Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

New beginnings

In a break-up situation, an old friend writes with good advice to all those who face the end of relationships with sadness:

> Time works wonders, but it is the lessons one tries to figure out about love that
> eat the energy.

Wicked good advice.

Who, in our generation, hasn't wasted hours belittling themselves against the specter of some fearsome love-that-was, wondering what they did wrong to lose that partner, who intervened, the ghosts of former relationships, and how they could have avoided the pain at encounters thereafter?

Come to think of it, before the days of youth culture and self-help, who ever thought that screening for mates was an opportunity for improving one's moral self except Goethe?

The family was supposed to be the major site of moral improvement. One eventually found a mate who matched the morals of the family. Changing one's morals for the mate, or changing because of courtship -- an absurd and romantic notion.

One gets involved with others in the first place partially because of the mutual reflection and self-knowledge that accrues from discourse. It's brave and right to want to treat others well. It's worthy of speculation. But maybe the ends and beginnings are not the time for this kind of reflection.

I sincerely wish him well: maybe I also wish for both of us the grace to not think too hard about what went wrong.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Pictures of trash, weird shapes, and light

blowing wreath
Originally uploaded by joguldi.
Robert Arnold, the documentarian, is my photo mentor, and occasionally I get the honor of wandering and shooting with him around parts of San Francisco.

The more the aesthetic of urban life grows on me, the more I develop a fondness for hard textures, weird shapes, stark contrasts, and bizarre juxtapositions.

I can't really imagine living in the polite Victorian mansions of Pacific Heights or the clean bungalows of North Beach.

Gritty and fascinating, the area between the Mission District and Potrero Hill forces me to keep moving, curious, and awake.

See the rest at my Flickr page, or visit the pool for photos of interesting trash.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

More about the Atlantic World

More about Boston's resistance to British taxation: this is hypothetically where a libertarian regime would take us: the realm of early modern city states, where security is guaranteed not by permanent agreement but by a loose and shifting network of paying off the stronger regime.

Tribute allows much more autonomy in responding or not responding to demands from a larger capital. Peterson draws attention to the early phase of the Seven Years War, where Boston refuses to support troops until they’re allowed to raise and send their own troops.

Something changes in Whitehall at the time. London is increasingly interested in formalizing the ties between the periphery and the metropolis, insuring a reliable stream of income for its future wars. This tendency has, since 1690, insured the restructuring of Whitehall’s relationship with the English provinces especially with Scotland and Ireland.

The experience of securing Scotland against rebels convinced the British military of the necessity of being able to forecast the future. They collect maps and plan roads in great numbers: moving away from the awkward balances of power and constant standing militias of renaissance Europe. England’s constitution won’t allow it to maintain a standing army, so maintaining the peace in Scotland after the Civil War requires violence by other means: by a policing of roads and towns, an infinite knowledge of terrain and transport, capable of maintaining an English privilege over Scotland at any moment in the future.

This urge to control the future is at the root of a shift in polity that expands Whitehall’s desire for control, both at home and around the Atlantic world.

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Mark Peterson's job talk

I'm listening to a job talk by Mark A Peterson, one of Bernard Bailyn's last students in American History at Harvard. Peterson is currently working on a fascinating set of issues about the 17th-century Atlantic world.

He argues for a curious connection between coins and slaves. Slaves exist at the intersection between empire and commerce, like coins.

In utopian, city-on-a-hill Boston, slaves were unavoidable in Boston’s relationship to larger trading community. Did slaves belong to Caesar or to God?

Boston's "Pine Tree Shilling" -- an illegal coin in competition with English coins, bearing a tree rather than the image of the English king -- symbolized both New England resistance to London, and Puritan suspicions about rendering to Caesar things (like human faces) that belong to God.

By the 1680s, a few forward-thinking evangelical Protestants like Samuel Sewell and Jonathan Belcher were hoping that Massuchusetts' connection to a larger trading empire was an opportunity for reforming the evils of Atlantic trade through Christian charity.

The Sad Death of the Book of Daniel

The Book of Daniel has closed after only four episodes, as NBC has decided to pre-empt the controversial show.

The American Family Association, a conservative group, had been conducting a campaign against the show, saying it misrepresents Christians.

-- CBC: NBC shuts 'Book of Daniel'

A great shame, that this intelligent, funny show, which so accurately depicted the controversy around Christian concern for others confronting modern worries about race and sex, should go off the air so quickly.
An even greater shame, that this episode should go down as an evangelical -- let alone a Christian -- victory.

Christians rejoice at earnest discussions about how responsible individuals should behave in relation to challenging new political realities. For many Episcopalians and other Christians, the Book of Daniel was a welcome breath of fresh air: it showed families and priests nervously facing realities like teen marijuana use and neighborhood racism, trying both to defend their family pride while build up the individual's self-worth and conscience.

