Thursday, August 30, 2007

Unringing a bell

You can't.

There's plenty on the too-early death of Centennial Park bombing hero Richard Jewell, who apparently succumbed to diabetes and renal failure this morning at 44. Why add to it?

Just to rant. The injustice done to Jewell has burned me for years.

Don't get me wrong. The FBI had to look into every potential suspect. It's irresponsible not to. It was their leak to the media of their suspicions that led to Jewell's villification. This article in Vanity Fair blames the media, which certainly lived to regret what it had done to Jewell. But what can a network or paper do with a leak? Ignore it? Say "We'll wait for confirmation"? I'd guess that such a decision rests on the authority wielded by the source. This was the FBI. If they say it and if they give it to the media, they must be pretty damn sure.

So if the FBI has to investigate this suspect, and the media has to be able to judge a leak worthy of publication, based on the quality of the source, then what's wrong with the picture?

I can't even pick which soapbox to get on, here. The media is trapped in profit-making, and profit comes from keeping the hot story alive even when it's in preliminary process. Even when an investigation is in the hypothesis, evidence-gathering stage. And the viewers/readers don't see it as prelimnary, but as The Truth unfolding before their zombified eyes.

Then again, a better education system could train our minds to see a process as being a process, and not a final answer. You could illustrate this in a classrrom with a simple damn coin toss -- toss it a hundred times and show that it will turn up heads or tails about 50-50. But that if you tried to decide which would turn up more often based only on the first ten tosses, you'd get a skewed result. Gather all the evidence before you judge, kids! The early evidence might just tell the opposite of the truth.

And politics. Damnable politics that pressures a federal agency to make it look like they know something we don't. Your government wants you to know that you're in good hands, folks. You silly masses might be fooled by this guy's heroics, but we know, like, psychology stuff, so he won't fool us. We'll protect you from his kind.

Profit, politics, and public emotion-based unthinking stupidity all came together to prevent the truth from getting heard. In a nice blog entry, ronnie recounts "a miscarriage of justice" of a whole different kind, yet not so much. It demonstrates the essential wrongness of the death penalty. You gotta wonder why there is a death penalty, and the only possible answer, to me, is emotion. The desire for a "justice" that really cannot bring justice about, that couches rage, fury, desire for revenge in the too-polite term "justice." If somebody killed my loved one wouldn't I want to see him fry? Sure. Your point? My point is that justice, for Stephen Truscott, Richard Jewell, or anyone else, can never be achieved while we have an emotion-based society that devalues thought and reason. It will insist on hot sensational news stories. It will insist on premature closure. It will insist on white-hot revenge instead of coolheaded reason. And while the job of the justice system is to detach from victim emotion and stay evidence-based and cold (Yes. Cold.), that system is selected and pressured to respond to emotion, and gradually becomes emotion-based.

The Jewell case shows how that bell is never unrung. Once cleared he never got back what he'd lost. That's how it works. He got money. He sued all over the place. Michael Moore gave him a cameo, Saturday Night Live gave him a walk-on. He had a little fun. But his hero status never returned.

Jewell had dreamed of a law enforcement career. He'd been turned down by the local police department, but you could say that some kind of Plan put him where he was needed. Because in his role as a private security guard at Olympic Park, he saved 50-100 lives that day in 1996 when Eric Rudolph set off a bomb. So the good news is that we can't unring that bell either. A lot of people are alive because of Richard Jewell.

So it's a life well-lived. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Oh well.

I wasn't using my foot stool anyway.

It's been a long time comin'

And it's gonna be a long time gone.
Lunar eclipse 8/28/07

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Spiritual paths - with a shopping mall detour

I'm surrounded by people with a wide spectrum of religion, or lack of it. It pretty much keeps me from spending any significant time inside any religious comfort zone. And this is good. It's important, I think, to step into other peoples' worlds.

My friend Leila has kind of a zen view. I like her philosophy of charitable giving: "Give where you are spiritually fed," she suggests. We have interesting talks in which she tries to explain to me the state of existence above the plane of duality where there's no good or bad, things just "are." I'm more backward than she is: I keep saying "But if something isn't bad how can it not be good?? And if that plane exists, then there's the plane of duality and the plane of non-duality, which is a duality." It's OK. If it's a spiritual direction in which I need to go, then I'll evolve to it at my own pace. Then there's my ardently anti-religion husband -- he bought a "Born Again Pagan" t-shirt for amusement, but even paganism is too religious for him -- and my conservative Baptist brother.

It was with my brother's family that I just saw my first full-immersion baptism. My niece, who's 11, was baptized this past weekend. I got to be there for something that means the world to people I love, but that's a foreign experience for me, and to see it through their eyes.

