Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Can a woman lessen the chance of being raped?

I recently ran across an article entitled NJ College Sends Students Wrong Message About Rape which equates a lecture on preventing sexual assault with blaming the victim. I posted it on Facebook and said "I'm sorry, but I don't really agree with this article. Of *course* the blame for rape lies with the man. But you won't convince me that the way a woman acts or dresses has absolutely no effect on the possibility of her being raped."

First, let's start with a definition of rape from "the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse." Wikipedia goes on to say that it also includes a sexual act against a person "who is incapable of valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, or below the legal age of consent." For purposes of this discussion, I'm only talking about a man raping a woman.

Let me get a few points that everyone agrees on out of the way. Rape is always wrong. The victim is never at fault - fault is always 100% with the rapist.

Now, let me say that I believe there is a continuum of people who rape. On one end of my continuum is the amoral psychopath whose mother abused him while he was growing up and whose anger results in raping random women. On the other end is a college man who invites a woman up to his room and who has sex with her against her will. Both of these meet the definition of rape, but I would argue that the circumstances are quite different. My original comment in Facebook ("But you won't convince me ...") does not apply to the first case, but does to the second.

The only question being discussed in the article and by me is can a woman lessen the chance of being raped? This question is generalizable into the question are there any actions someone can take to lessen his/her chances of being harmed through no fault of his/her own?

Take a few other examples of this generalized question.

  • Is there any action I could take to lessen the chance of my being injured or killed in an airplane accident (as unlikely as this ever is to happen)? Yes: choose an airline which statistically has a lower percentage of accidents.
  • Is there any action I could take to lessen the chance of my being injured or killed while legally walking across a street? Yes: look both ways before crossing.
  • Is there anything I can do to lessen the chances of being mugged at night? Yes: park in a lighted area, walk with someone else, etc.

At one of the extremes I noted above, I'll make my point by considering as an example people at a frat party at a university. (Let's assume thousands of frat parties with the same situations because I'm talking about relative likelihoods.) I'll assume that most of the males have been drinking. I won't make any assumptions about the women drinking. Let's also assume that, for the most part, attendees are meeting for the first time.

Let's consider 2 types of women: type one is quiet, not particularly outgoing, and conservatively dressed. Type two is outdoing, flirty, and wearing sexy clothes.

I would argue that a woman falling into type two is more likely to attract the attention of men, is more likely to find a man she finds attractive, and therefore is more likely to find herself in a position where intimacy is possible. (Also more likely is the possibility of being drugged or fed too much alcohol.) In a certain number of these situations, sex will end up occur without the woman's consent.

Does this mean a woman "asked to be raped"? Of course not - that's a ludicrous thing to say. Does it mean that being raped was her fault? Of course it doesn't. At the least, it probably does imply that one should be a bit more careful with someone she's met for the first time.

So yes - I argue that a woman can lessen the chance of being raped. Should she have to take any actions to prevent being raped? Absolutely not - she she never, under any circumstances be raped. But rape, like crossing the street, is a fact of life. And there are things one can do to keep oneself just a bit safer.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Unitarian Universalist view on Religious Education

The Unitarian Church in Charleston used this writing by William Ellery Channing as a responsive reading to describe how Unitarian Universalists see Religious Education. It's called "The Great End in Religious Instruction".

Director of Religious Education: The great end in religious education instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own.

Teachers: Not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own;

Director of Religious Education: Not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth;

Teachers: Not to form an outward regularity, but to touch inward springs;

Minister: Not to bind them by ineradicable prejudices to our particular sect or peculiar notions, but to prepare them for impartial, conscientious judging of whatever subjects may be offered to their decision;

Congregation: Not to burden the memory, but to quicken and strengthen the power of thought;

Minister: Not to impose religion upon them in the form of arbitrary rules, but to awaken the conscience, the moral discernment.

All: In a word, the great end is to awaken the soul; to bring understanding, conscience, and the heart into earnest, vigorous action on religious and moral truth, to excite and cherish spiritual life.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What should a sermon be?

What should congregants expect from a sermon? Should it be entertaining? Should it keep you from falling asleep? Should it be educational? Uplifting? Spiritual? All of the above? Some of the above? Something else?

I'd like to posit that, at a minimum, a sermon should be understandable, and that I, as the listener, should be able to summarize the point of the sermon in one or two sentences.

To use a structure I've heard in the past, the person preaching the sermon should do 3 things:

  • Tell us what you're going to say
  • Say it
  • Tell us what you said
Let me give you some background on me. I've been a member of Unitarian Universalist congregations for almost 20 years. Without going into detail (you can find it at the Unitarian Universalist website) UU churches use a form of governance or organization known as congregational polity, which says that the congregation is the ultimate source of power and authority for itself. There's no higher group that exercises authority over a congregation. Unitarian Universalists aren't required to subscribe to a specific creed. Rather, UUs are expected to use the UU Principles and Sources to come to our own conclusions about what to believe or not believe.

