

Let's get real here. We humans are apt to treat the effects of a problem rather than confront the causes. So let's get to the heart of the matter. What causes pedophilia? Has it been around since the beginning of time or can it be traced it back to a particular point in history? What are its root causes? Does it serve any sort of biological purpose? Is this a phenomenon which occurs only in Western society?

It's well and good to see pedophilia and childhood sexual abuse as evil and a social taboo but that really doesn't answer these questions.

150 years ago, the legal age of consent was somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12. Those were different times, however. This nation was based primarily on agriculture and producing lots of children was considered essential because many hands were needed to tend to farming. Many infants died in childbirth and many perished at young ages due to diseases that modern medicine has since figured out how to cure, if not outright prevent.

As times changed, the age of consent increased. In most states, the age of consent is 16. As time went on, people began to believe that until a child had reached the age of consent, he or she was not capable of making a mature decision whether or not to engage in consensual sexual contact. Society changed. As we moved towards an industrial age, the concept of adolescence emerged. Instead of rapidly transitioning from childhood to adulthood, with no in between, a period of exploration, questioning, and challenging the status quo developed and became socially acceptable. It has been proposed that childhood and adolescence have increased in length since then, as we have shifted from an industrial society towards an information based society.

Another question that comes to mind is this: were children in 1850 more or less equipped to deal with sexual matters than children of today? Or is the reverse true?

I am left with only questions with no concrete answers.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Next Big Threat

In this era of terrorism, what is often overlooked is a very plausible astronomical disaster that could occur within the next twenty-five to thirty years. It is the same sort of disaster that, it has been hypothesized, caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. What I am referring to is the real possibility that our planet could be hit by an asteroid.

If, by chance, an asteroid hit the earth, it would produce an effect nearly 1000 times of any weapon, nuclear or otherwise that we have developed by human means.

Perhaps this cosmic threat will unify us together. Perhaps a common enemy is the only way to bring together the warring factions of earth who would otherwise be too busy wiping each other out.

There are times where I also wish that aliens would make contact with us because that too would unify the human race together under a common purpose. As it stands right now, factionalism and tribalism keep us often at odds with each other. The population of the earth swells exponentially and grows like a cancer. I think increasingly we will see continued fragmentation amongst the human race.

The question remains: why haven't we made more of a big deal out of this threat? The simple answer is that it remains an abstraction for most people. 11 September, other terrorist attacks, and suicide bombers are in the back of our minds. They are tangible. They are concrete. We can visualize them easily. They fit nicely into position statements and television soundbites.

By contrast, most people can't even begin to fathom what it would be like if we were to experience a disaster not spawned by ourselves. We're such selfish beings--that's just how we're wired. We are biologically programmed to care for ourselves first, then our immediate family, then our friends. That's the reason why Christianity and other religions were developed. They force us to care for our fellow brother or sister. They get us out of our own heads and our own petty whims.

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans nearly two years ago, I remember thinking just how vulnerable we human beings are to the whims of nature. We often deceive ourselves into believing that we are in control of our own destiny. Then Mother Nature rears her ugly head and we realize that despite all the advances we have made, we are still utterly powerless to avoid natural disasters.

To expand the metaphor further, think about how finicky and fragile we human beings really are. 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is considered average body temperature, but with an increased change of only a few degrees we are rendered sick and immobilized. We think nothing of, say, five degrees change in the weather outside but five degrees in body temperature can be the difference between life and death, sickness and health.

When I was in undergrad, I remember being forced to read Virgil's Aeneid. One line in particular stands out to me: Humans make plans, and the Gods laugh.

We have strained and struggled during our time on earth to form a so-called civilization with rules and laws and codes of conduct. We have made phenomenal progress in the fields of medicine and science. We've sought more humane ways of punishing those who commit murder. We've made alliances to prevent wars. These are just a few examples. I could name 100 other artifices we have created in the name of improving ourselves and getting along with each other.

One disaster could undo it all.

When I think about this I am compelled not to duck and cover but to examine my own life. It serves as a wake up call to me, revealing once again that I'm a finite being with a limited amount of time on earth. If I want to accomplish something positive, I better get on with it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Art and Chaos Day

I had every intention of writing something profound and socially conscious but instead I decided to post something of a more artistic bent.

Hope & Jump

In the shadow of these black suburban hills
Dreamt by architects who've given up their will
There's an emptiness that never can be filled

Have you ever known the world to be so still?
Have you ever heard a silence be so shrill?

As you rise to smell the air before a kill
In the absence of distraction or a thrill

Always your first instinct
Compels you to jump
Headfirst in

The comfort you crave
Is not in the grave
But here in my arms

In the moments when your vices are allayed
Are you left abandoned and afraid?
Do you question the decisions that you've have made?
Are you haunted by the ghosts you've betrayed?

Always your first instinct
Compels you to jump
Headfirst in

The comfort you crave
Is not in the grave
But here in my arms

Have you ever known the world to be so still?
Have you ever heard a silence be so shrill?

As you rise to smell the air before a kill
In the absence of distraction or a thrill

Always your first instinct
Compels you to dump all hope
And jump headfirst in

The comfort you crave
Is not in the grave
But here in my arms

*If you find the following poem too maudlin, then look at the pretty artwork.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Puritanical Schizophrenia

I live in the Bible Belt South, a region of the country where it is considered perfunctory to inquire openly about such things as church attendance, church affiliation, belief in the almighty, the status of one's soul, and general religious conviction. I've had garbage men, shopkeepers, and bus drivers ask me whether or not I have been saved. In my cheekier days, my response was Sir (or Ma'am), I was never lost.