My bro and I were raised in the Episcopal church. He was an acolyte. I, 7 years older, wanted to be but this was a closed door to girls in the 60's, in the south anyway. It was for the best though. My interest was a whole lot of desire to be on stage, and no conviction.

Anyway, I'm used to much formality, and to infant baptism. Confirmation for us was at age 12-ish, in 6th grade. We underwent lots of preparation, lots of ceremony. I had a new white dress made out of that 1966 Fortrel (R) stuff that resembled foam rubber, and my first "heels," only an inch and a half tall. All followed by a back yard cookout with gifts -- religious gifts, but gifts nonetheless.

Sunday school "confirmation class" was a year-long thing we took seriously as our key to an important rite of passage. Though once we'd been confirmed and they still expected us to attend confirmation class, my same-age cousin and I decided that was ridiculous. You don't have to keep submitting applications when you're in the club, fer cripes sake. So we would get our bottled Nehi's out of the fellowship hall vending machine, but instead of moseying over to class, we'd go back out to the parking lot, hide on the floor of our parked car till classes started and the lot cleared, then sneak across the street to play in the park.

Circa 20 years ago my brother became a Baptist. Such decisions are highly personal. I've never talked to him about whatever experience moved him to do this.

My default setting is that, in our varying concepts of God or of whatever drives the universe, we each have strictly a "radiant" relationship with it, meaning that each of us is like a wheel spoke. We radiate from the wheel's hub. The other spokes have their own direct connections to the hub, they don't go through me, and their perceptions of that hub's nature should not be challenged by me. I don't consider myself to have the authority or the right to try. This is why I'm pretty much anti-evangelical. Faith is something that can be shared, sure, but that does not need to be.

My bro and I remain close because we give each other full space and acceptance of the different paths we've taken. Anyway, I'd been to a couple services in this church, including my turn as their bridesmaid in 1994, but did not know exactly what to expect from a Baptist full-immersion baptism. I was invited to be there with them so I got ready for a road trip.


The first thing guys would groan about is that I had time to either get the oil changed, or buy a dress. I bought a dress.

My problem is that I'm not fashion-oriented enough. All my dresses are 10 years old. Outdated style is not a problem in itself. But being age-inappropriate is.

Saturday morning I hauled out my dress options and had to accept that the lacy bibs and flouncy sleeves just do not work on a 53-year-old woman. I came out and said to Larry, "I have to go buy a dress." He said, "I'll come with you and we'll use the Magic Card." At J. C. Penney, I left him the shoe department, hit the sale rack, and, lo-and-behold! found something right away. Simple, nice, and reduced from $70, to $17.49! He got just as good a deal on some sneakers.


Next was to gather up the music-to-drive-to CDs I'd spent Friday compiling and burning (instead of checking my wardrobe), and get on the road. It's about a 5 hour drive from here to my brother and sister-in-law's little NC town. When there's no tourist traffic jam, that is. My trip was closer to 7 hours. The CDs didn't play. Well, one did, but much as I love Billie Holiday, I was pretty sick of it by the time i got home.

Rolled into town, and this cool car, which does not resemble anything that occurs in automotive nature, was waiting at the town's one-light intersection. By the time I got the camera on I was too late to capture what Larry tells me is important identification information - the headlights and grill. He says it's a custom or a kit car.

My bro was away till late evening doing biology field work, so my sister-in-law took me and the kids to a local Italian restaurant. Here in this tiny town was this nice little place where they make everything fresh, have their own garden behind the restaurant for fresh herbs and salad veggies. Which I missed photographing because we were around the block before I got the camera out of my purse and turned on. My next camera will hold a charge for an extended time, blast it, and let me leave it on for unexpected shots.

Next morning was the service.

Superficially, the lack of long study and ceremony can make a Baptist baptism seem downright casual.

It's not. Not at all. It's a decision so important that it must be made by you, not for you. But it's also more emotional and less studied. No year-long class. No test on the Apostles' Creed or other doctrine. No set age, though about 7 -- the age of reason -- seems to be the minimum. Each child, or adult, undergoes baptism when he or she is moved to do so. My niece had announced her readiness and gone to the altar to profess her faith at the end of service a couple weeks before this, rather surprising her parents.

She and the pastor are standing in the baptismal pool here. The ceremony is brief. The pastor says a few words about the congregant, and asks her to state her "profession of faith." Then he lowers her into the water and lifts her back up.

Because my niece has all these weird Episcopal relatives, she had gifts to open. No other kids had gifts, they just towelled off their hair and proceeded with a normal Sunday. And I needed to get back on the road to get home before dark.

By the time I'd listened to my 2 listenable CD's (one homemade and one commercial) for the umpteenth time I was on the lookout for a place -- any place! -- to buy CD's. But on the tourist-avoidance route I took, there was not a single mall, WalMart, Kmart or Target.

