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Saturday, May 31, 2003

Rwanda reloaded.

"This has become a routine scenario: massacres foretold, warnings ignored, slaughter erupting under the noses of U.N. forces with useless mandates." (Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker 6.2.03)

The horrible story is playing out again in the Congo. The Security Council voted yesterday to send 1,400 international troops to intervene, but the New York Times argues that the mandate is still too limited to do much good. President Bush invoked Rwanda (accurately and yet still hypocritically) in defense of the U.S. war with Iraq, but the real test of American commitment to human rights abroad is happening now. Do we believe that the world has a responsibility to stop genocide? Do we invest in institutions that can act? Do we pressure our governments to take this responsibility seriously? Here's the test case.

More 6.1.03. "In Africa, pricking the West's conscience" (Somini Sengupta, New York Times 6.1.03, reg req'd)

Posted by Philocrites, May 31, 2003, at 01:21 PM | 0 comments

It isn't 1933.

Maybe it's because I live in Cambridge. Or maybe it's because many of my friends are graduate students. Or maybe it's because I'm a Unitarian Universalist and read a lot of the e-mail that the perpetually-aggrieved political activists in liberal churches send each other. (They're the squeaky wheels of liberal religion.) But I know where James Traub is coming from in the Times Magazine (reg req'd) when he blasts back at left-liberal comparisons of the post-9/11 United States to the rise of the Third Reich:

Like all forms of reductio ad Hitler, the 1933 analogy constitutes a gross trivialization of the worst event in modern history. Do we remember what actually happened in 1933? Hitler ascended to the chancellorship, suspended constitutional rights and banned all opposition political parties, sent the Brown Shirts into the streets and issued the first decrees stripping Jews of their rights. To compare the passage of the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the proposed — but scotched — program to get ordinary citizens to pass along tips about suspicious dark-skinned strangers, not to mention the cancellation of Tim Robbins's invitation to appear at the Baseball Hall of Fame because he might criticize the war in Iraq — to compare these and other inroads on our liberties to Hitler's budding terror state is repellent.

(You haven't heard the comparisons? Then your friends probably don't read Common Dreams, which one UU seminarian told me is his only reliable news source.)

"And this is really the fundamental point," Traub argues: "fascist states arise not simply because a mesmerizing leader seizes state power in unsettled times but because the democratic institutions that might oppose him have rotted away, as they did in Weimar Germany." The important thing is to put energy into the democratic institutions — the political parties, the civic associations, the churches, the press — that keep a liberal society alive. Liberal churches can play their part best when they recognize allies across a broad spectrum of American society, not when they retreat into small enclaves of ideological purists at the most marginal edges of American society. When we think that anyone to our right is quasi-fascist — and we say so! — we're setting ourselves up to fail dramatically.

Posted by Philocrites, May 31, 2003, at 01:04 PM | 0 comments

Cambrich, Mass.

"A new study released yesterday by the US Census Bureau showed that Cambridge had the highest concentration of million-dollar homes of all large cities in the nation," the Boston Globe reports. No wonder I'm renting.

Posted by Philocrites, May 31, 2003, at 11:30 AM | 2 comments

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Emerson watch.

Some additional Ralph Waldo Emerson celebrations in honor of his 200th birthday on Sunday: Emerson: America's First Guru [interview with David M. Robinson, author of The Spiritual Emerson] by Paul O'Donnell (Beliefnet) ... The Sage of Concord by Harold Bloom (Guardian 5.24.03).

Posted by Philocrites, May 29, 2003, at 09:51 PM | 0 comments


The ranks of Unitarian Universalist bloggers keeps expanding! Scroll down and visit some of the new additions — although most are only new to me. One is by UU World contributor John Rakestraw; two are by ministers, including my friend Scott Wells in Washington, D.C. Enjoy! And let me know if you have a blog that discusses liberal religion, Unitarian Universalism, or some close cousin.

Posted by Philocrites, May 29, 2003, at 09:40 PM | 0 comments

Which way to Mecca?

