Monday, April 25, 2005

Church of Christ Anthem

Music and words by Jeff Wilhite. And believe me, it's twice as good with music. I mean singing.

Damn, Damn, Damn, Damn
Ever'body's goin' to Hell
Burn, Burn, Burn, Burn
Hear those sinners yell.

They coulda got right when they had the chance,
But they had to go and smoke and cuss and dance.

Now all of those punks
Who didn't get dunked
Will be wishin' they had listened to us well.

Damn, Damn, Damn, Damn...

Next time: Verse 2, wherein we all build gymnasiums, institute small groups and remove the "Church of Christ" from our signs, desperately hoping we'll be able to trick a few of those people who snuck over to the Baptists.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Turtles all the way down

Well holy crap. This makes sense.

For those of you who don't compulsively click on the first link in a post, I'll explain, summarize, and, of course, propagandize.

Doug Muder is a mathematician and author. included among his sterling works is that timeless classic, The Internet For Dummies. I'm sure you've all read it. Update: Oops. Doug posts a correction, which immediately brands me as a poor fact-checker. He didn't write the Internet For Dummies, but has co-authored several other "for dummies" books on Internet-related topics.

In addition to being good at explaining things, Doug Muder is a Unitarian Universalist and political liberal. He also reads a lot. And all of these qualities probably figure into his excellent essay, Red Family, Blue Family: Making sense of the values issue.

[click ... scroll scroll scroll scroll ... click back]

Hmm? That looks pretty long compared to most of the stuff you read on the Internets? Too true! There've gotta be at least a couple thousand words in there.

Boring? Not so! This piece is one of the most interesting things I've read in a while. It's actually a commentary that juxtaposes two books: Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think by George Lakoff, and Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church by James Ault. It pulls in a little cognitive psychology, a little religion, a little politics, and the result is fairly fascinating:
Lakoff’s general approach, which he developed long before he started writing about politics, is to recognize that the human mind works in metaphors: Life is a struggle; business is a game; time is money - stuff like that. The mind casts every abstract idea in terms of more immediate experiences. Struggles, games, and money, in turn, have their own metaphoric interpretations, and (to make a long story short) it’s turtles all the way down. There’s no ground floor where we think of things as exactly what they are.

Using the stuff from Ault, Muder fine-tunes Lakoff's explanation of the split in the American psyche. He then makes some suggestions (I love this guy!) about how progressives should change their rhetoric, and maybe win an election or two.

So read it already!

(And please note: Much love and many kisses go to Philocrites for publicizing Mulder's article.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A few chuckles

Wha? You'd like to read something amusing?

Try a column about the rising threat of Unitarian Jihad.

Or a long-awaited confession from the editors of Scientific American.

Or the General's take on Justice Sunday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Gawd bless the USA!

I can't seem to escape this meme:

  1. Paul at A Spiritual Diablog reflects on the political rantings of a rabidly conservative reverend.
  2. Forrest at American Bodhisattva is fairly appalled at the Family Research Council's advertisements for Justice Sunday,
  3. And he brings us a political cartoon from Bagley expressing similar disgust with the posturing of Frist and DeLay.

On top of that, I was having lunch with a friend last week who's in the middle of comprehensive exams for his M.Div. One of the topics he had to discuss with a faculty panel was "The Confessing Church in Germany during WWII." During the discussion, one of the panelists asked my friend an intricate question about the proper relationship between church and state, and then then shortened it to something like: "What does Focus on the Family have in common with the Nazi party?"

And finally, there's this blog, which shamelessly juxtaposes Christian and political ideas.

So I've been wondering. To what degree should we commingle our politics and our religion? If the good Rev. Swank wants to preach sermons on "God and the GOP", should we scold him? Should we waggle our fingers at churches that have American flags in their sanctuaries? Should Dubya be reprimanded for using religious language to burnish his political halo? For that matter, should Bill Clinton? And for presenting Jesus as a champion of liberal ideas, should I?

First, let's consider the aim of political speech. Most of us probably ascribe to some kind of marketplace of ideas theory, courtesy of Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and others. This theory says that the best mechanism for ensuring the triumph of good ideas is a sort of intellectual free market. So political speech is a way of endorsing well-known ideas or inserting new ones.

Of course, most of us probably also understand that a free market of ideas is an unrealistic ideal, just like free market capitalism and communism. Certain speech acts ought to be punishable by law (shouting "FIRE" in a crowded theater), and certain other speech acts, not dangerous enough to prosecute, still ought to be flagged as "harmful to rational discourse."