Since these are the very issues that so many families face, drawn between loyalty to family concert and challenging but very real new discussions of sexuality and worldliness, it's a pity that we haven't as a nation become interested in the two sides of the issues such that an intelligent show like the Book of Daniel should be appreciated.

The sad death of the Book of Daniel goes to show what a long way we have to go, as Christians and as a nation, to facing the reality in which we all live with courage and responsibility.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

So much for the Pax Americana

President George W. Bush has signed executive orders giving him sole authority to impose martial law, suspend habeas corpus and ignore the Posse Comitatus Act that prohibits deployment of U.S. troops on American streets.

Reports That Bush Has Signed Order For Martial Law |

The Posse Comitatus Act has an interesting history, dating back to British Common Law policy of containing grievance riots only through local intervention. Posse Comitatus was suspended at various points during the Civil War, Progressive, and Civil Riots eras, for the containment of suffrage riots, trade unionists, and protesting students. Suspension of Posse Comitatus is generally a sign that the American government senses that civil war is at hand, and that only direct intervention from above can contain the menace.

How exactly would George Bush describe the menace that threatens the United States? Peace activists continue to practice civil disobedience; Katrina survivors continue to occupy their FEMA trailers and car seats; students dutifully stage living wage rallies. For all intents and purposes, this is not a nation facing civil war.

So it's an intriguing exercise to think through how the Bush administration has come to see the United States: a country of rebels to its own policies; a country of consumers unable to grasp the long-term gambit for fuel reserves in the Middle East and Central Asia for which the Bush administration has us at war; a fissile country whose controlled media and scarcely participatory democracy are not enough to insure social stability, not by a long shot.

The Bush administration, that is, thinks that the tenure of the politics of demagoguery is limited, and that a coming fraction will bring out forces of dissatisfied workers, students, pacifists, liberals, and libertarians, such that the social and political stability of the nation will be overturned.

How interesting.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Privacy law under fire

Last night Google Inc was subpoenaed by the US Justice Department to submit data relating to web searches performed using Google software over the past year.

Telegraph | News | Google resists US government demand for search data

The Google case was first reported in Britain, a country where "ancient rights and liberties" still form a mainstay of Conservative Party rhetoric.

In contrast, Americans tend to be skeptical about the need for privacy law protection. Most individual Americans have a limited historical horizon on which they cannot remember the recent regimes in civilized Europe where searches of papers and rifling through homes were used to control ethnic minorities, intellectuals, free speech, and free thought.

Privacy advocates need to find and publicize the cases of abuse that have already happened.


Privacy law isn't just for criminals and pot farmers; historically, it's protected the honest farmer who runs afoul of his powerful landlord for earnest reasons.

The fact that internet searches rather than the home are at stake means that protecting privacy comes even closer to protecting the freedom of the soul, the freedom of curiosity, of free-thinking, and of free will.

A free society needs privacy law, and ours is under assault.


This is a case for the EFF, that brave alliance of Silicon Valley lawyers who work out of the goodness of their hearts to protect all our civil liberties.

Visiting the EFF website, I find a link to the Google story, but no menu for stories of privacy law abuses or the dangers they lead to. The EFF needs to wage a propaganda and publicity campaign: Americans trust their Bill of Rights to protect them, but they're painfully naive about the danger that wiretaps and search aggregates pose.

An unsolicited suggestion for the EFF? Along with your lawyers, hire a spin doctor or a historian. Talk about the values and issues at stake.

Intelligence Warriors

In a recent report commissioned by the US Army, a British Army officer, Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, recently outlined everything America is doing wrong.

His critiques are familiar to anyone who's worked on defense in Europe. They emphasize the lack of cultural sophistication in the US Army versus other armed forces; a structure which even compared to other armies thwart dissent and informed feedback where strategies aren't working; a "warrior ethos" that instructs troops to "destroy" their enemy (the Brigadier is shocked -- destroy, not merely defeat? a good way to create more enemies).

The problems are most directly expressed in America's dependence on remote-imaging technology like satellites rather than HUMINT -- human intelligence or knowledge of cultural terrain and appropriate ways of dealing with angry rebels.

I say that this is familiar, because I've heard Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster's critique articulated by members of the British defense, political, and academic communities for at least four years.

In private rooms in Cambridge, they would entertain visiting American dignitaries and try to convince them that these structural failures amounted to a good reason that no American effort in Iraq or elsewhere would sow anything other than discord in the long run.

The Americans drank their tea and sniffed. They returned to DC. Nothing changed.


It is a sweet relief, then, to note that someone in Washington is now concerned enough to invite one of the British to Washington to share their critique America.

There is a sea-change, indeed. My own articles on the use and abuse of imaging technology versus social/cultural knowledge are getting an unlooked for spurt of attention in the last month. It seems that everyone is looking for where to go next.