Clifford Geertz read 50 of the new books on Islam, and has come up for air in the New York Review. His one-liners on several writers are priceless — "Paul Berman, a historian of the New Left, his subject remaindered, turns his attention to ferreting out the 'deep,' 'sophisticated' philosophy behind Islamic extremism so as to formulate a comparably reflective, comparably militant counterposition," he writes, thus laying Terror and Liberalism to rest. Geertz's essay is especially helpful in making sense out of the argument not just about Islam, but about America, that clearly animates many of these books:

The American idea of Islam, various, irregular, and charged with foreboding, is being built up at a time when the American idea of America is itself the subject of no little doubt and dispute, and the country as a whole seems embarked on a disconsonant and quarrelsome course. The forms the "What is Islam?" argument takes—"What do they really believe?" "How do they really feel?" "What do they really intend?" "What can we do about them?" —owe as much to domestic divisions, to warring conceptions of our national interest and national purpose, what we believe and feel and intend, as they do to the matted, instable, rapidly changing thought world they seek to represent.

If you're feeling a bit lost in the bookstore, read Geertz. He provides a welcome map to the critical terrain.

Posted by Philocrites, May 29, 2003, at 12:19 AM | 0 comments


The Bush Administration is clever and persistent, you have to admit: They've picked a vulnerable spot in liberal doctrines about the wall separating church and state to insert the wedge of government funding. Boston's Old North Church, an Episcopal church with undeniable historical significance and thousands of tourist visits each year, applied for a $317,000 government grant to help pay for repairs to its windows. And here's the point of vulnerability: Honest liberals recognize that not only are many old churches distinctively important as "secular" historic landmarks — like Old North, where the two lanterns that launched Paul Revere's ride were hung — or as architectural landmarks — like, say, the Unitarian Universalist "Old Ship Church" in Hingham, Massachusetts, the only 17th-century Puritan meetinghouse still in use, or King's Chapel in Boston, also Unitarian, or Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, another Unitarian Universalist church. Honest liberals recognize that many churches are profoundly important to American history as religious sites.

So do they qualify for some kinds of government funding? I think they might, if the rules for such funds were carefully restricted. (Of course, Bush must see a less exalted payoff for his sudden interest in culture and history, like votes from the Christian Right.) It will be particularly interesting to watch Unitarians twitch on this issue, since they tend to oppose any blurring of the line between church and state — and happen to own a considerable number of significant historic buildings that could use some additional grant money.

Read up: In shift, U.S. to offer grants to historic churches (New York Times 5.28.03, reg req'd) ... Old North Church grant marks shift in federal policy (Boston Globe 5.28.03) ... Religious voters in Bush's prayers (Newsweek 5.28.03)

Posted by Philocrites, May 29, 2003, at 12:11 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, May 22, 2003


It's back to Zion for a wedding (my sister's — mine is later this summer) and several days of vacation. See you again on the brink of June.

Posted by Philocrites, May 22, 2003, at 05:49 PM | 0 comments


Overheard this morning in Boston Common: A tour guide (dressed in three-corner hat and knee breeches), intoning to a group of bored teenage tourists: "The Puritans founded Boston as a 'city set upon a hill.' They believed that the higher up you are, the closer you are to God."

Whoa! Sure, field trips are a great way to encounter historic places. My own experience as a tour guide at King's Chapel on Boston's Freedom Trail for three summers proved that historic places open up all kinds of questions for tourists — sometimes very much to their own surprise — but a tour guide on autopilot is a dangerous thing. Every year or two, a tour guide ought to refresh his memory — say, with an AP review session guide! According to one helpful history teacher, John Winthrop "saw the colony as an experiment in humanity, a 'City Set Upon a Hill' as an example to England and the rest of the world of the way a good society should be run." Simply and accurately put.

Where did Winthrop come up with the phrase? From a close reading of the Geneva Bible (Matthew 5:14): "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill, cannot be hid." (Those of you at universities can compare the Puritans' Geneva Bible with the better-known King James Version here. Sadly, I had to look into the pdf version posted by an amateur.)

Posted by Philocrites, May 22, 2003, at 11:46 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Chris Hedges watch.