Perhaps then you can understand how growing up, I always felt this degree of proselytization stifling to a large extent. Indeed, I felt this way for years, but around three or four years ago a Yankee transplant gave me a new spin on it.

She said, It's so freeing to be able to openly discuss your faith. Up north, religion is a private matter and it creates discomfort when someone talks so effusively about his/her faith.

Most people here are Christian by default and often times rejection of Christianity and teenage rebellion come hand in hand. Certainly when I was 16, my own personal mantra was that of Patti Smith, circa 1975: Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine.

So when I heard about
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and his links to a D.C. Prostitution Ring, I really wanted to gloat over it. It's not very Christian of me, certainly, but we humans have a unfortunate impulse to want to kick someone when they're down. As is well known by now, Senator Vitter pushed hard for the impeachment of President Clinton and advanced an agenda heavy on conservative family values. Thus, as we native Southerners know best, though we may all be sinners, it is best not to make one's own imprudence public knowledge.

Those of you who live outside the South may not have the same perspective with which I grew up. Louisiana politicians and Louisiana politics have a long tradition of rampant corruption, going back decades, beginning in the 1930s with Huey Long. New Orleans, pre-Katrina, was considered a city of sin and decadence and yet it seems like we all ended up going there at least once to let down our inhibitions and engage (albeit briefly) in some degree or another of debauchery.

I was reminded of something I read of the satirist David Sedaris, who now lives in France with his boyfriend. Towards the end of his collection of humorous pieces, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris mentions the native reaction to Clinton's impeachment proceedings. Seemingly everyone in France made a point of mentioning how foolish it was to prosecute a politician merely on private indiscretion. The French viewpoint is rather fatalistic. All men cheat. All politicians are crooked. Why rail against the inevitable?

During Clinton's impeachment, a bumper sticker began making its rounds amongst the good folks of suburbia. With white letters showing prominently against a blue background it proclaimed: Values do matter. Such stickers were as common as those cursed W stickers that I still see adorning automobiles around these parts.

And it's true. Values do matter. That's what we on the left have had to reconcile the past several years. In my opinion, we did it to ourselves. Instead of embracing faith we shunned it as an antiquated relic and began to drift towards nihilism and post-modernism. I am grateful to see politicians like Barack Obama and a few others on the left make open displays of their faith and I believe the trend will continue.

Most people are gullible. Most people are followers. Most people want to believe in something. This is why, over the years, many people have fallen prey to hucksters, tricksters, and Elmer Gantrys. Admittedly, I have rejoiced when the mask is pulled off of hypocrites and deceivers. Such is human nature. I admire the painter Bosch, whose leitmotif in most of his works is human gullibility. One of my favorite works is The Magician, which you can see directly above you.

Rather than bemoaning that fact and decrying it in terms of ain't it awful, let's seek to the best, the most authentic, the most true to our convictions as we can be. Good has a way of shining through in the end, I do believe.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Nine years ago, at the tail end of my teens, I converted to Unitarianism. I believed UUism was something I had been searching for my whole life and had stumbled across through blessed luck. I made some concessions along the way. I had once believed in The Trinity and found it not hard at all to shed belief in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I made other concessions, mostly towards passionate environmentalism and activism--concepts that had not been heavily emphasized in my Christian past.

Now that I seem to have reversed myself 180 degrees, or nearly so, I have a few observations to make.

  • I've had some really ambivalent feelings now that I've converted to Christianity. When I hear someone proclaim to be a Christian or to mention Christianity at all I wince involuntarily. On the other hand, I feel a new sense of community. I say to myself that's me they're talking about now. Now I belong to that which I once mocked.I've felt a bit like Paul of Tarsus after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Formerly the persecutor of Christians, he now ranked among them.

  • What kept me so upset before was that I always saw Christians as "the other". I made no mention of the pure, honest, genuine Christians out there and instead focused on the Pharisees and hypocrites of the faith. I took a sense of Puritanical pride when so-called Christians revealed themselves to be grand deceivers and pretenders. Nevermind that you'll always find examples of human failures if that's all you choose to look at. The world can be a horrible place with innumerable examples to prove it, or it can be a good place with equally innumerable examples to prove it.

  • There's a certain unity in shaking one's fist at the world and railing against wrongs, but it's such a negative means of giving people the same purpose. It perpetuates an outsider mentality and I wish not to be an outsider anymore. I felt like one for years and when I found a motley band of others with the same fears and neuroses I thought I had arrived. But these days, it doesn't really matter anymore. I'm pushing thirty. My hair is beginning to thin at the top and gray at the temples. Proclaiming myself as the anti-status quo just doesn't have the same pull as it once did.

  • A friend of mine sent me this article. She is an ex-Mormon and I am now an ex-Unitarian, so we seem to have much in common.

    Hipsters must die!

  • In a half tongue-in-cheek way, half-deadly serious fashion, the author of this article talks about how unintentionally trendy it has become to become deeply exasperated at hipsters--so much so that to be an anti-hipster has become a generational trademark.

  • I admit I had hipster tendencies when I was in my late teens and early twenties, but I always had enough of a sense of irony to keep myself grounded. Yet, I certainly enjoyed the fine art of snarky criticism towards those people who take themselves a little too seriously. Unitarians have based a whole faith around righteous indignation and the irony is that many UUs exhibit religious hipster qualities despite their protests to the contrary.

  • All criticism really accomplishes is that it pointing out that we human beings are insecure and like to make ourselves feel better by having someone to scorn. We love scapegoats and whipping boys. Such is the Activists' Creed but Chronic Activism Syndrome can shorten anyone's life span. It certain has shortened mine. Life is too short than to be chronically pissed off. Why not stop to observe the good things it has to offer, instead?

