04.27.06

Focus on the Contradiction

Posted in Society at 15:45 by RjZ

Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family’s leader, and close friend of President Bush, James Dobson is heading up the National Day of Prayer Task Force

The site claims to be “the official site of the National Day of Prayer.” According to that website:

The National Day of Prayer was created by an act of Congress and is, therefore, intended for all peoples of faith to pray to the God of their understanding.

However, our expression of that involvement is specifically limited to the Judeo-Christian heritage and those who share that conviction as expressed in the Lausanne Covenant. If peoples of other faiths wish to celebrate in their own tradition, they are welcome to do so, but we must be true to those who have supported this effort and volunteered their time to promote it. National Day of Prayer is not a function of the government and, therefore, a particular expression of it can be defined by those who choose to organize it. This is not a church/state issue.

(emphasis added)

So, let me get this straight. The day of prayer was created by an act of congress (in 1952, during the height of cold war fears of a communist, and atheist Russia; back when we added “In God We Trust” to the money and “under God” to the pledge of allegiance) and it’s limited only to those of Judeo-Christian heritage, but somehow it’s not a function of government?

Lest you Buddhists feel excluded from this National, government-enacted, but not-a-function-of-government day, you can take comfort in the fact that it’s not just limited to those of Judeo-Christian heritage. You also have to ascribe to this passage from the Lausanne Covenant:

2. THE AUTHORITY AND POWER OF THE BIBLE
We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

Obviously Muslims are out. So are Jews, who don’t accept the New Testament. So are Catholics who dare to claim that the Bible is the word of God but that the stories might not have happened exactly as translated (uh, I mean, written) there; that they might just be allegorical. This national day is reserved, essentially, for fundamentalist, evangelical Christians and nobody else.

Organizations such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State are not made up of a bunch of activist atheists. Rather, they are run by people, many of whom are Christians, who see the danger of letting any religion take precedence over all the others that can be practiced freely in a free nation. Mrs. Dobson doesn’t care about freedom of religion. She is so confident in her beliefs that she knows that only through her, (I mean Jesus) can anyone find salvation. She’s entitled to her belief. She is not entitled to drive a wedge between Evangelical U.S. citizens and everyone else; even if the Evangelicals are enjoying (hopefully) temporary power through association with the President.

Maybe now, before the 4th of May, it’s a good time to check out AU.org and learn more about it.


After writing this, I called the number on their site, (719) 531-3379. I spoke with a person who refused to be quoted but explained that this was a “Christian expression of the National Day of Prayer” (she dropped the “Judeo” part.) That it is a 5013.C non-profit and separate from Dobson’s Focus on Family. Look at their site and tell me this isn’t a bit deceptive. “The Official Site of the National Day of Prayer” it says, not “The Official Site of the National Day of Prayer’s Christian Expression.”

The “Task Force” is not authorized by the U.S. government and they have their Christian and divisive agenda to the Congressionally authorized act all on their own. This is the difficulty with having the government become involved in religious activity for it enables organizations like these to hijack their authority and claim it for their very specific agenda.

The person with whom I spoke didn’t want to be quoted. The quote above is from their website, not her. I asked her “why not, you’re proud of what you’re doing, aren’t you?” Why would people be cagey about being quoted about what they’re doing? Is it because she knows that the subtle “Christian expression” of a national day is perhaps a bit too thinly veiled, and that they are clearly gaining some credibility for their “ministry” by riding the coat-tails of this national day?

It’s rude, divisive and deceitful. Hardly very Christian values, it seems to me.


Update: If all this get’s you down, perhaps the National Day of Slayer will make up for it.

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Soaking in history

Posted in Travel at 13:47 by RjZ



Windmills, Oia, Greece Older pictures of these windmills
show sails only on the higher one. Looks like the lower
one has since been restored as well. Ha, we did see
something special!

Well, alright, in spite of what I wrote here, the sun did come out for brief periods. It was Greece after all. I waited for about forty minutes in the cold wind to capture a few sunset pictures like this one on the almost absurdly picturesque, Oia (ee-ah). At least fifty people milled about on the corner of the island where the views of the traditional windmills and the sunset side of the city are best. They snapped dozens of pictures, too. Wait a few weeks and search the internet; I bet I won’t be the only one with a pretty picture.

The weather didn’t hold though. The Acropolis in Athens was shrouded in scaffolding and grey skies. The mountains of Kalambaka were barely visible in the mist around the monasteries perched on top of rock pinnacles at Meteora. The sites were amazing, just the same, even if my pictures won’t prove it.

Meanwhile, I gained a new appreciation for greek classical art. That stuff we see everywhere and all the time, because western civilization has been copying it, more or less (mostly more), for the last 2600 years. Not because that was so long ago; I’ve been to older places. What piqued my interest was the sophistication of Greek classical art and how it compared to the art, sculpture and pottery I’ve seen in European cathedrals and Mexican jungles. You have to wonder how so many people forgot this stuff. It seems like it was more than 1000 years before the West would create art at the level of this small community of ancient Greeks on a warm Mediterranean peninsula.