Wow. The author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning was all but booed off the stage during a commencement address in Illinois. (The AP also covered the story.) A followup includes links to a recording and a transcript of the speech.

Posted by Philocrites, May 21, 2003, at 05:54 PM | 0 comments

Monday, May 19, 2003

A vocabulary of reverence.

The UUA has set up a discussion forum about Saturday's New York Times article and President Bill Sinkford's efforts to get "Unitarian Universalists to reclaim a 'vocabulary of reverence.'"

The closest I've come to addressing this question is a bit of a hedge, I'm afraid, since my essay "Authority in the spirit" focuses on a liberal doctrine of the church rather than any doctrine about ultimate reality. (Plus, it's long!) But you might also find something of value in a series of comments I made in a discussion last summer of John Hayward's book Through the Rose Window: Art, Myth, and the Religious Imagination. Click here, here, here, and here for my thoughts on whether Unitarian Universalism is a "new religion" and what its "revelation" might be.

My own vocabulary of reverence, meanwhile, pops up from time to time in hymn writing. (Talk about niche blogging!)

Faster Plastic! Whoa, the conversation is already lively at Plastic. Favorite post here.

Posted by Philocrites, May 19, 2003, at 07:32 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Unitarian Universalism watch.

My friend Richard Higgins writes in the New York Times about the flare-up UUA President Bill Sinkford has caused among religious liberals by urging "Unitarian Universalists to reclaim a 'vocabulary of reverence.'"

In recent sermons, talks and articles, Mr. Sinkford said he was struck by the fact that the association's Purposes and Principles, or mission statement, "contain not one piece of traditional religious language, not one word." The statement has inclusive generalizations about human dignity, justice and "the interdependent web of all existence," but omits mention of God. It serves well as a broad ethic, he said, but does not do much "to capture our individual searches for truth and meaning."

Explicit religious language would better acquaint people with life's "religious depths" and "ground them in their personal faith," Mr. Sinkford said in a recent interview. It would also help liberals wrest religious language back from the religious right, he said.

Higgins describes the outrage Sinkford's statements have caused as "a firestorm of protest from humanists," which is certainly true — you should see the mail we've received at UU World — but it is important to note that some of this is really an expression of a battle taking place within the humanist movement. Two competing manifestos are circulating — one from the adamantly antireligious Council for Secular Humanism and another from the more irenic American Humanist Association — in an attempt to promote a humanism for the 21st century. The new AHA manifesto does not reject or dismiss the religious impulse in human beings — and it is being signed by secular as well as religious liberals.

The challenge for Unitarian Universalists will be to find ways to help people explore and celebrate the religious impulse — something some UU humanists can't or won't do, to be sure, but which many other religious humanists have always done.

Posted by Philocrites, May 17, 2003, at 11:41 AM | 0 comments

Extreme Christianity.

Two assessments of fundamentalist groups in the U.S.: The Boston-based International Church of Christ — the cultish megachurch whose members have proselytized me at 11 o'clock at night! — is imploding, according to the Boston Globe, because the prophet-CEO's daughter, who is a student at Harvard, has left the church.

And Bill Keller writes that George W. Bush's faith doesn't threaten to usher in the theocracy that some on the more stridently secularist left fear. The President's piety "enjoins him to try to do the right thing, but it doesn't tell him what the right thing might be. It is faith without a legislative agenda." I'm not so sure about that, but Keller is right to point out that "as an independent political structure, the Christian right is dying." How long will it take for social conservatives to realize they've hitched their wagon to a corporate horse that cares little for their values?

Posted by Philocrites, May 17, 2003, at 11:16 AM | 0 comments

Super Scouts.

In today's Globe: "Young Marines."

Posted by Philocrites, May 17, 2003, at 11:00 AM | 0 comments

Friday, May 16, 2003

Good news, bad news.

Heaven is expanding! But my place in it is dropping. (It was 2,247 on Tuesday; now it's 2,272.) Sigh.