As Lewis Lapham notes in Harper's, a spate of amnesia cases among high-ranking soldiers in the last few months suggests more than the normal hardship -- new cases of amnesia coincide with a moment when officers and leadership and soldiers alike realize that their strategy is crumbling and wonder what to do next.

All of this makes it all the more fascinating to glance at the spontaneous criticism of American forces from abroad that Nigel Aylwin-Foster's critique has generated.

Seizing on his report, the Australians, Chinese, and Arabs have rushed to confirm that they too have noticed problems with the US Armed Forces which must be repaired.

It is not surprising that everyone has an opinion, nor that the pundits ooze when the lion is down. More interesting is the direction taken by different cultures as they report on the Brigadier's report.

The different spins on the report amount to a cultural study in what each culture fears most about the United States.

Who would have guessed, for instance, that the Chinese would be most urgently critical that American armed forces are racist?

The Quebecois dwell on America's "stifling bureaucracy".

Australians find the Americans to be too offensive and overeager in their assaults on the ground.

Al-Jazeera and Qatar's Gulf Times direct their readers to hopes that the British-American alliance may be fragmenting.

Much more could be said here about how studying the nations' reactions to this report could improve America's understanding of how its policies (military and diplomatic) will be received elsewhere.

But perhaps most instructive is how America itself reacts. "Who are the British to Talk?" sneers TIME, furthering every stereotype of the headstrong, road-warrior American, never looking where he's going.

Who are the British to talk? Brigadier Nigel was invited.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Report from Progressive Christian Brunch

The moral of the first Progressive Christian Brunch is this: do it. Have more. Eat Eggs Benedict and bagels and donuts in the company of your fellow progressive Christians across America. Good things will happen.

The first ever Progressive Christian Brunch was held at Polly’s Café in Waswhington DC, a basement-level semi-dive where pipe smoke rises and Washingtonians huddle around small French café tables. CrossLeft leadership team members Rev. Sekou of Harlem and Rev. Mark Farr of London were engrossed in conversation about gay ministry in the choirs of the black Pentacostalist church. I was talking to Mark’s stunningly blonde wife Laura, a landscape architect, about her ambitions to build a low-energy house and raise an organic garden.

Scott Wells arrived with hubby, John, a journalist at the Washington Post. Scott’s a prominent Unitarian Universalist blogger – under the handle Boyinthebands (check out our clergybloggers page for the latest headlines from Scott and others). He and Chris Walton (blogger handle: philocrates) of UU World were some of the first clergy to start blogging and talking to other clergy about their blogs. So Boston and the UU’s are sort of the Jerusalem of the Progressive Christian Blogger movement. Philocrates would go on to organize bloggers into the blogrolling link list known as the Progressive Christian Blogger Network, which CrossLeft would use as a kernel to assemble its aggregate of streaming clergy headlines.

Scott and Sekou got into a furious argument about the future of activism. On one side, Scott, standing up for a new generation of political lobbyists and media hacking, argued that the media was jaded to marches and protests a la 1960. On the other side, Sekou talked about the difference between civil disobedience and all other forms of protest. He talked about what a stark impression being jail makes upon those who go there willingly.


Several margaritas in, the Unitarians and the Pentacostalists hadn’t agreed. Our denominational and individual differences sparkled like a thousand grains of sand. We couldn’t agree on how and what kind of protest was best and most effective; we couldn’t agree on which issues should be politicized and which should be kmerely a mission of individuals in their own families. But we had bright, and serious conversations. And we shared strategies.

Moreover, in sharing our networks and our strategies, we built the possibility of lasting relationships. That, my friend, and not some manifesto from the brunch, is what will last.

Scott had volunteered to talk to other bloggers about spreading the word, and wanted to ask his friends to put up the Strreaming Christianity newsstream within their opwn sites. John wanted to talk to journalists about our media-training friends at the Faith and Religion Resource Center. Mark and I were brainstorming about coalitions to bring into a Progressive Christian think tank. The Rev. Frances Hall Kieschnick of the Beatitudes Society was going to be talking to the Unity Walk and the bloggers about how to set up her kids on college campuses with larger networks so that they didn’t feel so isolated.

Clergy are bright. They all have advanced degrees, they’ve lived in foreign countries and the inner city. They take politics and theology seriously, and each of them has thought out the issues of political protest, social change, and coalition-building.

Progressive Christian lay people are also bright. They’ve also thought through these things, often in isolation, and they come to us with different areas of expertise – managerial, social, political – even as landscape gardeners who think about how energy-efficient and more social cities could be built.

If there’s a moral lesson from Progressive Christian Brunch, it’s pretty simple: do it. Figure out how to find the others in your area, using CrossLeft, MeetUp, the Blogosphere, the social networks of your local clergy, or the ideas of your mother; find these people, and eat brunch with them. Only good can come of it.

Monday, January 16, 2006


In 2006, radical labor-activists are in agreement with NeoCon warhawks and libertarian economists in believing that a globalized economy requires new ethics.