Wonderful little rural towns dot the route.
But no music stores.

But the drive was smooth and easy. A sullen Graymatter shunned me for 5 hours after I got home, making me wonder what kinds of punishment she'll dole out when we take a week's vacation. I'll think about it later. This was a good weekend, a unique experience for me and very beautiful.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Window wildlife of the day

This morning's visitor was a praying mantis.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Blast from the past no. 2

More from the "things you find when you're looking for something else" files ...

Happy Birthday (in a couple days) to the bane of our 70's feminist existences, Phyllis Schlafly, born August 15, 1924.

I've saved this cartoon for 28 years. It's by Mike Peters and all I have is a photocopy, so I can't source it. It's from page 76 of something. Most likely a news magazine. The only date up there on top left is "1979c."

If anybody does not know who Phyllis Schlafly is -- she was an ardent opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, and of feminism in general. And still is. As of this writing she's still kicking liberal ass, on most every topic. And I still disagree with her on most every topic, but you know what? Schlafly seemed extreme and outrageous to me back then, but now in the Coulter era I miss those relatively (relatively!) thoughtful reasoned days of issue-based discourse. Ya know?

Blast from the past no. 1

From the "things you find when you're looking for something else" files! I didn't know I still had this thing, but I was excited to find it because, simple and primitive though it is, I couldn't reconstruct it now if my life depended on it.

Well I recall -- I hate admitting this -- the major brain contortion that this assignment required of me in 1981. This is an information retrieval program. Part of the library science degree. It assigns search terms to a list of (entirely fictitious) journals, and lets a library customer find them by topic.

I got an A, I'll have you know. I wrote in a provision for the searcher to use a search term not found. And I looped it so the searcher didn't have to re-log-in to do another search. Why is that impressive? Because my super-smart friend Eve, who was the class star, got an A-minus for having it log off after each search.

This was the one and only time I did anything better than Eve did. Yes, I still remember that!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Strawberries and honeysuckle

I woke up to find a wonderful addition to my breakfast waiting for me on the kitchen counter. Larry, who's out filling bird feeders, walking Scooter (they take a morning constitutional, out to the marsh and back, then yard rounds), and tending the gardens long before I'm even conscious, had harvested our first strawberries for me.

It's a tiny berry patch. That's the whole patch right there. It won't yield enough for a pie, won't accumulate for cereal topping. The number edible at any one time would even get lost in a yogurt cup.

So there was nothing to do but .... eat them. Bite into a berry, no ups, no extras, and get a delicious bit of flavor that I would have missed if I'd mixed them into something.

This made me think about my honeysuckle experiment. I was about 8 or 9. All us south'n kids knew how to pick a honeysuckle blossom off its stem, pull the stamen out which raked out a tiny drop of nectar, and catch that extreme sweetness on our tongues.

I'm a kid. I'm thinking, Wow! I bet a whole spoonful of this would be even better than my standard for gourmet flavor - a Nehi Grape soda.

I got a spoon and proceeded to spend, God knows, maybe 20-30 minutes accumulating the tiny drops of nectar in it. By the time I was fed up with this slow process, the bowl of the spoon was only about half full, but close enough. I'd get a sizeable sample of nectar. I gulped it. Horrors. The cloyingly sweet, slightly musty flavor nearly gagged me. It wasn't quite as bad as Creomulsion For Children, but it was bad enough.

Gorging just doesn't work at all for some things - they need to be tasted in tiny exquisite amounts. Others, like fresh-picked berries, would be fine by the bowlful, but can be little marvels one unembellished berry at a time.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Arithmancy 101

When I started this blog I didn't intend a real focus, just whatever I felt like yammering about. But I did figure a theme that would pop up now and again is how I juggle being a Christian and a liberal. Not a problem, till you get to St. Paul. Paul has been evoked to keep women out of the priesthood, to say slavery isn't so bad, to call gay relationships an abomination. He's not the only, or the original, source of any of this but mention his name and lots of people understandably look daggers at you.

And that meant at some point explaining why I think St. Paul is neither God-appointed, nor Satan spawned. A half-done version has been sitting here in my word processor, inspired by a neat history book I found and wanted to share. Then the subject came up elsewhere, so maybe its time to dust this off.

I wondered for a long time why exactly we're supposed to treat Paul's words as The Word of God. There are plenty of sources on the formation of the New Testament canon, but I ran into some clues by accident, in this nifty little book that I read for a whole different reason, i.e., that I like book stuff.

BOOKS AND READERS IN THE EARLY CHURCH: A HISTORY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN TEXTS. HARRY Y GAMBLE. YALE U. Pr. 1995. (All quotes are from it, unless otherwise indicated.)