Posted by Philocrites, May 16, 2003, at 06:06 PM | 0 comments


Five writers who take up both of Philocrites' themes — liberal religion and society — are now listed down near the bottom of that blue bar to the right as "UU bloggers." There are many other blogs by Unitarian Universalists, of course, so I'll just clarify my selection criteria. I'm not particularly interested in blogs that are essentially personal diaries; I'm interested in commentary on religion and society. If you have such a blog, I'd love to hear from you. Actually, I'd love to hear from anybody who finds something of value here!

Posted by Philocrites, May 16, 2003, at 05:49 PM | 0 comments

What matrix?

Hooray! Adam Gopnik thinks long and hard about The Matrix and The Matrix: Reloaded, and comes up with some fascinating parallels — like the Cathars!

The basic conceit of "The Matrix"—the notion that the material world is a malevolent delusion, designed by the forces of evil with the purpose of keeping people in a state of slavery, has a history. It is most famous as the belief for which the medieval Christian sect known as the Cathars fought and died, and in great numbers, too. The Cathars were sure that the material world was a phantasm created by Satan, and that Jesus of Nazareth—their Neo—had shown mankind a way beyond that matrix by standing outside it and seeing through it. The Cathars were fighting a losing battle, but the interesting thing was that they were fighting at all. It is not unusual to take up a sword and die for a belief. It is unusual to take up a sword to die for the belief that swords do not exist.
The Cathars, like the heroes of "The Matrix," had an especially handy rationale for violence: if it ain’t real, it can’t really bleed. One reason that the violence in "The Matrix"—those floating fistfights, the annihilation of entire squads of soldiers by cartwheeling guerrillas—can fairly be called balletic is that, according to the rules of the movie, what is being destroyed is not real in the first place: the action has the safety of play and the excitement of the apocalyptic.

Gopnik spends a good amount of time discussing the speculative itch that the movie scratched: Could our experience be fake? Could we be living in some demon's dream, or some advanced computer programmer's elaborate game? He much prefers the speculation offered by the first movie to the spectacle offered by the second:

Especially in view of the conventionality of the second film, it’s clear that the first film struck so deep not because it showed us a new world but because it reminded us of this one, and dramatized a simple, memorable choice between the plugged and the unplugged life.

What's up with sci-fi dystopias? Paul Kane ponders this question in the British e-zine Spiked.

Update 5.18.03. What is Cornel West doing in The Matrix Reloaded? His character's one line — "Comprehension is not requisite for cooperation" — is apparently already on T-shirts. But does it mean anything?

Posted by Philocrites, May 16, 2003, at 05:36 PM | 0 comments

The Muslim war against Islamism.

Be sure to read "Pilgrims and Passages: The Flight of faith" by Amir Soltani Sheikholeslami in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin. Sheikholeslami writes:

Most Muslims, certainly most Iranians who have sought refuge in the United States, know that September 11 is much more than a jihad against America. In fact, there has been a holy war against them, long before it reached the shores of the United States. The violence that shook the United States provides a glimpse into the plague that has been claiming the lives of thousands of Muslims. The map of the Islamic world, from Algeria to Afghanistan, Iran to Lebanon, Kashmir to Palestine, Sudan to the Philippines, is checkered with ground zeros. If this terrorism is to be rooted out, then it can only be done if one tackles the ideology that legitimizes terror: fundamentalism. 
Like Jacobinism, Bolshevism, and Fascism, Islamic fundamentalism is a modern political invention: a grotesque revolutionary ideology that distorts the basic principles of religion in the name of liberating and unifying an oppressed nation. As with other puritanical movements, the armed prophets of this new faith believe that they can resurrect the decaying body of their divine community by waging war against Satan. In practice, this means converting the state into a symbol of faith and an object of worship: a sacrificial instrument of death with which they protect the virtuous body of their divine community by eliminating their satanic enemies—foreign sources of contamination and alien symbols of corruption. Because they wage total warfare in the name of absolute principles of reason, religion, and national interest bound to their infallible interpretation of legal doctrine, they cannot and do not accept any limits on their freedom to kill.

That's from an interpretive passage in his essay, but Sheikholeslami's moving personal accounts of Muslim and immigrant experiences give his essay real punch. Recommended.