The precise warnings and advice each offers about how to deal with a globe in conflict differ enormously. Libertarians and radicals note that the American economy’s current success is wedded by stocks and bonds to countries much poorer than our own. Neocons and Radicals worry about the political stability of those nations. Radicals and Libertarians worry about the human rights of those people. But all are concerned with a global world, with America’s involvement in that world, and with how well our policies work. All point to problems inherent with institutions, and all point to the hope of making institutions more democratic.

Schools, governments, and churches are all institutions necessary to society towards which libertarians and radicals hold correct suspicions. The suspicions are correct because indeed, schools, government, and churches promote abuses of free thinking, free activity, and free discourse. Schools tell students how and where to sit: they train them to obey a stance in society rather than thinking for themselves. Governments spy on their citizens, tax them, censor them, and make life hard for citizens whose views are held to be threatening for the reigning power. Churches follow all the other trends of corrupt cooperative practices: they place people into positions of power who are dangerous, immoral, and greedy; they thrive on the consent of their members, and they sustain that consent through seamlessly interweaving an ethic of obedience to the church into their other ethics of investigation, conversation, dialogue, and mutual compassion.

So facing schools, governments, and churches, we all face a wicked problem: not only have we consented to be governed because we want the good that comes out, not only is there a Leviathan, but our institutions are corrupt; our very ttempts to reform them come to nothing. Our radical universities and democratic societies become tools for promoting corrupt policies, ignoring the poor, and teaching homogeneity among the young. Even our “intentional communities” and communes turn into ideological boot camps.

In such a climate of corruption, many have dropped out of the conversation altogether, harnessing themselves to a nostalgic picture of a 1950s community where simple obedience to rules about sexual behavior and polite conversation was enough to insure some measure of social stability.

But we know that that social stability could not last because it provided only social insecurity for the people at each of its margins: for the black, the gay, the intelligent or ambitious woman. We doubt, therefore, that the socially stable fantasy of the 1950s can provide anything more than a chimera for us now. It can help some families, but it cannot repair the rifts in the nation. it cannot save the poor, it cannot bring back the alienated, of itself it promises no discussion and therefore no answers to the deep ethical problems of our day.

Against a climate where our best resources for cooperation and charity are polluted, we have a choice. We can abandon the conversation altogether and return to a limited conversation and the pursuit of our self-gratification – a choice that effectively betrays the very religion of service and conversation with God which we preach. Or we can commit ourselves to ever more perniciously thinking through the snares that are set within every institution we create. We will start think tanks and universities, but only if they are more dialogic, more open to public conversation, more willing to promote the dissenter, than ever before. We will start endowments, but only ones that can be easily reassessed once a critique is opened. We will start open dialogues on the internet where our views are open to our enemies and friends alike, where the most compelling rebuttal of our solutions to world problems will find us and correct our own errors and pride.

The libertarians are interested in thinking through a system that would sustain international development. In doing so they are committed to promoting local self government, creative entrepreneurship, and a diminished central military state. When Sybil and Beatrice Webb, that fantastic academic-politician couple so involved with early British socialism, wrote about cooperation on an international level to promote welfare and healthcare for all, they stressed that the record of modern government since the renaissance was an increase in the cooperation between peoples. In such a world, new, hybrid forms of political activity would flourish, constantly posing challenges to the despotic threat of a single enormous government or a monopoly of enormous and abusive corporations or a monopoly and abusive church.

We need that cooperation today, and we have seen consensual inttiatives towards vast global cooperation around the theme of human rights in the environmental movement (with Kyoto and Montreal) and in poverty (with the Make Poverty History campaign among international clergy and activists).

Libertarians fear top-down world government. They don’t fear courts; they don’t fear the arbitration of legal rights. They fear a global power under an ideology of massive government that would diminish entrepreneurial activity. They fear the UN, in statements that sometimes make me smile in thinking of Tim leHaye’s evangelical science-fiction romance with its Antichrist who promotes a reign of fascist terror after rising to head of the UN by promising to end poverty. What they are right about is clear to me: local governments are inherently more participatory. In local government, the villagers burn down the manor when the manor is too oppressive for too long. In great big government, the dictator has an army that can lock up and torture anyone who speaks out. In both democracies and despotic countries, big governments have militaries behind them. In both democracies and despotic countries, the abrogation of ancient liberties of speech is a historical fact and remains possible in the future.

Cooperation has important precedents. Local governments don’t just exist on their own. They notice that the neighboring city lives in utter poverty and disease; they notice that their neighbors’ insecurity means a more likely invasion for them too; they notice that the neighboring township being sick means that cholera will spread to their quiet suburb as well.