    I end with the final paragraph of the article:

  • Here’s a modest proposal—how about we give the whole hating hipsters thing a rest? If somebody talks about a band or movie you have never heard of, maybe they aren’t trying to lord it over you, they just want to spread the word. Don’t be threatened by it. Likewise, if a person doesn’t like something you like, it might not be because that something is more popular than it used to be, that person just might not like it. And that’s OK, too. Can’t we all just get along, my hipster brothers and sisters?
  • Monday, July 09, 2007

    Terrorism is Terrorism, No Matter How You Spin It

    A few posts ago, I expressed reservations at the mosque being built up the road from here.

    Now, thanks to this article I can again reiterate that Christian terrorists pose as much of a threat to American society as their more well-known Islamic brothers. I hope I didn't come across as stereotyping as Muslims as terrorists just as I would never stereotype all Christians as terrorists. But the pure fact is that the acts of terror committed on American soil have by in large been committed by Christian extremists: the sort who will bomb abortion clinics, Olympic park villages, Oklahoma City Federal Buildings, and gay bars. And rest assured, if Fred Phelps wanted to start a church around these parts, I'd put up in arms myself protesting.

    As an aside, I was here in Birmingham, in undergrad, when Eric Rudolph bombed the abortion clinic on the Southside of downtown. The explosion echoed eerily around the campus and we thought classes might be canceled as a result. Alas, they were not.

    h/t Quaker Dave

    Quaker Dave, by the way, runs a series of posts from time to time entitled "I Want My Jesus Back". I couldn't agree more.

    Sunday, July 08, 2007

    Why I Left and Where I Came From

    I have received several sympathetic comments to my original post regarding why I have left the Unitarian Universalist church.

    I feel a more further explanation is needed and I will provide one. The point is not to slander, so I will use no names and refer to the churches I visited in quite vague terms.

    To back up, let me discuss my religious upbringing. I was raised by two parents who, albeit Christian, always possessed a healthy sense of skepticism regarding organized religion: more so my father than my mother. My father had been raised working class in the small town South by a chronically ill mother who never could quite seem to stay healthy for long. As such, she used religion as a means by which to hopefully heal her afflictions. Her father, my great-grandfather, was a Holiness of God minister. His church was Charismatic and effusive, with services full of praying in tongues and running up and down the aisles. My father talks about how terrified such behavior made him as a child observing the goings on in front of him.

    Indeed, my great-grandfather took the Bible quite literally, in particular, the passage in Matthew 19:23-24 which states "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." He had not the luxury to be a minister full-time, indeed, his sermons were composed at the end of a long day at work in a textile mill. This was the way most in East Alabama made their living, slaving away for six days a week in filthy conditions weaving cloth.

    My mother was also raised working class. Her parents ran a small well-drilling business. Honest, but filthy work. They attended the local Methodist church but I can not recall them ever being particularly devout to the cause. They attended more as a social outlet than as a means for spiritual growth. Indeed, like so many people, my parents never pursued a church until their children were born. That church was Methodist, out of deference to my Mother.

    I was confirmed and baptized a Methodist at the small, insular church we attended until I was around twelve. It wasn't a particularly welcoming congregation. Like many small churches, it didn't really want to grow, and looked up visitors with obligatory friendliness yet it made no grand designs for expansion. The worship service was very traditional and I remember squirming and fussing about having to wear a coat and tie to church every Sunday. The minister was a well-meaning, but frankly dull woman whose sermons lulled me into sleep. The church itself was fast asleep. Reform was a word mentioned with caution. Things had pretty much gone on the way they always had, so conventional wisdom was why rock the boat. This was about five years or so before the idea of Contemporary Worship caught fever.

    Next, my parents took us to a much more liberal Methodist church that had only recently required its own building space. My parents hoped that their shy, heavily introverted, carbuncular, self-conscious son might find some sense of community amongst the numerous young adults. To their disappointment, he did not. Instead, he maintained his frustratingly reticent nature and clung to the shadows, whilst hard at work staring at his shoetops. My mother initiated our move from that liberal Methodist church because they had the gall to openly invite lesbian and gay members. My mother is remarkably tolerant on most matters but finds homosexuality an abomination. So away we went.

    My parents heard of a non-denominational church that used elements of theatre and rock music in the service. I was firmly into my teenage rebellion stage and anything that smacked of conformity was to be scoffed and scorned. Admittedly, I made some acquaintances there but I was unable to maintain them because I was beginning to fall into an abyss of depression that became my first nervous breakdown.

    In short, I had never felt a part of anything, ever. My head was full of doubts, full of questions, full of unresolved conflicts to which no one could provide any satisfactory answers. I stumbled into the local Unitarian church because I admired the writings of Robert Fulgum and had done my homework. Unitarianism sounded like everything I had always craved and I was particularly attracted to the lack of dogma or creedal requirements, which had always been to my annoyance.

    This church did not take to me in a spirit of welcome. They instead looked at me rather suspiciously. The fact that the church had been housed in the old money part of town added a level of exclusivity. I only spent a year or so in high school RE--surrounded by a tight-knit group of children who by in large, attended private schools. They had known each other since early childhood and by the time I, with my numerous eccentricities arrived on the scene, they didn't particularly feel inclined that their little group could admit another member. High school is a tough time for any outsider to break in--I feel particular sympathy with military brats who have to uproot frequently and try their best to adjust to brand new surroundings on a regular basis.