It’s interesting because I should know all this already. Greek classical art is everywhere. Fluted columns with Corinthian capitals are now seen decorating suburban homes. Still, there’s something about standing next to Zeus’ temple that really drives home how large the temple was. There’s something about looking at a traditionally decorated amphora from the 5th century BCE and wondering if they used single haired brushes to paint the eyelashes of the athlete motif. Walk along the marble (!) street to the ancient agora, (essentially the shopping mall of 2300 years ago, and where we get the word agoraphobia, fear of crowds, and maybe shopping), and it’s hard not to notice how far we haven’t come.

The ancient Greeks we’re creating beautiful architecture on a monumental scale, ornate pottery, suitable for the most chic tables, and, well, shopping malls. They had it together. The astounding thing for me, the question I kept asking, is “what happened?” How was this knowledge and skill lost for so long? How far would we be today, if we hadn’t forgotten the skills and aesthetic they had already developed, only to finally notice after 1500 years, that Aristotle already knew that the earth was a sphere.

Just like our medieval ancestors, I should have known all this, but somehow, either I forgot, or I failed to really take it in initially. But even the rain during this trip could stop me from noticing one of great advantages of travel: nothing allows you absorb history like walking around on it.

See my flickr site for a few more pictures of Greece, including a rare shot of the Acropolis in scaffolding! More to come as I sort through them.

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Orwell sees the future, before 1984.

Posted in at 11:56 by RjZ

This Orwell quote (from a piece recommended to me by a friend, thanks…) is so frightening in its accuracy to today’s war hungry climate.

Presaging his masterpiece “1984,” Orwell was most alarmed by the fervid nationalist’s indifference to reality: “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage—torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians—which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.”

Just check off that which we have already done as a nation. Here let me help: torture, check. Hostages, check. Reportedly family members are detained in order capture insurgents. Forced labor, we’ll leave this one off. Mass deportations, no check here, we have only deported a few people. Imprisonment without trial, check. Forgery, I think we could put spying on citizens in a similar category. Somehow Orwell missed that one. Assassination, not yet, I don’t think. Bombing of civilians, check, but that’s collateral damage, this is a war, damnit!

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04.23.06

Where is Einstein’s brain now?

Posted in Reviews at 8:19 by RjZ

There is down time when you travel. That must be it. And it was relatively rapid reading. Must have been. Oh, and there was a promise of a side story that I was interested in…it was enough to keep me reading even while I shouldn’t. Driving Mr. Albert didn’t drive me to distraction, or even boredom, but I was irritated a bit by the author, Michael Paterniti. I mean the guy writes really well, except this book has nothing to say and can’t decide what it wants to talk about either way.

Essentially, a lost Mr. Paterniti, lonely because his girlfriend is busy writing a book and he’s apparently out of ideas, hooks up with Dr. Thomas Stolz Harvey, the pathologist who is slightly famous because, during the autopsy of Dr. Albert Einstein (That’s Dr., Mr. Paterniti, not Mr. as your title speaks…you’d think he’d notice that.) he removes Einstein’s brain and then, well, takes it home and stores it in a sealed cookie jar and Tupperware. The two drive across America with the brain in the trunk, and Paterniti muses about Einstein, Dr. Harvey, his girlfriend, America, and, well, I don’t know, I couldn’t figure out what the common thread was.

There is some nifty biographical data on Einstein. (There are loads of better books for this.) There’s a nice wacky road-trip motif. (Read Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing… instead.) There’s a strange relationship with Dr. Stolz (Maybe it’s because Paterniti is more scatterbrained than the ethically-challenged octogenarian.) and there’s this hint of a story about finding the right relationship and having it fade away for reasons you can’t understand. Except that story too, the only one I really found all that interesting… (Oh, all right, I’ll admit it: I like romantic comedies, too. There, I’ve said it. Are you happy now?!) Sorry, that story, too, goes nowhere. [Spoiler alert] They work it out in the end. [End spoiler]

Here’s all I think there really is in the book, although it is written really well: There was this guy; he stole Einstein’s brain. He kept it on his mantel. Wow, Einstein’s brain! I mean the significance? Or is there significance? Hmmm. Wow. OK, that’s all you need to know. Yes, it’s crazy that some guy stole Einstein’s brain and kept it for forty years. In the end though, even Einstein’s granddaughter couldn’t see why anyone would care all that much. There, now go read something else instead.

One more thing: In spite of Paterniti’s unwillingness to pass judgment, one thing is sure: the act of stealing the brain was wrong and obviously against the wishes of Einstein himself.

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04.22.06

Feel like a Space Cadet

Posted in Reviews, Travel at 16:15 by RjZ

Robert Heinlein, author of Stranger in a Strange Land (haven’t read it) and Starship Troopers (at least I’ve seen it), is one of the founding fathers of science fiction. I occasionally read science fiction, and this book was sitting on my table waiting for me to return it, so it’s about time I gave it a try.

Space Cadet was first published in 1948 and it shows, but only just barely. Heinlein’s predictions about the future are a bit optimistic at some times and pessimistic others. He predicts widespread planetary space travel by 2075 (and quite a bit would have long occurred, according to the history described). That doesn’t seem likely today. He seems to have missed out on robots and wasn’t able to get past tape for memory and chemical and nuclear propulsion.