I'll be honest - some might say I'm not a very good UU. I don't study sources of information in an attempt to determine what I believe and how I should live my life. Some would say I'm not as serious about my religion as others might expect of a UU congregant. Unitarian Universalism is very big on Social Justice, and I do spend time participating in various justice projects my churches have initiated.

Other than that, I'm a consumer of religion. I go to church most Sundays, and hope to occasionally get something out of the service - especially the sermon - that will make me an ever-so-slightly better person.

I mention being a UU because I'm guessing that it's easier for ministers that espouse a specific creed to preach sermons that are understandable. They might not always be invigorating, but if you preach about one of the commandments, it's difficult for a listener not to at least be able to summarize the point of the sermon after hearing it.

Unitarian Universalist ministers (and lay people who preach at lay-led services), on the other hand, have a virtually infinite number of topics available to them. They can be overtly religious (choose something from any of the world religions and expound on it), moral, or philosophical. A sermon can be commentary on the news, or a factual description of an individual from whom we should be able to learn. Since UU ministers have "freedom of the pulpit", the congregation can't tell the minister what to say or not say. Topics can be suggested, of course.

Because of this breadth of possibilities, I sometimes think it's sometimes more difficult for a UU minister to nail down a specific point and speak to it. Too many times, lots of ideas and thoughts are put out, without these ideas and thoughts being tied to some specific point. Or perhaps they are, and I just miss the point. But if I miss it, I suspect that there are any number of others who also missed it.

So I'm just going ask ministers (UUs and others): please tell us the point you'll be trying to make before you start. At various places in the sermon, please tell us how what you just said applies to the point. And at the end, remind us of what the point was. If I can summarize what you said in one or two sentences more often than not, I'll be very grateful.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

For Whom Is My Church?

The following quote is from a sermon given by the Reverend Danny Reed of the Unitarian Church in Charleston [SC], on October 10, 2010. It speaks as well as anything I've seen to what Unitarian Universalism is:
For whom is my church? It’s for anybody who’s ever wept at a sunrise and felt the need to thank the universe for starlight and sea breeze. It’s for anybody who’s ever had a broken heart and felt the need to pray but wasn't sure how. It’s for anybody who ever wanted to raise a child with a faith that invites children to find their own way to God, lovingly guided by good and able teachers. It’s for anybody who needs a little room in church, or maybe a lot of room in church. For those who need to think things through and test ideas against their own experience. My church is for those who believe that science explains creation, phenomena, and behavior alongside scripture, myth, and poetry.

My church is for the people who are unwelcome elsewhere because they think the wrong thoughts, or pray the wrong prayer, or love the wrong person. It’s for anybody who’s ever had a hard time of it. My church is for anyone who wonders about the right way to be in this complex world, those who relish being alive yet who know that we must die. My church might not be right for everybody, but it’s surely right for me, and it might be right for you.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

My thanks to South Carolina Legislators for keeping my taxes low

I'd like to thank our South Carolina legislators and Governor for the work they do to making lower taxes their number one priority.

First, on behalf of educators, I'd like to thank legislators for allowing teachers the privilege of teaching more and more students in each classroom. I don't know many teachers. However, I suspect that - if they're anything like those who get paid on a piecework basis - they would have twice the sense of accomplishment if they can say they've taught 30 students in a class rather than just 15 or so. As a result, according to South Carolina Education Superintendent Jim Rex, we may have 2500 less teachers next year. That's actually terrific, because we'll have 2500 people who are going to be paying a lot less in taxes. I think they'll appreciate that, but I'll have to check with them.

I'd also like to thank the legislators for encouraging what should be an actual program - the Paperless Classroom Initiative. This program would continue to discourage, through the budget process, the use of paper, pencils, and other types of school supplies in the classroom. I'm guessing legislators are doing this because they realize that every K-12 student in the state is carrying a laptop to class. Either that, or they know that teachers are more than proud to do their part by paying for supplies out of their own pockets. And these signs of financial progress in education are saving me tax dollars.

I'd like to thank legislators for their budget cutting in the area of healthcare - particularly Medicaid. The House is planning to cut breast cancer screenings for 16,000 poor South Carolina women and limit poor patients to three prescription drugs a month. (Who needs more than 3 prescriptions a month, anyway?) In late 2008, $40,000 alone was saved by not enrolling HIV-positive people. Further money was saved by eliminating hospice care for Medicaid-only people, decreasing assistance for prescription drug costs for the low-income and elderly populations, and cutting many other programs. I'm not on Medicaid and I've got pretty good insurance, so these cuts don't affect me. And these cuts are saving me tax dollars.