What we need to do is reexamine the interest in self-government, cooperation, human rights, and judicial arbitration of rights, in the space that international radicals and entrepreneurs can agree. We think of the world as an arena where either Zapatistas or Bill Gateses will win, but the two cannot work together. When we start down that path, it’s not long before we reach an ideological deadlock; a stupid non-speaking place where the more charming man usually wins, but rational conversation is discouraged.

Charity has always existed. Methodist riders brought the gospel to the working class areas of England because the Anglican Church didn’t have ministers there. Housewives in Chicago organized hospitals before there was a government service to provide hospitals. Charity is dangerous, because it often comes with strict ideas about who does and doesn’t deserve charity, and often those don’t correspond to anything like the virtue system that the place needs: welfare in early twentieth-century Britain designated the deserving poor from the undeserving poor, and included in the undeserving poor were people who took time off work because they needed to take care of their sick family.

Then we have two tools, cooperation and charity, each of them great, and each of them problematic. We have a calling to help the poor and protect human rights, knowing that our tools with which to do so are faulty. Our best direction, it seems to me, is twofold: first, to help the poor and protect human rights in the most immediate and local ways – as volunteers, supporters, donors, and friends of soup-kitchens hear us; as mentors of troubled youth; as individuals willing to talk to strangers of a different race in a coffee-shop. Second, and equally important, is to begin in earnest the conversation about the future of community.

What libertarians sometimes fail to recognize, although it falls within the realm of their ideological commitments, is the importance of human rights. The greatest legacy of the Enlightenment, the one it shared with Christianity and tried to expand, was the realization that every individual deserves the same chance to life, economy, happiness, and fulfillment, regardless of parentage, gender, or race. No race can be sacrificed so that the others may thrive; neither gender should serve in slavery so that the other should reach its creative potential: we hold these truths to be the basis of all action. So libertarian contemplations of voluntarism, cooperation, and charity must all aim for the protection of human rights.

Knowing that our tools are faulty, but knowing our deep conviction that our own salvation and the redemption of the world comes through social collaboration, using information, entrepreneurship, charity, schooling, and institutions to help our neighbors and our own, what are we to do?

I want to argue in this manifesto that the one thing we don’t need yet is a manifesto.

The Phoenix Affirmations and the TCPC resolutions provide a starting point for talking about what Progressive Christians believe as a movement: they like the poor; they believe in human rights; they believe in cooperation; they’re positive towards people who are investigating their sexuality while committed to ethical dealings with their fellow creatures. These are very broad-tent positions, and many people will agree. Some people we should talk to may only agree with a majority, and not all, of the resolutions.

Ultimately our movement will have more to offer because we’re not merely reciting the trite prescriptions of an earlier age: we aren’t long-haired hippies, holding signs against war at any cost; we aren’t school marms winging that holding hands is sinful; we aren’t glazed-eyed sexual experimenters and drug addicts; we aren’t rapture fanatics calling down hurricanes upon cities that host the Emmys. And beyond that we have so much to say about what good relationships really are, how good families treat each other, how good societies act.

This fertile new investigation of morality is even more potent in the realm of politics. We aren’t seventy-year-old Commie-bashers calling for the destruction of an enemy who no longer exists; we aren’t Communists trying to build an ideal society based on a manifesto never tested in human reality; we aren’t war-mongers deposing dictators only to plunge a foreign nation into decades of tribal warfare; we aren’t money-hungry corporations exploiting foreign nations without consideration for the consequences of our actions; we aren’t glossy-eyed peace marchers holding up signs in the park without being willing to enter a further conversation. We are for conversation, if we are for nothing future. We want desperately to know about micro-lending policies and conscientious capitalism, about shareholder activism and socially-conscience hedge funds. We accept capitalism as a fact, and we want to make it work to promote the social good rather than oppose it.

When we avow that we are a people who believe in open conversation, in listening to other opinions, in finding truth, and in using truth to promote the good and help the poor, we do so at our peril. At our peril because we know our tools are broken. We have no other tools. All we can use Is our poor, broken tools, and all we can do with them is to build, and to ask for the help of our friends, and to humbly take their correction of our errors, and to break our own pride that we know how to build the house of the future even as we set out to build.

For there are no unbroken tools in the whole world: the nostalgic image of 1950s America is as broken as the idols of planned Communism; our socially pure ethics traumatize our own families; our empires of freedom enslave foreign people; our democracies grow only while we maintain economic predominance over other countries. Our nation is in the State of Nature where it knows no other virtue than kill or be killed. We need social ethics. We need ideas about the social order. We need theories of international relations. But we do not need the ones we have.

Our only common starting point is Jesus’ commandment to love others as ourselves; and our only tools are cooperation and charity, both of which are broken and need constant checks, criticism, and readjustment.