What he does do is pack this book, literally about a space cadet (not the colloquial version of that phrase we have today, but rather, a military cadet, in space) with loads of charming detail on life in space. The quick read is mostly a coming-of-age story, and has some interesting ideas that apply to travelers of any kind, whether they make their way to Venus and Mars, or just Europe and India. The process of traveling opens your experience up to things unimaginable to those who’ve remained home.

When young cadet Dodson returns home for leave, his family gives him detailed descriptions of “the marriage chances of several female relatives.” “Everyone asked him to tell about…what it feels like to go out into space. But somehow, they had not actually seemed very interested.” I’ve had this very same experience. (Actually, I haven’t been in space.) I visit my parents, who seem genuinely excited to hear about what I am doing and where I’ve been, but I barely get a chance to tell them before I am interrupted with observations about the house, or the new restaurant and the big breakfasts they serve there.

I understand that feeling of disconnection Dodson feels. Fortunately, I got over it. It’s not a bad thing. Actually, I want to hear about the house. I don’t go places for the sole purpose of telling my parents or anyone else about the trip. People who haven’t been the same places or done the same things as you have are different, for lack of the same experiences. We are the sum of our experiences, and I want to hear about yours as much as tell you about mine. That way, we’ll have plenty to talk about!

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04.14.06

You won’t see these in postcards!

Posted in Travel at 11:13 by RjZ

I will post them soon: the unique photos that you’ll never see on any postcard. Because I am such a proficient photographer? Nope. Instead, because I’ve come to the island of Santorini in Greece and snapped pictures of the beautiful blue-roofed churches and the caldera of a still-active volcano that makes the island chain while it was raining!

Yup. Glad I brought the Gore-tex. It’s working like a charm. After the eight-hour ferry ride from Athens, we’ve come to this charming and beautiful island only to have its vibrant colors subdued by the rain and mist. Even the Greeks are embarrassed about the weather as their tourist season begins.

It won’t make for the best photos, but no matter–they’ll be unique. I’ve got pictures from previous trips of statues with winter crates around them and churches with scaffolding. It’s become a habit just to go with it and remember that at least my pictures won’t be the run of the mill sun and surf photos!

The island of Santorini is obviously popular just because it is so photogenic, so I do indeed hope the sun comes out to brighten its colors before I depart. Not to mention, it’s actually kind of cold! We were glad to find extra blankets in the hotel! Who’d have thought it?

At least the Gore-tex is working. Thank you Mountain Hardware. Or maybe it’s the half liter of homemade white Santos wine I had? What do you think?

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04.03.06

Understanding webstats: how’d this happen?

Posted in Society at 16:17 by RjZ

The Reiki Page was shown in my webstats as a “requestor” for my post “Asking why opens your mind.” Can anyone who understands webstats explain this? How did that page, which is rather out there and is barely worth debunking because it says so little concrete in the first place, have much to do with my post? I get the skeptic connection, but I wonder which person was reading both pages? Was it the skeptic or the believer who was interested in both views? (That’s a good thing, either way!)

The Reiki page only concerns me if people with real health problems that have been demonstrated to respond to existing treatments will use the laying-on-of-hands instead. That sounds dangerous to their health, no matter how well meaning the author of the page is.

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“And you think one person not eating meat is going to do any good?”

Posted in Society at 13:29 by RjZ

It happens to me frequently. “Is it for political reasons?” I’ve already explained here why I don’t eat meat. It’s not that important; it’s just something I (don’t) do. Still, whenever there is an appetizer platter ordered that comes out a bit larger than everyone expected, people notice that I am not enjoying the wings and ribs, and push them gently on me, and the subject comes up.

Recently when I explained that I just don’t eat meat (my blog entry wasn’t handy), one person inquired, a bit slyly, “Do you think that your not eating meat is going to change what everyone else does or make much difference in the number of forests burned down to raise cattle?” It’s a fair question. My first intuition is to say “No.” I don’t really think that because I don’t eat meat that my dinner partners are going to stop doing so. I don’t think my quiet refusal to eat meat will save many cows or conserve much water. “The meat is already packed and waiting in the grocery store,” people often note.

That is why I don’t eat meat. I decided that these reasons were important enough for me. What you do is up to you! I can’t and won’t force you to act like me and to value the same things I do, so that we really do make a dent in conservation. I can’t demand that others eat less meat, but I’d feel a bigger sham wishing people would, if I couldn’t do it myself.

Except that it does make a difference. My not eating meat makes a bigger difference than “2,500 gallons of water per each pound of beef.” It makes more difference than gallons of chicken litter dumped into the Illinois river. In fact, the next time we order the nachos, my friends might forego the chicken so that we can share. They try to the tofu at the Thai restaurant, and we enjoy a family-style meal. They tell me that they really liked the tempeh, and that they’ve found a new vegetarian restaurant we should check out. Even my parents make me vegetarian dishes when I visit, and find they really like them and keep making them for themselves.

Do I think that one person will ever make a difference? That really wasn’t my intention, but it turns out I do!

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