    With time, I proved my worthiness to the church. I threw around such terms as "college", "final exams", and this impressed them. I never tithed, preferring instead to show up early, tidy up the church, and converse with the older gentleman who had been the usher for years and years. I played guitar for several offertories and preached a sermon or two. I then found myself being referred with some degree of deference. Yet, I was the only member in his twenties who routinely attended service and any effort we made towards establishing a young adult group was half-hearted and never really coalesced.

    I suppose the final straw for me was when the decision to build a new building was officially mentioned to the congregation. Admittedly, we could have made do with more RE space, but I felt that the added expense of a brand new mortgage and higher energy costs would provide quite a shock to a congregation who had long paid off its existing building and who could safely estimate its power, water, and sewer bill from month to month. I was one of four members to vote against building the new facility, but alas, the zeal of a brand new space won out over common reason.

    Our minister, who despite being highly available to all congregational matters, was far from an inspiring speaker, took the opportunity to become an interim minister. I had always liked her. Indeed, she had often been kind to me during trying times in my life. She was very maternal, very sheltering, but did not challenge the status quo. The church was fast asleep and in need of some healthy shakeups. The shakeup occurred in the form of a man who quickly became my religious mentor.

    He called out the members on a variety of sins. I remember him grumbling The Shanghi railroad runs more efficiently than this place. He transformed the Circle of Lights from Activists' Corner to a much more dignified ceremony by which those with actual life changing events could express their grief and joy rather than having to stand privy to someone's personal crusade. He made a variety of changes that had long since been needed. For the first time, all visitors were mentioned in the order of service and newsletter, sincerely thanking them for attending.

    By this time, I became active in C*UUYAN affairs and attending two consecutive national cons. What I observed in my travels abroad deeply upset me, particularly with the militancy of the Anti-Oppression/Anti-Racism programming. I was further shocked to realize that UUA dollars were supporting, whether directly or indirectly, the works of several people wanted by the Federal Government for shuttling fugitives across the border into Canada. It had been my first experience with radical leftists and the experience left me confused. This wasn't at all what my church experience led me to believe. Instead, I was surrounded by a group of people who were even stranger and odder than me. Though overt drug use had but recently been banned, it was an unwritten rule that attendees could likely find casual sex without too much trouble. I'm far from a Puritan in that regard, but the fact that a religious organization could at least condone this sort of behavior seemed to me to be rather shocking. Indeed, I felt like I had been magically time-warped back to the late 60s, minus the hedonistic drug usage.

    The UUA itself seems to either be oblivious to what actually transpires at these cons or unconcerned. It signs the paychecks, but does it realize what it is paying to support?

    I was having a boatload of personal problems at the time and so I ended up unskillfully breaking ties with C*UUYAN.

    I moved to another city, where I found a church I perceived to be in a much more healthy state of affairs. Furthermore, they had a group of twenty or so young adults close to my age. Perfect! This is exactly what I had been missing in my previous UU experience. Yet, as I dug deeper, I realized that this church had some major issues of its own. This is not to say that there is any perfect church but some have farther to go than others. Its long-term called minister had left, creating a void in his absence. Anytime a long term minister leaves, a cult of personality builds around him or her and understandably some members will feel disconcerted when he or she leaves. As I entered, the minister had but recently left. In his place, was a interim minister who I had no particular qualms against yet apparently several members of the congregation thought his direct references to Jesus of Nazareth unpardonable sins. They circulated a petition calling for his removal.

    Some time recently after that, the long-time assistant minister left under dubious circumstances. We were never given an exact reason for her departure, but she had some degree of rapport amongst many members. A rumor advanced at the time, but never confirmed, was that she had tried to directly influence the selection of the called minister. I can neither confirm nor deny this as I was not privy to such sensitive information. Apparently the UUA found it important enough to send the District Representative along. We were provided little to no information as to what had really transpired, which led to further discord.

    Due to a personal matter I feel uncomfortable discussing in such a public forum, I was requested to take a leave of absence from the church. I disagreed strongly with the logic behind the request, but nonetheless chose to bite my lip and abide by the decision.

    I had many concerns about Unitarian Universalism long before that confrontation but that incident brought them clearly into focus. I've discussed these concerns in depth in a previous entry so there's no reason to mention them here.

    In short, the reasons why I feel that Unitarian Universalism has miles to go is because its very nature is so disjointed. UUs are a small denomination and I believe a greater degree of networking is necessary to remedy the problems. My primary concern regards C*UUYAN which serves as a sense of solace and community for young adults whose home churches show them utter disregard or have not enough young adult membership to encourage weekly attendance. This is not the way things ought to be. Home churches need to serve the primary role of fellowship for young adults and it's truly unfair that the only way they can find true community is at these once or twice a year gatherings.

    It should go without saying that I strongly disagree with the very existence of Anti-Oppression/Anti-Racism.

    My feelings on AO/AR work have always been deeply ambivalent.

    I’ve seen, with my own two eyes it create more problems than solve. It tends to rip scabs off of open wounds in (IMHO) a misguided effort to reveal the inherent racism amongst Caucasian society. Indeed, I know of no other religious group that has institutionalized this form of well-meaning, but ultimately self-destructive practice.

    I’ve seen a particularly militant demonstration of AO/AR programming literally create an immense drama storm during Opus/ConCentric ‘03 the likes of which turned many people away for good and produced many a letter of protest to Michael Tino.

    That particular con, I felt as though I was been asked to flagellate myself for the sins of my whiteness. I refused to do so.

    I know of people who deliberately avoid C*UUYAN and GA functions specifically to protest of AO/AR programming.