Certain religious-political speech falls into this category. For example, try this peach from Randall Terry, who was the official spokesperson for Terri Schiavo's parents:

I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good...Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism. (quoted in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Aug 16 1993)

Even without the religious reference, this comment would be objectionable because it makes a desperate emotional appeal, attempting to move the discussion from the realm of calm discussion to the realm of screaming hysteria. The religious element simply exacerbates this problem.

In addition, this is a great example of jingoism, the marriage of religion and patriotism. It asserts that one's loyalty to God is inseparable from one's loyalty to the state. And as my M.Div buddy explained to me, this was a big problem for the church in Nazi Germany. In order to be able to critique the state, the church must continually insist that it is distinct from the state.

Now I don't mean that we should try to classify all of our activities as either "secular" or "religious", and I certainly don't mean that we should try to keep our faith from influencing which policies we support and which we reject. We simply need some guidelines to keep us honest, and to keep our marketplace of ideas in balance.

Paul provides some suggestions:

I think this is exactly the manner in which faith constructively enters the realm of action, including politics:
  1. When it brings us personal strength and motivation.
  2. When it moves us in a spirit of good will and humility to engage in respectful dialogue with others as full brothers, sisters, and equals.
  3. When we recognize that God’s will is not something that we carry in our own hip pocket, but something that emerges in time as we constructively engage with the wider world.

In what sense should faith stay out of politics? When it’s not faith. When it’s politics posing as faith by making use of a lot of God-talk. In particular:
  1. When we identify the will of God with specific political agendas and platforms concerning which persons of good will may reasonably differ.
  2. Even worse, when we identify it with specific planks in the platform.
  3. Still worse, when we identify the will of God with planks that we help to install in the platform for the love of money and power.

Are these good guidelines? Would you add anything? Remove anything? Clarify anything?

And how would politicians and activists like George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Martin Luther King, Jr. fare with respect to these guidelines?

Friday, April 15, 2005

About the Paris Hilton Tax

The estate tax! My congressman is fond of calling it the Death Tax, but given that it only affects 2% of estates per year, I think I might start calling it the Paris Hilton Tax. Or maybe just the Spoiled Rich Kid Tax? That deserves some thought. Because as Jonathan Weisman over at the Washington Post explains, nasty names and propaganda - not facts - have convinced some Americans that a permanent repeal of the Sugar Daddy Tax is in their best interests.

"There's been a sustained, determined campaign of misinformation that in the end has left the American people with a very different notion of what the estate tax is and does than actually exists," [Representative Earl] Pomeroy said.

Admittedly, we should probably give some thought to the fairness of the Botox Tax: Is it fair to take more dollars from rich people than from poor people? (And how do we balance the desire for fairness with the desire for ... oh ... a financially solvent government?) But I think that most of us have already made up our minds on this issue. We're OK with an income tax, even if the percentage of the tax increases as one's income level increases.

So I'm forced to disagree with Frank Luntz, a Republican quoted in Weisman's article, when he says:

"The public doesn't believe people should be taxed at the time of death, whether they are paupers or billionaires. Compromise is very difficult because the public doesn't want it to exist."

Wrong! The public does care about the size of the estate being taxed. But the public has been deceived into thinking that the bad old guv'ment is taxing granny's cute little house and her china tea set and her Gomer Bolstrood armoire. And as you might expect this opens the door for vote-grubbing-dunces who run stupid scare ads and use this as a campaign issue and eventually drive the government further into debt.

Maybe those sorts of people will go down with Tom DeLay. That would be nice.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The beauty of XML syndication (part 2)

Also known as

The beauty of Captain Sizzle (part 2)

So I'm sure you're all wondering: how do I use XML syndication to make my life the utopia that those glossy magazine ads say it can be?

Rather than give you all the hairy details about XML formatting and RSS data formats, I'm just going to give you some quick steps so that you can try it for yourselves.

Step 1: Download and install a news reading program such as Lektora.
I've tried several other aggregation programs (including FeedReader) and i like Lektora best because it runs from within my web browser.

From this point, my instructions will be for Lektora, but many of the steps will be the same with other news readers.

Step 2: Take a look at your Lektora newspaper.
When you install Lektora, two new buttons will appear in your web browser. The one that looks like a newspaper opens a list of news feeds. Lektora comes pre-configured with about 15 feeds, sorted into categories like News, Business and Sports. Clicking on one of the feeds in the left-hand pane will display the data from the feed in the right-hand pane.