In taking up cooperation and charity under these checks, we have no choice. To avoid the conversation is to plunge ourselves into a state of social and political insecurity, of terrorism and race riots, of broken families spewing the Bible as a message of hate instead of love; of an underclass devoid of hope; the American dream shattered, the people miserable and selfish. Let us go bravely, then, into the future, and let us invite to the table all those who have ideas: the shareholder activists, the socially-conscience hedge fund bankers; those into big government, those into local government. Let’s have the conversation.

The twentieth century has been painted black by the hubris of manifestos. We do not know what we need to do, and we must not write a manifesto. We must never write a manifesto. We have parameters of love, and we can tell heresy when the Bible is used to contradict Jesus’ primary teaching of service to others. We have tools of reasoning and argument by which to discern truth, and we can tell despotism when our institutions start shutting out of discourse those who disagree with us. We need our whole hearts and whole minds when we face the world: heartless planning and bleeding-heart self-delusion will not do.

So this is a call to serious, even academic conversation, about the location and figures of malnutrition, about kinds of capitalism and industry which don’t send children into mines and don’t impoverish nations without contributing to their long-term growth. We certainly shouldn’t kick out libertarians or radicals, Republicans or Democrats.

And our courage about how to approach each of the issues, and our calling to serve our brothers and sisters, comes directly from the Bible; our conversation will be refreshed and chastened from Biblical texts.

But we must insist above all: only a conversation will do. Only a conversation between rich and poor, between conservative and liberal, between capitalist and homeless person, between central planner and libertarian, will suit the ideals to which we have avowed ourselves time and again.

Only the conversation, and not the manifesto, will do to secure a world worth the work of people who believe themselves to have souls improved by conscientious engagement.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Postcards from Tryst Cafe, Washington DC

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Postcard from the Spiritual Progressive Conference on Iraq, Washington DC

I’m in the Network of Spiritual Progressives meeting at the Methodist church on first street, Washington DC. Rabbi Lerner and Rev. Bob Edgar are here, as is Faithful America, Emergent, Zion’s Herald, the United Methodist Women, and the Clergy and Laity Network.

They note that the media jaded with marches, demonstrations. Maybe it isn’t jaded with demonstrations called by religious community, notes Rabbi Lerner. They all speak to the need for mass-based organizing which people can access from every-day lives. Mark Lanastr reminds us that average folks in Kentucky can’t afford to drive to DC for the protest they’ll be organizing in May.

Lerner relates the Peace movement to a larger issue of a spiritual crisis in America. He reminds us that the Right is winning on the spiritual crisis because their media networks are better. He asks us to contemplate that we may have to win the spiritual crisis first in order to win on the war

Bob Edgar forwards a proposal for the anti-war groups to work together to a greater extent than ever before. They’ll have to covenant with each other to support each others works. They’ll form a listserve of the leaders who attended in order to keep each other posted. They’ll form another medium size listserve back to key leaders in organization.
They’ll network their movement for e-advocacy. They’ll work as a movement. They’ll pool efforts, training each other on how to do radio and television.

Sekou adds: the movement needs to raise up young leaders

I speak to leaders from the different groups about CrossLeft. I repeat to them what the sociologists tell us about the Internet: It’s diffuse, it’s participatory, it’s non hierarchical, it creates its own leaders. It becomes a public square like an old world village. Email lists, blogs, and forums enable different qualities of communication for different uses: News alerts, top down content statements, sharing and dialogue.

The movement needs member groups to link to each others websites and publicize each others events. CrossLeft has the technology to let groups display bloggers’ headlines on their specific topic. It can help them with linking and information sharing problems.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

World Time

Zoom in closer for a map of the clocks of Berlin, by Tagzania.

Tagzania allows geographic tagging, which means the tagging of cities and landscapes. That means shared, social maps. That means maps of Tokyo according to neoGoth teenagers and maps of London according to EMS drivers. Maps of industrial Liverpool according to local historians. Or maps of Salt Lake city according to each of these groups, their tags layered on top of each other.

Essentially, this means maps as they have never before been used: as shared technology, not merely the devices of trade and military and political interests. As a broadly-networked information-sharing device. Which implies all sorts of fun things for the cities of the future, where people, theoretically, should be able to find out about themselves and find out about the city with equal ease of exploration.

Technology: Good or Bad? Discuss.

Catholic News Service just ran a story on a Philippine church where the Internet is the new Liberation theology. Father Benigno Beltran is convinced that he can use the Internet to build his local community, while simultaneously helping local peasants to rise above the poverty line.

Witness the utopia he foresees:

The church will have solar panels, a rain catchment system, waterless composting toilets, and we'll build it from blocks of recycled residual waste. The design uses special vents that take advantage of wind movement so we won't have to air condition the whole thing, and if we need electricity we'll use coconut diesel to run the generators," Father Beltran told Catholic News Service.

Meanwhile, a commentator in the blogosphere, an Oregon bookseller named Kathryn Judson, has noticed other aspects of the same article that make her uncomfortable:

Tell me this priest is joking when he says:

"We'll liberate the parishes for enterprise development and job creation. And we'll tell people that if they don't buy our organic health soap it will be 10 more years in purgatory for them. That's what the priests should be saying."