    The point of all this is not to trivialize the concerns of African-Americans and LGBTs within UUism. Let me underscore that. Their concerns are valid and I certainly understand them. I think we need to come together as a unified force. We have more than enough enemies lined up against us; why create strife within our own ranks? What good does it accomplish?

    AO/AR, no matter how gently performed, is always going to be a combative, controversial, highly emotional endeavor that risks bursting into flames and rapidly getting out of hand.

    I agree with one blogger who compares this to “the left eating its own”.

    Off the record, MidSouth District leader Eunice Benton expressed to me no small degree of consternation about AO/AR programming and mentioned that she had complained about its very nature, but that her complaints had fallen upon deaf ears.

    Furthermore, I encourage those of you who are interested in this matter to look into the not-so-recent past and find that such matters and battles have already been fought. Indeed, under the subheading of The Black Empowerment Crisis in 1968, UUs may learn that this denomination has never adequately dealt with the matter. UUs seem stuck in the late 60s and utterly without a new course of action. We don’t like to talk about it, but being that it is important history, nothing is needed more than open, honest dialogue.

    For those unfamiliar with the Black Empowerment Crisis, I’ll give a brief summary. For those curious to explore more, Beacon Press has an excellent book on the subject and a series of articles on this issue ran in UU World some years ago.

    It is well-known that white Unitarian clergy were instrumental during the Civil Rights Movement. They proudly marched on Selma and we hold dear the name of a martyr by the name of James Reeb who was killed there by an angry mob. That was in 1965. Fast forward a few years.

    By the time GA rolled around in 1968, it was tacitly assumed that white clergymen would be able to meet in committee with their black brothers and sisters in faith. Instead, they found their paths blocked. Black clergymen and leaders wanted their own private meetings without white attendance, which struck many white attendees as deeply hypocritical and a slap in the face, since they had stood hand in hand with them during Selma, Freedom Rides, and at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, amongst other places.

    This created immense turmoil amongst the delegates of that GA, leading to a substantial number of delegates actually walking off the conventional floor. Fights nearly broke out. Concessions were made towards a African-American only group of UUs known as the BAC, who had the full funding of the UUA. As the group became more radical and as the tide turned against its existence, it was dissolved due to lack of funding after only a few years of existence.

    Whether this was due to racism on the part of the White controlled UUA board or the increasing militancy of the African-American only group is a matter of conjecture that I wish not to state an opinion one way or another. Suffice it to say that I am stating the facts.

    The current president, of the UUA, Bill Sinkford, remembers how the Black Empowerment Controversy lead to massive disillusionment on the part of both whites and blacks and admits that the wounds of those days have not fully healed.

    As an aside, let me also point out that Sinkford was president of LRY (Liberal Religious Youth) which got so far off into left field that it ended up having to be dissolved in the early 80s. I could tell a multitude of stories about the problems that led to the dissolution of LRY, but they read as a scandal sheet and I am not inclined to rake the muck.

    Clearly, we must take stock of our history before we forge ahead in our present. We are split amongst baby boomers entrenched in their home churches, disenfranchised young adults who use FUUSE , GA, Opus, and ConCentric to find community, and those young adults lucky enough to attend churches big enough (and these are usually in big cities) where there are simply enough YAs present to justify having small group ministry. Each of these subgroups exist in its own universe, totally unaware that there are alternative options out there to explore.

    Unless UUs can take stock of this and find better ways to remedy this, other than important-sounding movements like "Mind the Gap", then the faith will be fundamentally flawed. That, above all else, is why I have decided to look elsewhere in my faith journey. I seek to be healed, rather to heal that which I feel I cannot heal in spite of my own best intentions.

    Saturday, July 07, 2007

    300th Post!

    Editor's Note: Thanks for all of your great comments and for visiting my blog. Though I've taken some time off recently, I do try to update every single day if possible. After the self-congratulatory banter, to the meat of my entry.

    NPR yesterday reported that Hillary Clinton continues to register in the high negatives when the American people are asked if they support her for President in 2008. Apparently, 52% of people surveyed have a negative view of Senator Clinton. This is hardly enough to win an election and goes without saying that winning any sort of reasonable mandate from the electorate is going to be damn near impossible. Those who dislike Hillary don't just slightly dislike her--they STRONGLY dislike her.

    Yet, my candidate, Barack Obama, trails Senator Clinton by 20 points in the last Newsweek poll.

    Democrats have their best chance in years to capture the Executive Branch and make significant strides in their majority in the legislative branch. Yet, they continue to endorse candidates who are either wet noodles or polarizing figures. Let's face it. Dukakis. Gore. Kerry. When did an inspiring candidate suddenly become arbitrary in politics?

    No matter how much money the Clinton campaign sinks into reforming her image or attempting to amuse us with a campaign video that spoofs the Sopranos, Hillary is not a charismatic candidate. She comes across as aloof, cold, and distant. Her stump speeches put me to sleep and I just can't trust her. I see her as robotic and beholden to poll numbers rather than her actual convictions.

    The GOP is in tatters. Scandal, high gasoline prices, and lest we forget, Iraq, have weakened the Republican party substantially over the past few years. The mere fact that a thrice-divorced, pro-choice, dubiously moral Republican is running at the head of the pack is further evidence of this.

    I support Barack Obama as a candidate because he is everything Clinton is not. Where Clinton is often an underwhelming public speaker, Obama oozes charm. Where Senator Clinton seems to read her answers from a prepared script, Obama has the ability to speak fluently off the cuff. The challenge to both candidates is a lack of experience. Yet somehow in this country, it has been proven that nothing makes us more squeamish in times of crisis than to elect a Washington insider. Politics is a dirty business and always has been and it's difficult if not impossible to not prevent the stain of corruption.