The way this works is pretty simple. Let's say you want the headlines from the New York Times. Your news program sends a request to the NYTimes website for a particular web page that just *happens* to be in a format that your news reader understands. Usually, this special web page contains a headline and a summary of the story. In Lektora, when you click on the headline, a new window will open that displays the entire story.

Step 3: Once you've read a few news stories, you'll probably want to customize your feeds.
In Lektora, you can remove a feed by clicking on the Customize button at the top of the Lektora window, clicking the feed you want to remove, and finally clicking the Delete button at the top of the customization window.

Adding feeds is a little more complicated, but way cool.

On easy way to add a feed is to go to the web site and click the button labeled XML, RSS or ATOM. Some standard buttons are displayed below.

And news sites aren't the only web sites with feeds. Lots of blogs have them too. The feed button for this blog appears in the right-hand sidebar, and looks like this:

ATOM Site Feed

A lot of blogspot blogs have a feed, but don't include a link to it. For these sites, you can use Lektora's auto-discovery tool to try and find a feed. Just navigate to the web site and click the Lektora button with the image of the magnifying glass.

Lektora also provides you with several other ways to add feeds, but they're a bit more complicated. You can read about them once you've opened Lektora's customization window.

So there you go. XML syndication! If you want to know more about how it works, check out Wikipedia's articles on web syndication and news aggregators. And if you really want the nitty and the gritty, you might start with this article on the O'Reilly xml site. Or ignore all that "how it works" stuff and just play around with Lektora. Or FeedDemon. Or whatever.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The beauty of XML syndication (part 1)

Wait! Don't stop reading! XML syndication is really cool - it only *sounds* super boring. We just need to come up with a better name for it ... um ... how about Captain Sizzle? That sounds pretty exciting. Ok.

The beauty of Captain Sizzle (part 1)

Right now, you probably use the following method to read your online news:
  1. Open your web browser.
  2. Open the "Favorites" menu in your web browser.
  3. Open the "News" sub-menu from your favorites menu.
  4. Click on one of the news sites in the "News" menu.
  5. Attempt to read the news on that site while dodging popup ads and obnoxious graphics.
  6. Open the "Favorites" menu in your web browser.
  7. Open the "News" sub menu ...
I don't know about you, but I think this is a pain in the butt. With Captain Sizzle (a.k.a. XML syndication), you do this:
  1. Open your web browser.
  2. Push a button. (A program known as a news aggregator then goes out to all the sites you've selected and checks for new content.)
  3. Peruse article headlines and summaries, and read the articles you're interested in.
Now the *really* great thing about XML syndication is that it makes it really easy to read THIS BLOG! No more sitting at your computer for hours on end, pressing the refresh button, hoping for new content on LiberalJesus. Now the news comes to you!

In my next post, I'll tell you how to save time and money with a free news aggregator.

Monday's Headlines, Regurgitated

More trouble for our friend Tom DeLay!

In case you've missed it, previous trouble for our friend Tom DeLay!

Social Security privitization compared to Thatcher's failed plan!

And nobody much cares about the Homeland Security privacy officer...

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Hello, Sailor!

Matthew's meatspace Coordinates: (-99.76,32.39)

Welcome to Abilene, Texas!

Yes, Abilene is my own personal node in meatspace. Home to three Christian universities and a dozen dozen churches, it's the brainpan of the Bible belt. Smack-dab in the middle of West Texas, Abilene has no native trees but Mesquites. And a few really tall prickly pear cacti.

I mention this not to dog on Abilene, but to give my rants and ramblings a little context. If my Republicans seem a little like caricatures, it's because I live in a city of caricatures. Half the people drive pickup trucks and the other half drive SUVs. Every other vehicle has a "Bush/Cheney" sticker on its rear window. And as you might expect, it is illegal for a Democrat to own a ball-peen hammer.

Hails a lot, though.

I wonder if a Hummer fits into the average West Texas garage.

For college, I attended the university affiliated with the Church of Christ, a Christian denomination particularly prone to caricature. I also grew up in this tradition, and truth be told I like it pretty well. The Church of Christ has its shortcomings, but it’s going through some changes, I don’t figure it sucks any worse than any other denomination.

Hm. I keep typing “demon-ination” instead of “denom-ination”.