At least he must be half joking? Right?'s a liberation theology that embraces globalization. I guess that's progress...

And globalization of economics brought poor countries like the Philippines to the debt-riddled status they now cannot climb out of. Can globalized information be the balm for the wound made by globalized markets?

Many social network theorists think so, hope so, and pray so. California's progressive Christian "netroots" movement has its roots in social networking theory preached from the Sociology and Computer Science departments of Berkeley. These theorists, like CrossLeft friends Kaliya Hamlin and danah boyd, argue that technology is helping youth around the world to escape from the rigid social structures of their own cultures.

But here we have a priest promising to use the Internet not only for liberation and identity building purposes, but for more strictly defining the doctrine of Purgatory. Sin is subservience to the Free Market. Virtue is works on behalf of the local market. A new doctrine, with the power of the Internet behind it, stands to invent a theology of the globalized market. It may also subvert church hierarchy.

It could also be used, in the wrong hands, for the benefit of cultish doctrines that have little to do with the church's mission to serve God and neighbor. Less hemp-loving readers may be wondering, with the critical blogger, whether not buying organic soap really constitutes a 10-year-burning offense.


Saturday, January 07, 2006

Technorati Profile

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Thunderbolts for Tom DeLay

This week, Republican Washington should be a nervous city. The Right-wing citidel of corruption is in the process of crumbling. Lobbyists are naming names to get themselves out of jail time. Millions of dollars of American Indian money spent on lavish entertainments for public officials. Money designated for athletics equipment of poor youth spent on Congressmen's golf trips to Scotland. An entire political culture that runs on greed and corporate kickbacks instead of representational democracy is being unmasked before our eyes.

Democrats don't do prophetic damnation well. Nancy Pelosi as Isaiah is out of character. What Dobson and Robertson pull off with aplomb, Democrats pull off weakly. Democrats hug trees; Republicans call down thunderbolts. Democrats build playgrounds in slums; Republicans call on the mighty to repent. Democrats have built a thirty-year reputation on the basis of reckoning with social forces, arguing from detailed economic and intellectual positions. Calling down fire and brimstone just isn't in their job description.

So when faced with blatant, fierce, wretched human evil, Democrats aren't necessarily the folks to take advantage of the moment. As Heritage Institute scholar Joseph Loconte pointed out in a New York Times editorial this weekend, recent attempts by Democrats to call down the wrath of God have struck many as laughable, forced, and dangerous.

Loconte points to a recent Berkeley conference for spiritual progressives and a seminar entitled "I Don't Believe in God, but I Know America Needs a Spiritual Left." Loconte hits the nail on the head when he goes after Wallis. Wallis damned the GOP budget with charges of immorality quoted from Leviticus. But Americans know that Leftists don't cite Leviticus, and that if you cite Leviticus, you instantly open yourself up the cherry-picking charge. Leviticus has some unsavory things to say of gays and women.

Jim Wallis's style of Biblically-based preaching makes perfect sense within his own background as an Evangelical preacher. But Americans also instantly recognize that most liberals aren't evangelicals.

Many religious Liberals have more complicated relationships with their Bibles. And this is known widely by America, the Heritage Institute, and the Media. Some religious liberals believe the Bible to be an inspired and powerful text with a direct connection to God, but only correctly understood from the perspective of theological and historical study. Some spiritual liberals are suspicious of organized religion altogether. Most of these groups don't call thunderbolts. They pray for the wicked to repent. They pray for God to teach and instruct them. They pray for the poor, the immigrant, and the evacuee, and they supplement their prayers with political activism and social work with hammers in their hands.

Only a fairly small percentage of religious liberals are actual Bible-based evangelicals from a tradition similar to Wallis's, where Biblical truth can be used to call thunderbolts down on the wicked. When Episcopalian and Methodist clergy stand arm-in-arm with Wallis, and Wallis calls down thunderbolts on the GOP's budget, the Episcopalian and Methodist clergy come off as fakes. Everybody knows that Wallis's friends have advanced graduate degrees in postmodern philosophy. Everybody sees that Wallis is the only one in the picket line who believes in the power of the thunderbolt. Everyone else is just pissed off.

Wallis, God-bless-him, is merely the most articulate of the Progressive Christians. But he can't speak, like Thomas Merton, to the full weight of historical orthodoxy and tradition as understood by the 1/3 of American Christians who are Catholics. Nor can he, like William Sloan Coffin, reason with the political vision of reasonable, well-read Protestants studying together for the common good, that informs the tradition of the 1/3 of American Christians who are mainline Protestants.

Theology and history have their own thunderbolts. To call the corrupt regime of GOP senators a "betrayal of the American tradition of participatory democracy" or even "a betrayal of the values of the church to serve all people" is to damn the monster for what it is.