    America has a habit of electing Republicans who are party insiders and Democrats who stand contrary to the status quo. 2008 has the potential to be a realigning election, but I do not see Hillary Clinton riding in to power. We are still months from the first primary and even farther from November 2008 and I fully admit that I could be totally wrong, but I don't think I will be proven to be so.

    Friday, July 06, 2007

    Watching the Wheels

    I've acknowledged in the past year or so that I'm not as young as I used to be. I've noticed, to no small consternation, the obligatory thinning hair and specks of gray on my temples that signify that I am getting closer to thirty and farther away from my riotous, selfish twenties.

    Thus, I'm less inclined to play the same hipper-than-thou games that characterized my time at college and my late teens. It just doesn't matter anymore. Granted, I always had enough of a sense of irony to never plunge headlong into the Games Hipsters Play With Each Other. Yet, I did cling to my own sense of unique individualism as a shield against what I perceived at the time to be a cold, unforgiving world. An acquaintance of mine used to dispense the brutal truth whilst intoxicated and one memorable evening he mentioned we all know that you're different, but you wear your eccentricities like a badge. It upset me at the time, the way only the truth can inflame the tempers.

    If you wanted to whittle down the reasons for this attitude it could be summarized in one word: insecurity. All of us who played this admittedly puerile game with one another were wretchedly unhappy with ourselves. Though we would never admit it to ourselves, the core of resentment we had built up over time was at not being mainstream and normal, whatever normal meant.

    So, in response, I clung to this idea of ultimate purity in a futile effort to prevent what I perceived as the evil corrupting influences of mainstream society. It's the same pursuit that killed Kurt Cobain, if the suicide note rings true. Nothing to me was more abhorrent than to have MY music, MY literature, MY fashion sense subjugated by popular culture and misappropriated by those I perceived as utterly unqualified to appreciate or take it as seriously as I felt it deserved. To have my personal passions defiled by an army of bandwagon-jumpers and dilettantes appeared to my ears as fingernails on a chalkboard and to my eyes as the defilement of some sacred religious relic.

    My anthem of those days was the Nirvana song "In Bloom", with its sardonic lyrics directed towards a clueless fan: he's the one who likes all our pretty songs/and he likes to sing along/and he likes to shoot his gun/but he don't know what it means.

    One needs only consult Frank Zappa's album We're Only in it for the Money to confront the reality behind the sugar-coated feel good myth that has been perpetuated for the sake of nostalgia. The whole album skewers hippies and squares both as victims of the same slavish conformity. The hordes who descended on Haight and Ashbury streets were in search of free sex, free drugs, and irresponsibility. The cause meant nothing to them. Zappa sings, sneeringly I'm really just a phony/ but forgive me 'cause I'm stoned.

    Anyone who really remembers the sixties can tell you that before long, you could buy your own "Hippie Kit" in stores and how J.C. Penny and modern retailers quickly used this new fashion craze as a means to sell product. I'm young enough to remember that within a year of Nirvana-mania, department stores were selling pre-ripped jeans and flannel shirts.

    Now that I'm older, I've come to accept these are inevitabilities of humanity . Fighting against the inevitable is an impossible task which can crush spirit, break hearts, and cause mental collapses but the world keeps on spinning nevertheless. Might as well just learn to stop worrying and learn to love the bomb.

    As for me, personally, these days, it just doesn't matter. It's tough for any idealist to choke down the idea that capitalism, just by its very nature, take someone's novel idea and whittles it down for dispersal to the lowest common denominator all in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Fighting against it, in effect, cloistering someone's ingenuity is an impossibility. I may not like it, but such is life.

    Furthermore, a new side of me has emerged. Why deny everyone the right to enjoy what I may personally find sacrosanct? Imagine if this mentality had been applied to the teachings of great religious inspirations like Jesus of Nazareth, the Buddha, Muhammad, Moses, et al. Before I became a Christian, I used to delight at all the methods by which the teachings of that radical prophet had become perverted over time. It's easy for we closet Puritans to cluck our tongues in righteous condemnation, but no one has ever had to teach me that humans are hypocritical beings. We are all sinners. We lie, cheat, steal, we take advantage of our fellow beings to pad our own nests.

    Yet the message and virtue of love, rather than selfishness remains. Though we may need to be reminded from time to time of what really matters, at least these words of wisdom have been dispersed. Some may take it seriously, some may not understand it all in full, and some may disregard it but the word is out. I'm glad someone bothered to preserve the words. I'm glad my favorite songs were committed to tape. I'm glad there was film in the camera of my favorite movies.

    Who am I to judge someone else's visceral, emotional, auditory, and spiritual experience as somehow lesser than my own? We all want to be heard. We all want to belong. And we all want to be loved as we are.

    The world has enough hyper-critics and though I at times find myself falling into old patterns of thought where my insecurities tumble out of my mouth in the form of scathing condemnation, I've made more of an attempt to let people just be, as they are.

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    Why Israel?

    As a student of history, I know that the Zionist Movement, combined with a powerful dosage of guilt over the scourge and utterly deplorable genocide known as the Holocaust, combined to posit the state of Israel directly in the middle of sworn enemies.

    Israel could have been placed any number of other places: the Island of Madagascar, for example, but a small, but vocal minority insisted that Israel be placed where it was Biblically said to exist. I, despite being a Christian, do not believe 100% of what the Bible says and I fully recognize that parts of the Holy Text were crafted to suit the whims of Kings, Emperors, and other powerful people as a means of control.

    Everyone knows, as the time-honored joke goes, that the real Jewish homeland is in Brooklyn.