I'd like to thank legislators for their creative work in determining the budget for the Department of Social Services. Within the past few days I've read that between 2008 and 2009, South Carolina cut $50 million in state expenditures by lowering the DSS budget. On top of that, they went above and beyond by saving us from taking a matching $50 million in federal expenditures (by losing federal matching funds). Two cuts for the price of one - I'm very proud. The article said that, as a result, social workers are getting more and more overloaded and children are suffering. I've sure that's just a bunch of Obama liberals complaining again. There was something in the article about "not meeting national standards", but we need to tell Washington that we believe in states rights and aren't interesting in their darn "standards". All I know is that these cuts are saving me tax dollars.

I'd like to thank legislators for keeping tight-fisted control on the flow on money to the arts. We need to remember our priorities. For example, the governor's proposal to cut $6 million from the budget of the South Carolina Arts Council would go a long way in decimating silly programs like Arts in Education. I've never understood why kids need to learn stuff like jazz and dance. The Arts Council has a lot of other programs for adults, but to be honest, who needs them? And every dollar we cut to the arts is a fraction of a cent back in my pocket.

So, South Carolina legislators, keep up the good work. Remember that I don't want you to invest in our communities if it means I might have to pay a couple more dollars a year in taxes.

Oh, one more thing. When is the next tax-free buy-a-gun day going to be?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Social Justice on the net

Want to see what's going on in the Social Justice area of the net? Check this out ...
Petitions by|Start a Petition »

Monday, September 14, 2009

We're # 37

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Peter Morales and more at SUUSI

I attended a talk by Peter Morales (the new president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations) at SUUSI this past week. He spoke about "the future of our movement". I wanted to pass along several thoughts he spoke about.
  • We have around 150,000 members, and the best estimate is that we get about 250,000 visitors per year. Our growth problem, then, is not marketing - it's sales. We don't need any more large ad campaigns to attract visitors, and he doesn't intend to do them.
  • Visitors know about us when they walk in the door, from friends, the web, etc.
  • The big question visitors have for themselves is "will we feel at home here?" Note that it's a question of feeling - not specifics like what the details of our theology are.
  • Around 2/3 of our growth (about 1% a year) is from 60 congregations, out of several thousand. The largest single source of the increase is prisoners joining the Church of the Larger Fellowship!
  • We have to decide if we're a club or a religious institution. (There's a lot of discussion that could be had just around this thought.)
  • Our growth is, and will be, one person at a time - from one relationship at a time.
  • We can't change our behavior about growth unless we are emotionally involved. We need a sense of urgency.
Regarding the last point: several other talks I attended spoke about growth being the result of emotional connections - not just "doing the right things". Speakers said that many churches do the same new-visitor types of things - separate mugs, contacting people, etc. Some churches are very successful and some are not; those that are successful demonstrate a true personal interest in the visitor on the part of the church person. But regarding contacting: one person said that if you're going to call someone who visited, you should do so by the next day - at the very latest. Don't wait several days or a week. People talked about inviting new visitors to dinner at their house.

It's more than the small talk that most of us can do ("Where do you come from?" "Where did you hear about about church"?). I'll confess that I can do small talk to some degree, but I don't know how to quickly establish an emotional relationship with someone who walks in the door. I think that takes a special kind of person.

One minister who is gay talked about his first experience in a UU church. He said that, about 1/2 way through the service, he was starting to fear that he didn't belong there and he wouldn't be accepted. He said the fear was coming at least as much from within himself as from anything he was experiencing. But as he was leaving, an older woman who was in the row behind him reached out to give him a big hug and said "I'm really glad you're here". He told us that he wouldn't be a UU minister today if it weren't for that personal and warm interaction. (Of course, not everyone likes hugs, but it's more the idea of the interaction.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Elected to the Vestry

This past Sunday, I was elected to serve on the Vestry (the governing body) of the Unitarian Church in Charleston (SC). Because we just moved to Charleston in late August of last year, I'm a quite new member. I expect my experience serving on the Board of Governors of United First Parish in Quincy, MA was one of the reasons I was honored with the nomination.

On the previous Sunday, there was a Forum to discuss the issues that were going to be voted on at the annual meeting. When the subject of the 3 nominations for new members of the Vestry came up, someone asked the meeting's moderator if any of those nominated had a "vision" regarding the Vestry and the church itself. The moderator replied that the question hadn't come up, and he didn't know the answer to the question.