Democrats are rightly proud of Wallis and the progressive evangelicals; they rightly value his thunderbolts. But Protestant and Catholic liberals need to learn to speak with their own voice and their own idioms. Else, the thunderbolts go askew, the Religious Left becomes as irresponsible and phony as the Religious Right, and Democrats will still come off as fakes incapable of speaking to public opinion.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Photos from Thorndale

This is a Flickr badge showing photos in a set called Thorndale, Texas. Make your own badge here.

Dangerous minds

The Telegraph just published a list of Dangerous Ideas for 2006. Among them are the normal assaults on religion by science and on science by religion. Further down is Oliver Morton, the features Editor at Nature, claiming that Greenhouse Warming is a hoax (for more on the Republican War on Science, see Chris Mooney's new book by that name).

More provocative and unusual, from one of the least acclaimed voices on the roster, comes a dangerous idea that is gaining credit in the United States:

School is bad for children. Schools are structured today in much the same way as they have been for hundreds of years. Schools should simply cease to exist as we know them.

The Government needs to get out of the education business and stop thinking it knows what children should know and then testing them constantly to see if they regurgitate whatever they have been spoon-fed.

We need to stop producing a nation of stressed-out students who learn how to please the teacher instead of pleasing themselves. We need to produce adults who love learning, not adults who avoid all learning because it reminds them of the horrors of school. We need to stop thinking that all children need to learn the same stuff. We need to create adults who can think for themselves. Call school off. Turn them into apartments.

-- Roger Schank, Chief learning officer, Trump University

Absolutely absurd, you think. Yet the nation's cookie-cutter elite of "stressed-out students" have been a common complaint of cultural critics since David Halberstam began writing about the administrative disasters they caused by group-think in the 1960s, and David Lynch diagnosed the elite as embroiled in a Culture of Narcissism.

And demotivated students are a familiar case to every graduate student, particularly those of us cursed with the job of drilling state school undergrads in the basic points of lectures. Imagine a classroom of forty or fifty students, either too bored or too embarrassed to engage in conversation; imagine being told by your advisor that any number of these youth are probably illiterate and that you'll be required to give a third of them A's for effort. You try to motivate; you want to engage. But you feel as if the marks are stacked against you, and you glumly begin to recall that your advisors and mentors in the academy are all great minds who take their own research and writing much more seriously than the theologically invigorating calling to teach.

States like Louisiana are now offering full university scholarships to their high schools' C-students; a college degree has become necessary for temp and manual work, and worthless as a result of the inflation of bodies in the seats. Education isn't the word for what we've produced. Christopher Lynch called it the "lengthening of adolescence". More recently, the librarians of America have reported that only 31 percent of college graduates can read proficiently.

The appalling statistics on college-level illiteracy were reported mostly in out of the way places like Detroit and Baton Rouge. This particular dangerous theme is unlikely to be brought up by liberal intellectuals. Instead, Republican intellectuals are plotting a new kind of education, based on an aggressive laissez-faire corporatism that abandons the ancient democratic ideas of a well-educated, inherently equal populace.

Charter schools represent the very ideal model of the neocon to-the-rich-belong-the-spoils model of the free-enterprise-only anti-society. Charter schools now proliferate in the rebuilt New Orleans, where only one public school is currently open in the entire parish.

Charter Schools are much more of an issue in Detroit, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans, because they go along with a NeoCon agenda to destroy public amenities and open up all realms of community involvement to the Free Market.

But Charter Schools, with the Republican agenda they imply, are currently the only solution to the problem of our failed education system. Which is a pity, because it means that liberals and progressives -- the most likely groups to care about how access to education reinforces racial and class stagnation -- will have the least say in talking about what kind of a system will replace our ailing public schools.

Tibetan Lama on Blessing Tour of Antarctica

Meditating for the environment is taken seriously in Tibetan Buddhism:

'The cruise will be there in January for 11 days,' she said. 'And he does a lot of blessings of waters, land, lakes, mountains, streams, and we found that there are a lot of positive environmental changes after Rinpoche rituals, puja, blessing. It is significant. So there was some encouragement by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Rinpoche is traveling with very blessed waters from various great lamas all over the world.'"

-- VOA News - "Tibetan Lama on Blessing Tour of Antarctica"

The Lama will be the first Tibetan to visit Antarctica.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

Evil Eye Tree
Originally uploaded by osiristheiris.
This blog has been quiet while I visited James's family in Ponchatoula and my own in Rockdale. Coming soon: shots of unreconstructed New Orleans, dilapidated Thorndale, Texas, and Christmas at home.

If you haven't had the chance, check out my article this weekend at Counterpunch. And wish me luck on the dissertation grant applications I'm filing for the next week! Also, look out -- Dallas, Washington, and San Francisco are next in our travels.