Posted by Philocrites, May 16, 2003, at 08:36 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Sorkin's parting shot.

Wow. Watching Martin Sheen on The West Wing turn the presidency over to John Goodman (!) sure caught me by surprise. I don't have that high an opinion of the Republican leadership in Congress, but Goodman's character — whew! Guess Aaron Sorkin really doesn't like 'em.'s West Wing Watch says, "we are concerned about the departure of Aaron Sorkin. And our pledge to you is that we won’t hang around just to mock this show if it becomes unwatchable — or worse, merely ordinary." We're counting on you, John Goodman!

Update 5.20.03. Richard Just at the American Prospect Online says Aaron Sorkin's casting of Goodman "has to go down as one of the least subtle — and most daring — middle fingers ever thrust at a television network on its own air time. The idiots will take it from here, Sorkin seemed to be telling his viewers." Which idiots? Not conservatives, really — just political and media executives who openly denigrate intelligence in public life.

Posted by Philocrites, May 15, 2003, at 05:28 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 14, 2003


"Idealism was the sex of 'The West Wing,' an élan vital that drove even small-minded people to mad acts of ethics," writes Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times (reg. req'd). "It was the most romantic show on television."

Being slow to catch on to new trends, I missed the show's first two and a half seasons, so I still have plenty of catching up to do even if the show takes a dive next year — but what I really want to know is whether "West Wing" Watch will be just as good if the show trades in idealism for conventional TV snogging.

Posted by Philocrites, May 14, 2003, at 08:41 PM | 0 comments

World ends tomorrow!

Exciting news from Japan: According to the Pana Wave Laboratory — what a great cult name! — the earth's magnetic poles will suddenly reverse tomorrow, causing "cataclysmic earthquakes." But have no fear. A bearded seal named Tama-chan will save us. Or, if not, the Pana Wave folks — dressed in white — will retreat into their geodesic domes for safety while the rest of us perish. Don't you just love marginal Japanese religious movements?

Posted by Philocrites, May 14, 2003, at 08:40 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The ontology of blogging.

It's a banner day for Philocrites: This little site has somehow crept into the blogging ecosystem! Okay, we're ranked 2,247 out of 2,250 — an "insignificant microbe" in the ecosystem — but that's a whole lot better than nonexistent. We gotta keep things in perspective, you know.

If there are only 2,250 places in the blogosphere, one wonders, is it the blogging equivalent of salvation? ("O Lord, I want to be in that number. . .") Like the Jehovah's Witnesses' 144,000? Or the Calvinists' limited elect? (Of course, I have a denominational obligation to put it in a good word for universal salvation.)

At any rate, I'm willing to celebrate my new microbial status. Folks, we're watching evolution in action. You've just seen a blog emerge from the primordial ooze!

Science writers at breakfast! And while we're talking about evolution, let's drift to other scientific topics and peek in on George Johnson and Robert Wright, chatting about quantum computing over at Slate. Johnson is the author of Fire in the Mind: Science, Religion, and the Search for Order, which I highly recommend, and he has just written A Shortcut Through Time: The Path to the Quantum Computer. I have no idea what a quantum computer is, so I'll be eager for the short version.

Posted by Philocrites, May 13, 2003, at 05:55 PM | 0 comments

Diplomatic candor.

Olivier Roy explains why Europe wouldn't join Washington's war game — and why it won't take over the reconstruction, either:

The problem is that no American official ever bothered to express the real motivation to the usual allies. One reason for this partial disclosure may have been that the consensus in Washington was built only on the lesser aspect — removing Saddam Hussein. But the broader, regional plan could at least have been privately conveyed by President Bush to his European counterparts. It was not. Mr. Bush does not like to travel and meet his peers, in contrast to his father and Ronald Reagan. No private contacts were maintained where ideas could be put forward without being couched in official statements.
The State Department consistently referred only to the restricted agenda (terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and tyranny) and systematically dismissed any idea of a broader agenda. Any European diplomat or expert who addressed American officials about the broader goals being discussed in the many think tanks close to the Pentagon — democratization, reshaping the Middle East, getting to Iran and Syria after Baghdad — were told that such debates did not reflect official views.
Would Europe have accepted the real agenda? Certainly not. But at least the debate would have been based on the relevant issue: does it make sense to reshape the Middle East through military pressure?