I wonder what Freud would say about that.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Faaaaascinating article on the Washington Post site about the president's Social Security "60 stops in 60 days" propaganda blitz - and how much it might be costing you, the American taxpayer.
In 2000, when jet fuel prices were lower, the GAO estimated that flying Air Force One cost $54,100 per hour, or $60,250 in today's dollars. So far, the president has traveled to Indiana, New Jersey, Kentucky, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa and West Virginia. That is enough, by commercial schedules, to take at least 30 hours, or $1.8 million.

Wha? And that's just the president's travel cost. Don't forget that the VP and other administration officials are also out there promoting the president's Social Security agenda. Again, from the Washington Post article:

And yesterday, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, formally asked the Government Accountability Office not only for the cost but also "whether the Bush Administration has crossed the line from education to propaganda."

So is it education or propaganda? Take a look at the administration's Social Security web site and see what you think.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pulitzer Images

In case you missed them, here are some Pulitzer-prize winning images taken by Associated Press photographers in Iraq. (The Pulitzer site isn't exactly link-friendly, so click on the green 2005, select Breaking News Photography and then click the Works tab.)

If you're up for some lighter fare, select Editorial Cartooning from the Pulitzer 2005 site. You'll be able to enjoy some excellent cartoons commenting on the Iraq war and other political issues in these United States. (You can also view Nick Anderson's cartoons on the Courier-Journal web site.)

The cartoons, I think, tend to inflame readers and prod them into talking about topics such as the Iraq war, and Christianity, and SUVs.

The photos, on the other hand, inject some needed humility, and also some urgency, into our discussions. Photographs remind us that in Iraq, real people - both soldiers and civilians - continue to live in harm's way. And for these people, the war is something that can't be safely restricted to barbershops, bars and blogs.

Yes, there are other tragedies. And some of them are more wasteful and terrible than this war in Iraq. But this might be the one that US citizens are most responsible for.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Geo-Green? Sounds like a cleaning agent to me.

Then again, maybe it's supposed to.

The online magazine Grist has an interesting interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He's advocating an environmental and foreign policy called "geo-green". Basically, the idea is that the US should drastically reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, thereby forcing oil producers to diversify their economies and allowing for the spread of democracy.

He even advertises the strategy as appealing to conservative Christians:
If you're obsessed with the right to life, you have to be obsessed with sustaining the environment -- that is also God's creation. He didn't create human beings to live in parking lots.

Give it a read, check out Friedman's other stuff, tell me what you think.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

To a Contemporary Bunkshooter

Spent a few minutes this weekend thumbing through a thick, red book of religious poetry. Found one by Carl Sandbug I hadn't read before. I don't think it's his best - it reads kind of like a letter to the editor - but it's better than any of that junk they print on funeral programs and get-well cards.

What? You want an excerpt?
You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist and calling us all damn fools so fierce the froth slobbers over your lips. . . always blabbing we're all going to hell straight off and you know all about it.

Now just go read the poem, willya?

Friday, April 01, 2005

That whole establishment clause

Dude, A.Lo just gave the best response EVER on this blog. Like, that post was so awesome, it makes all the other responses look like no responses at all. Rock on, A.Lo!

Among her salient points:
I talked with liberal Bart Campolo last night, and he's speaking at a rally this week to encourage young Christians to see politics as a way to help the poor.

Yes. I agree with the younger Campolo's assertion that Christians should see the political process as a way to help the poor. But recently, I've realized that there may be a fine line between encouraging Christians to enter the political process and encouraging them to insist on a religious government. I've been involved in a little pissing match with Robert, who insists that church-state separation is a silly idea. (Robert and I are on a first-name basis, 'cause I don't give out my last name, and sometimes I don't even give out my first name.)

"Kiss the son, lest he be angry!" says Robert. And whatever else that might mean, it obviously means that the United States should declare an official religion. And Robert isn't the only one who thinks this is a good idea. There's a whole group of folks who are down with establishing a state religion. Oh, it's Christianity, of course.

But what about religious freedom?

Oh, a state religion won't affect the freedom of religion, Robert asserts. Just look at Egypt, he says! And Iraq! Their restrictions on the freedom of religion aren't so bad.

Of course, when I object to this characterization,he tells me he was really talking about England and Finland, who have state religions but don't place unacceptable restrictions on the freedom of religion.

England and Finland don't float either, though. Because what Robert wants is a state where the state religion is Christianity, and where that state religion directly and substantially affects public policy. Does this really happen in England? Not really. As far as I know, there are no such nations. And there's a reason for that. Whenever you combine religion and armed force, the result always seems to be religious persecution.

So let's be involved in the political process, but let's respect that First Amendment, too. 'Cause who wants the Southern Baptists in charge?