    Yet, the state of Israel was placed in an area of the world that is largely an arid desert and has yet to discover a single vein of crude oil. If the attempt of the Western world was merely to assuage guilt, then that is one thing. I find it a horrible mistake, but I think the real reason the country was placed where it was is largely for strategic purposes. The West wanted a base of operation and some degree of control over the world's oil supply. We all know, especially in these days of $3 per gallon gas how the world's economy runs on oil.

    I find much wrong with the utterly selfish decision to displace Palestinians from Israel. I find much wrong with deliberately placing a country in the middle of sworn enemies. Had this been a matter of war, it would have been a foolish mistake. It violates every precept of modern warfare. Why utterly surround oneself with unfriendly enemies without any sort of exit strategy? Doesn't that seem illogical?

    The mere fact that Israel exists where it does has proven to be the cause of almost ceaseless conflict, loss of civilian life, and utter atrocities that rival the worst excesses of all of humanity. It has been a thorn in the side of all of its neighbors, all of whom have taken great offense to its very existence. Some cling to a begrudging truce with Israel and some countries continue their offensive against what they perceive are the Zionist oppressors.

    I have no money. I have no power. I have not the strength to move mountains nor shape public opinion, but I think that one of the most asinine decisions the human race has ever made has been to put Israel in the middle of a hornet's nest. That nuclear combat or worse has yet to break out is itself a miracle and a half. If I had the power, I would relocate Israel to some place much less fraught with tension and surrounded by allies, rather than sworn enemies.

    It almost seems as though certain people want Armageddon. If they can't have it by mere course of nature, then they want to ascribe to some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. As I mentioned in my previous entry, I do not ascribe to any philosophy resembling Eschatology. These are not the end days, nor do I want to have anyone see them through out of selfish desires and misguided religious zealotry.

    I think that the reason we invaded Iraq was for much the same reason. We wanted a base of operation, from which to better control the world's oil supply. The mission failed based on a combination of arrogance and incompetence. I wish we would merely wash our hands of the Middle East and go on about our way. We clearly have more to do than to simply wash our hands---we must also mend fences with our allies, whom we have alienated and angered by our unilateral actions.

    Soon, China, Russia, India, and the developing countries of the world will demand more and more crude oil as a means to power their rapidly industrializing economies. I think it not irresponsible for us to allow the Middle East to be their problem. I believe we ought to pass this burden along to them. I believe we ought to develop alternative sources of fuel as quickly as possible and remove ourselves from the threat of terrorism.

    I hope my saying this doesn't sound irresponsible. There are certain battles that cannot be won and accomplishing any semblance of peace in the Middle East seems to be an impossible task. Some will argue that we ourselves created the problem, and I acknowledge their viewpoint. Irregardless of whomever created the monster, there comes a point in time where we must step back and pass the torch.

    I do not let my country off easily. Many mistakes have been made by this country out of sheer greed and lust for power. And in saying this, my intent is not to sound Un-American, though some may accuse me of it. I love this country and if I didn't, I wouldn't care. Clearly, however, it is time to transition ourselves as far as we can from the Middle East. I don't mean to sound callous, but the countries of the Middle East seem quite content to fight amongst themselves whether we are present or not. It is the nature of humanity to quarrel, and I for one am sick and tired of seeing a perpetually chaotic Middle East. It may be chaotic whether we are there or not, but at least Iran, Syria, and its allies will have one less enemy to rail against. The only thing that unifies them together is their hatred of we Americans. If we were removed from the picture, I daresay they'd begin to fight each other.

    There are some battles that cannot be won, no matter how much humanitarian aid or diplomatic envoys we send to the region.

    Calls for a Parlimentary System

    Yesterday, we observed the 231st birthday of our great nation. In the midst of barbeque, the minimum allowed fireworks (due to the severe drought that has plagued this area of the country), and the pomp and circumstance--I had a revelation.

    Maybe the founding fathers were wrong in one crucial instance. After all, they were products of the Enlightenment, itself an idealistic movement that believed that this current reality could be molded and shaped into the best of all possible worlds: a rosy-hued perspective skewered by Voltaire in his novel Candide through the character of Dr. Pangloss. In attempting to throw off the shackles of an oppressive British empire, they formed a brand new form of government in which parties were eschewed altogether. Indeed, it was the ill-founded, highly unrealistic belief that political factions would not exist in America. Rather, we would all come together under the banner of liberty to settle our differences in a manner of brotherly civility.

    The reality of course, is that factionalism is a characteristic inherent to the human condition that even noble intentions and righteous rhetoric cannot take away. The roots of a two-party system that currently rules these United States of America came in the form of the Federalists, who supported a Constitution, who sparred against the Anti-Federalists who felt that a National Constitution was too restrictive and sacrificed the inherent power of the States for the sake of a strong national government. Though these parties may have been more or less undeclared, within a matter of mere decades, Washington and Adams' Federalist Party found itself directly opposed by Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans, itself the precursor to today's Democratic party.

    Even in this ultra-cynical times I find it hard to believe that our Founding Fathers believed that we should all adhere to one political party and saw great evil in factionalism. Factionalism/tribalism seems to be endemic to the human condition no matter what good intentions may be proposed.

    Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, which all revolutions and other such seismic shifts are guilty of to some extent or another, we should have respected and retained the British Parliamentary system. This would allow a much fairer representation. The far-right could have its own party, the center-right its own, the center-left its own, the far-left its own, and so on an so forth. Indeed, a Parliamentary system encourages coalitions rather than stalemates. The current Congress of the United States has largely hit gridlock because of an unwilling to comprise lame-duck President and a Congress that sticks to its principles.