Library found! And the Boston Globe reports today that thousands of books and manuscripts from Baghdad's library were hidden away in a mosque, where they are safely guarded by militiamen. Update: Sorry this didn't have a link earlier:'s server was AWOL all day.

Posted by Philocrites, May 13, 2003, at 08:47 AM | 0 comments

Monday, May 12, 2003

UU blogger watch.

There are dozens of blogs that stumble onto Unitarian Universalism via Beliefnet's belief-o-matic, and there are bloggers who identify in some kind of vague way with Unitarian Universalism, but I'm keeping my eyes open for writers who regularly discuss liberal religious issues and Unitarian Universalist communities.

So check out Will Shetterly's blog. And be sure to read Doug Muder's savvy political reports from New Hampshire — our very own presidential primary reporter! (Doug's lay sermons and essays are worth a peek, too.)

If you have a Unitarian Universalist blog, drop me a line.

Posted by Philocrites, May 12, 2003, at 06:48 PM | 0 comments

Chris Hedges watch.

Don't have time to read War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by New York Times writer Chris Hedges? Then check out this fascinating interview at WNET's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. There's a short version, but you'll really want to read the full interview.

Bonus JLA watch! Fellow admirers of James Luther Adams will take special note of Hedges' mention of his ethics teacher at Harvard Divinity School:

I had a great ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, James Luther Adams. When I was a student, he was in his seventies. He told us that when we were his age, we'd all be fighting the Christian fascists, which we thought was rather silly then, but probably not so silly now.

The short version of the interview also contains a helpful reading list in the theological ethics around war.

Posted by Philocrites, May 12, 2003, at 02:42 PM | 0 comments

Unitarians against Graham.

The Canadian Unitarian Council opposes Franklin Graham and other Evangelicals-in-humanitarians-clothing in Iraq: "We call on the US and UK occupying forces to respect the religious integrity of Iraq," said CUC President Reverend Doctor Mark Morrison-Reed. "Any attempt to convert Iraqis from their current faiths to any other faith would be a desecration on a par with the looting of the Baghdad museums."

A few weeks ago, the British Unitarians passed a similar resolution (not yet on-line):

This General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, mindful of the profound religious sensibilities aroused by the present war in Iraq, and conscious of the necessity of not exacerbating the situation further, expresses its deep concern at reports that some so-called "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" Christian organisations are planning to enter Iraq in the aftermath of war for the purposes of religious proselytization. . .
Furthermore, as Unitarians and Free Christians we dissociate ourselves unreservedly from any attempt to interpret the war in Iraq in terms of "Christian triumphalism" or the "fulfilment of biblical prophecy", believing such interpretation to be erroneous, irresponsible and dangerous.

Will this issue still be the most popular angle for religious liberals when American Unitarian Universalists meet in Boston in June? What form will "actions of immediate witness" about Iraq take at the General Assembly? I'm guessing we'll see an anti-empire resolution, a pro-United Nations resolution, and a pro-humanitarian assistance resolution. Will an anti-prosyletization resolution still seem fresh?

Posted by Philocrites, May 12, 2003, at 10:34 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, May 8, 2003

Ralph Waldo Emerson watch.

Remember that Harvard Magazine celebration of good old RWE? (I mentioned it on Monday.) Now the Boston Globe's Alex Beam snarkily reports that the alumni magazine printed a picture of a fake Emerson! Scandal!

No wonder I briefly envied Harvard's archives when I didn't recognize the picture; I had spent a morning at the Boston Athenaeum looking through their collection of images for UU World's Emerson cover story, and never saw anything like the newly infamous faux Emerson. What I did see, though, was dozens of Emerson calling cards — little Victorian curiosities that people would collect, like trading cards for the literary set. Emerson apparently loved having his picture taken!

Posted by Philocrites, May 8, 2003, at 10:09 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Baghdad's blogger is back.