Nascent Christianity was a scattered and, in the Roman empire, an outlaw movement.  So.  How do you keep a group not only going, but on the straight-and-narrow? Pressure and influence are comin' at it from all sides. Authorities who want to wipe it out. Local gods. The general tendency for any belief system to evolve and fashion new interpretations and rituals. You have to train it like a vine.

Today you'd keep your movement in-touch and on-message by internet and cell phones. In the 1st-to- 3rd centuries it was done with writing.
These numerous and far-flung Christian congregations, large and small, nevertheless retained a sharp awareness of their collective identity as the ecclesia katholike and affirmed their mutual relations through frequent communication.
Till the second century CE, the book as we know it barely existed. A "book" was a scroll. Cumbersome, single-sided, you needed both hands to hold it, you had to rewind afterwards (!) and forget leafing back to a previous passage if you needed it. It's not real hard to see why the codex --the bound pile of leaves between covers, essentially the book as we know it -- took over.

And early Christianity had a lot to do with that. Codices had been used for books before, but hadn't caught on much, and were primarily a way to make early blank books for people to take their own notes in. Then the Christian movement came along.

The short version is that their literature needed to be easily portable, easy to reference, and easily hidden. You could get more text in the same space using a codex than using a scroll. If nothing else, you used both sides. You could also more easily flip to whatever passage dealt with a specific question.

Enter Paul. Advantage number one: he was one of the very earliest to write to far-flung congregations and guide them.

Advantage two: He struck exactly the right note:
One of the most urgent tasks of the Christian movement in its infancy was to support its convictions by showing their consistency with Jewish scriptures. ... Proper interpretation of scripture was...vital to their identity and agency as "the true Israel."... Paul frequently resorts to Jewish scripture in writing to Gentile Christian congregations.
Advantage three: He was considered just as "apostolic" as the Twelve. Eusebius says as much (Church History 3:24, written before 325 CE).

By Paul's self-proclamation, he equated his experience on the road to Damascus as delegation by God of the same level of authority that the Twelve had been given. His --to church authorities-- unimpeachable personal conduct and theology supported this. But another little factor plays in here.

Advantage four: The Mystical Number Seven
There is an old theory, mentioned in a number of ancient Christian sources, that the apostle had written to seven churches and that therefore, because the number seven symbolized totality or universality, Paul had addressed the church at large.
(This would have been an early ten-letter collection [1], some of which were attributed to Paul at the time but were later disproved.)
If the edition had consisted of a group of codices or scrolls, even so small a group as two, it could not have signified Paul's catholic relevance, for nothing would prevent the individual codices or scrolls from being taken separately and the sevenfold disposition of the letters thus being obscured or lost. ... The very nature of this edition therefore required its presentation as a physical unit, a single book.
This reverence for the number seven was pretty powerful stuff to the ancient world mentality. Heck, we're not over it yet. That Paul had been moved to address all of Christiankind only enhanced his reputation as one chosen, set apart.

Paul's Greatest Hits collection was too big for one scroll. Its total length would have been at least double a useable size, and triple the size of an average scroll.

It was almost certainly passed around instead as a codex, a non-traditional format at the time, but one that allowed the collection to maintain that mystical seven-based integrity by existing in one volume. There's evidence -- though no surviving full copies -- that a single-volume "seven churches" edition of his letters was a familiar book by the early 2nd century when the pseudonymous writer of II Peter proclaimed Paul's apostolic status in 3:15-16.

Glimpsing what's behind the canonization of Paul's work actually helps me like the guy better than most liberals probably do.  The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but we pretty much all do the best we can, and Paul felt pressured.  He believed the second coming was imminent, and -- now we're into my opinion here -- that changing societal or gender roles was pointless.   Get the message out, people, we do not have time to quibble about who teaches and who does the cooking when society is about to end anyway.   While he tells one community not to allow women any authority, he acknowledges woman deacons in others (Romans 16, and possibly 1Timothy 3).

What does it add up to? To me it makes sense as an instruction to not waste time sweeping a house that's about to burn down.  However things are, leave them be, and put the effort into the real job.

His condemnation of same-sex relationships stems, I think, from the idea that God creates things to operate exactly One Correct Way, and that any small population that statistically diverges is "unnatural" and has to be the work of Satan. On this I have no trouble dismissing Paul without despising him for it.

Sometimes letting daylight fall on and dissolve the magic is a very good thing. Till we do, the choices falsely appear to be: take his words as those of God Himself ... or dismiss him as a power-mad fraud. Neither is necessary.

[1] Corinthians (1 & 2); Romans; Ephesians; Thessalonians (1 & 2); Galatians; Phillipians; Colossians & Philemon (grouped together).