    I think we would see far less disgruntled voters if the electorate truly felt like they had a say in government. The complaint I see from many people is that they feel like no party adequately represents them. These complains have merit. I consider myself a Democrat, but not everything the Democrats propose do I find myself in favor. My Republican friends mention the same thing about their party.

    The problem, thus far, with third parties is that they hardly ever survive long enough to make an impact. They are normally built on a few key issues that resonate with voters, but find themselves rendered redundant when one or both parties steals that idea and incorporates it into its platform.

    The criticism of Parliamentary system is that they are easily dissolved and it's tough to maintain any sort of continuity in government. If America retained a Parliamentary system, George W. Bush would have been forced to resign long ago. Call me a neo-con, but I think that the nature of politics is such that if a person remains around it long enough, he or she will surely be corrupted. There is too much money, too much payola, too much temptation for any person. Eventually, all cave.

    It's a sordid business, and as Bismark said, "The less the people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep in the night".

    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    Addendum to Last Post

    In response to what what commenter mentioned, I stand corrected. It was my belief, however unfounded, that terrorists were comprised of the lowest classes of Islamic society. Apparently terrorists come from all classes of society, including the wealthy. But this makes the situation ever more troubling.

    The question remains: what makes a terrorist? If they are all not created equal and not cut from the same cloth then how are we to identify them before they go on about their sordid business? I certainly don't agree with suspended habeus corpus and warrantless wiretapping but in desperate times people with less regard for liberal values will take matters into their own hands. They already have and come another attack, more and more civil liberties will be enfringed for the sake of national security. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeus corpus during The Civil War and Woodrow Wilson passed a controversial Espionage Act that sent populist crusader Eugene Debs to jail for years. Fear is a powerful thing and I find that people are only civilized when their lives and livelihoods are not at stake. When they become threatened, they become just as uncivilized as our prehistorical ancestors.

    What floors me is that these people don't play by the rules. I cannot fathom sacrificing my own life to destroy the lives of others, just as I'm sure our grandfathers could not fathom Japanese Kamikaze bombers who deliberately crashed their planes into Allied ships during World War II.

    As a footnote, after Robert E. Lee was defeated at Gettsyburg, it was proposed by one of his general staff that his remaining forces fight guerilla warfare against the Union. This action could have prolonged the Civil War for years but Lee declined. He believed that it was against the rules of civilized conflict to resort to such tactics. And indeed, it has been to the befuddlement of many Western powers as to how to fight and win against an enemy of Guerillas. This was true in Vietnam and it is true here.

    Terrorism has become the challenge of this century and I for one wish I were wise enough to know how to combat it successfully. I do know this. It is my hope that moderate and liberal Islam will reign in its more radical elements. I may be a tolerant person, but come another 11 September and come enough flagrant terrorist attacks, many Islamic countries may find they literally cease to exist. There is too much at stake from a financial standpoint. We cannot allow terrorists to disrupt the world economy and bring us all down. Furthermore, the monied people of the world realize this and I fear that sooner than later, we may launch another Hiroshima or Nagasaki to preserve Western society.

    I don't adhere to this "end-times" philosophy that came into popular favor after 11 September and I don't think that this is Biblical Prophecy come true. I do know that every epoch of history has been comprised of struggles between rational versus irrational, fair versus unfair. And if we are to allow Civilization to continue we cannot allow terrorism to continue to haunt our dreams and corrupt us.

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    Mosques and Madness

    They're talking about building a mosque just down the road from me.

    Being that this country was founded on religious freedom, I have no strong objections to it. I would, of course, like to know first that the mosque was not comprised of radicals who have plans to destroy the infadels. Before you accuse me of shoot first, ask questions later, I just am a little uncertain about the state of Islam these days.

    I am not advocating that Islam be banned from our shores. I am not advocating that Islamic citizens be held to a higher level of scrutiny.

    I just want some more information. I don't want to come across as paranoid---just practical. Pardon my supicions--I know that most Muslims are law-abiding citizens-- but after the latest rounds of terrorist attacks, I am a little wary.

    What concerns me is that of the latest UK bomb plot, all of the Muslim men were highly educated doctors. This flies in the face of the idea that Muslim terrorists are all comprised of disaffected, angry young men with nothing to lose. After watching a news report on CNN, I was informed that Saudi Arabia is breeding a virulent new form of Islam that is intolerant of anything other than itself, with no regard for Western laws. I wonder if the idea of what a terrorist is is itself an evolving concept. I do not wish for America to be a safe haven for Islamic fundamentalism as Britain has become.

    I am reminded of just how intolerant a place the Middle East can be. It is no surprise that there is open conflict in that region of the world. Only mosques can exist in Saudi Arabia. There is no concept of a wealth of religious doctrines as exists in the Western world. Complete tolerance, like Democracy, is an idea seemingly foreign to the Middle Eastern mindset. We can argue that Israel is a liberal democracy, yet Israel will not allow Palestinians to co-exist peacefully and live within its borders. This flies in the face of American Democracy, being that American has not severely limited the migration of a people to such a degree as has Israel.

    Are all Palestinians terrorists? Certainly not. But it becomes tough in such circumstances to separate friend from foe.

    To expand the example further, I am not in support of Saudi Arabia because I know it is not a friend and is envious of what we have in this country. It enjoys our money and our support but I find it to be two-faced as hell.

    I wonder if we have another 11 September, that a nuclear conflageration between ourselves and Radical Islam will not be a foregone conclusion. I am not arguing whether it would be right or wrong, I'm just stating what I feel may very well happen.