Salam Pax — last heard from on March 24 — returns today:

Let me tell you one thing first. War sucks big time. Don't let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow when the bombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine guns at the end of your street you don't think about your "imminent liberation" anymore.
But I am sounding now like the Taxi drivers I have fights with whenever I get into one.
Besides asking for outrageous fares (you can't blame them gas prices have gone up 10 times, if you can get it) but they start grumbling and mumbling and at a point they would say something like "well it wasn't like the mess it is now when we had saddam". This is usually my cue for going into rage-mode. We Iraqis seem to have very short memories, or we simply block the bad times out. I ask them how long it took for us to get the electricity back again after he last war? 2 years until things got to what they are now, after 2 months of war. I ask them how was the water? Bad. Gas for car? None existent. Work? Lots of sitting in street tea shops. And how did everything get back? Hussain Kamel used to literally beat and whip people to do the impossible task of rebuilding. Then the question that would shut them up, so, dear Mr. Taxi driver would you like to have your saddam back? Aren't we just really glad that we can now at least have hope for a new Iraq? Or are we Iraqis just a bunch of impatient fools who do nothing better than grumble and whine? Patience, you have waited for 35 years for days like these so get to working instead of whining. End of conversation.

The truth is, if it weren’t for intervention this would never have happened. When we were watching the Saddam statue being pulled down, one of my aunts was saying that she never thought she would see this day during her lifetime.

But . . .

There's a whole lot more. Welcome back.

Posted by Philocrites, May 7, 2003, at 05:05 PM | 0 comments

If only...

Christian right talks of bolting GOP in 2004 (NewsMax 5.6.03). Update: Matthew Yglesias's readers mull it over.

Posted by Philocrites, May 7, 2003, at 02:05 PM | 0 comments

Monday, May 5, 2003

Eli Pariser.

The Mother Jones profile of the 22-year-old organizing genius at is now on-line. Sadly, only the first three paragraphs of George Packer's essay on anxiety are available for free. (I mentioned both last week.)

Posted by Philocrites, May 5, 2003, at 05:49 PM | 0 comments

Dogmatism watch.

Here's something refreshing: some sharp candor about the dogmatism that lurks in Unitarian Universalist circles. Eric Johnson, a seminarian and Army chaplain, not only points out the pervasive ideological conformity within liberal religious communities, but has some really interesting things to say about it — on the UUA's Web site!

The most appalling thing that I have witnessed in this war was not the violations of our first principle against Iraqis. The fact is that there has never been a war where more attention was paid to avoiding civilian casualties and suffering. The Iraqi people were thought of, worried about, prayed over, and supported far more by the people of the United States than they ever were under the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein. Well before the fighting began and all through the actual conflict, I never heard one negative word said against the Iraqi people. Contrast that with WWII where Japanese Americans were thrown into internment camps. Think of all the slang words for the "enemies" of the United States in past wars, "kraut", "jap", "gook", and as recently as the first Gulf war, "ragheads."
No, the ugliness, the violations of our first principle that I personally experienced were from Unitarian Universalists against others. Prime amongst the targets is the President of the United States and members of his administration. This is not so surprising since the vast majority of Unitarian Universalists are politically liberal. This war, however, has revealed something that has been lurking in our churches for a long time — that Unitarian Universalism is no longer, in my opinion, a creedless faith. Liberal political beliefs have so infused our liberal religious beliefs that there is a very real doctrinal test for inclusion and acceptance in many, if not most, of our congregations — you must be politically liberal.

I've also pointed to the danger of political orthodoxy among religious liberals. And shortly after 9/11 John Buehrens urged UUs to avoid a bitter fight over U.S. military action in UU World: "Unitarian Universalism can be a healing presence in society to the extent that we model listening patiently to one another's perspectives, speaking temperately, and respecting one another's ministries and rights of conscience." I hope a lot of Unitarian Universalist leaders read Johnson's essay.

Posted by Philocrites, May 5, 2003, at 05:39 PM | 0 comments

Emerson watch.

More on Ralph Waldo Emerson's bicentennial: Lawrence Buell (who will be the keynote speaker for the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society's General Assembly tribute to Emerson in June) puts Emerson in context in Harvard Magazine; Adam Cohen, in the New York Times, finds American self-absorption in Emerson; and Christian Science Monitor columnist Roderick Nordell wonders how Emerson would conduct a CENTCOM briefing in Qatar!

Posted by Philocrites, May 5, 2003, at 01:13 PM | 0 comments

Friday, May 2, 2003

Liars? Or worse?

"At any moment, US forces may find convincing evidence of chemical or biological weapons—which undoubtedly will stir rousing cheers of we-told-you-so from war backers. But that won't be enough. War was waged—so Bush and others said—to prevent Iraq's WMD from being transferred to people and groups who would use them against Americans. But the war plan included no schemes to prevent that from occurring. This was a dereliction of duty. Looters beat the United States to Iraq's nuclear facility. If Iraq had WMD, if Al Qaeda types were in Baghdad, and if these terrorists were seeking weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—the fundamental claims made by the Administration—then there is a good chance the nightmare scenario Bush & Co. exploited to win support for their war has already come true." (David Corn, The Nation 5.19.03)

Posted by Philocrites, May 2, 2003, at 06:10 PM | 0 comments

False hurrah.

William Saletan sat through the victory party, and cheers, "Congratulations. We just won the wrong war":

Saddam was a tyrant, butcher, and serial aggressor. He jerked around the U.N. Security Council for 12 years, and the council did nothing about it. Even if all his biological and chemical weapons were destroyed years ago, his refusal to prove it—as he had pledged to do—by turning over records and personnel defied any hope of enforcing nonproliferation rules for gross offenders. Something had to be done, and Bush did it.
But don't tell us this was a triumph in the war on terror, Mr. President. Don't tell us the defeat of a secular dictator has turned the tide against a gang of religious fanatics. And don't talk about patience. You inserted a battle that could have waited into a war that couldn't, precisely because you lacked—or thought we lacked—patience for the slow, diffuse, half-invisible struggle against the people who hit us on Sept. 11. You wanted a quick, clear victory, and you got it. But don't flatter yourself. You haven't changed the world in 19 months. You've only changed the subject.

Meanwhile, TAPPED points out just how crass the president's little aviation stunt was yesterday: "The only possible reason for this was to create a one-day goo-goo story and provide some footage for campaign commercials, all at taxpayer expense."

Posted by Philocrites, May 2, 2003, at 03:14 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Irony, Utah.

Somehow I missed my home state's Olympic quest to attract new business with a new ad campaign two years ago — but the four-page ad in this week's New Yorker sure caught my attention. Those red rocks! That blue sky! That baffling slogan:

Utah! Where ideas connect

It would be hard to think of a stranger slogan for Utah to adopt in an ad in the New Yorker. I can just picture it: lonely intellectuals hunched over steaming mugs in a Greenwich Village coffee shop, sighing, "If only there were a place — any place — where people actually talked about ideas! A place where ideas mattered! Where art and science and politics and philosophy and jazz and opera thrived! A city with magazines about books and film and radical political ideas! I'd move there in an instant." Aha! After all these years, it turns out that Utah is the promised land for intellectuals. What was I thinking, leaving Salt Lake City for Cambridge? (Oh, right. But if you end up going to Zion for the intellectual adventure, you'll really want to meet the good people of the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City, who really do love jazz and drama and a good intellectual debate.)

But in visiting the site about Utah's ad campaign, I realized Utah isn't all that interested in ideas. (At least not the sort you find in the New Yorker.) They're just trying to attract medical technology tourists and word-processing history buffs!

(Full disclosure: I was a WordPerfect customer support operator — for Commodore Amiga, ATARI, and Macintosh computers! — back in the halcyon days of live hold-music DJs. WordPerfect paid my way through college before it moved to Canada. So on second thought, the tech boom in Utah did help me connect to ideas — like, "Get me out of Orem!")

Posted by Philocrites, May 1, 2003, at 10:17 PM | 0 comments

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