I've never been a "vision" sort of person, so at first I ignored the question. But I got to thinking about it, and came up with two ideas which, if they're not "visions", are things I'd like to see any UU church think about.

The first one comes from two sources:

  1. When my wife and I were thinking about moving to Charleston, I knew that if the city had no UU church, I didn't want to be there (in spite of how beautiful I think the city is). Luckily, we already knew that UCC existed and had visited it a few times. Being in a church with like-minded people was especially important to me if we were going to move to an area where we knew no one.
  2. It has been very important to my previous church, United First Parish, that the church and its minister be seen as a voice in the community for the values that UUs hold. UFPC, for example, had a gigantic banner supporting gay marriage hanging from the front of the church when the issue of legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts came up 5 years ago.
So here's the first of my thoughts: I'd like to see UU churches deliberately be out front to communicate their values in their communities. Ideally, if the minister is up for it, I'd like to see the minister being an active spokesperson in the community. That doesn't appeal to some ministers, of course.

The second thought has to do with membership. The UU churches I've been associated with seem to be a lot better getting new people in the door, and even getting them to sign the membership book, than they are at keeping them as long-term members. When people stop coming, very often no one follows up to find out why, or even to call and say they're missed. So my second thought is to get Membership Committees to look at both sides of the membership equation: the input side and the output side. If we kept more of the members we add to the roles, UU growth would be considerably larger than its anemic numbers have been for quite a while.

There's a "2a" part of the membership issue, too. It would be better if we could do what is necessary to keep members coming than to try to get them to come back once they've stopped coming. We need to think more about why people are leaving. What needs aren't we meeting? What opportunities to serve haven't we been providing? Why didn't they want to be part of our community any more?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

An incredibly weird job interview

I had a job interview about a week or so ago. (As background, I have experience being a software developer using Oracle databases, but not as a Data Base Administrator, who works directly with the database itself.)

The job had a number of technical requirements related to Oracle database work. I told the recruiter that I had experience with about 1/2 of them, and didn't have any experience with the other 1/2. The recruiter said "no problem, they've seen your resume and love what they see. They'll train you on anything you don't have. You've already got the job, so lets do the security clearance paperwork to get a head start." I thought that was a little strange (especially the "You've already got the job part") but figured I'd see what happened.

So here's how the approximately 20-minute interview went. There were 3 people in the room - the Project Manager, a non-technical woman (from what I could see) who reported to the PM, and a Technical Guy.

Minutes 1-2: A summary of what the company did. No small talk, like "how was your drive? Did you find us ok?"

Minutes 3-10: Questions from the Technical Guy and my answers in the following format:

Q: Do you have any experience with [x]?
A: No, I'm a developer, and that's more of a DBA job.

Q: Do you have any experience with [y]?
A: No, I'm a developer, and that's more of a DBA job.

Q: Do you have any experience with [z]?
A: Not directly - I do have experience with [q], which is something like [z]

Q. How about [m]?
A. Nope.

Q. [n]?
A. Nope.

Q. Ok, I'm done.

PM: Any questions?
A: [flabbergasted], Ummm, Nope. I think Technical Guy had more than enough questions for both of us.

Minutes 11-19: The 3 of them talked among themselves about a variety of subjects. PM lost her wedding ring, PM and subordinate showed each other pictures on a cell phone, and Technical Guy had, for the first time in 25 years, noticed that a tree in his yard actually flowered.

Minute 20: "Thanks for coming". and I'm escorted out of the building.

I get to the car, and I'm just furious. So I get home and call the recruiter, and make it clear to them that they were incredibly rude and wasted my time. (Not theirs, apparently - they were enjoying the chance to chat amongst themselves). Next day recruiter tells me he got an email that said "it wasn't a fit". "Must have been a miscommunication". Sheesh.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Belief Systems vs Religions

Doug Mudar, in a UUWorld article called Holding the Center, discusses James P. Carse's The Religious Case Against Belief in which Carse lays out a distinction between belief systems and religions:
In a nutshell, belief systems provide the comfort of clear answers; religions provide a sense of wonder in the contemplation of mystery.
By this definition, fundamentalism and atheism fall the category of belief systems. An interesting distinction.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Some Christians are distancing themselves from the label "Christian"

According to an article in Newsweek, some Christians are now referring to themselves as "followers of Jesus" because that phrase doesn't carry the apparent baggage that "Christians" does.
You can wear it abroad, in Islamic countries, or at home with your Jewish or Buddhist friends, without causing offense. Second, it distances the bearer from the culture wars that have made American politics so divisive.
I'm thinking there's a wee bit of paranoia there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Just Let Go

By Tal Ben Shahar, Author of The Pursuit of Perfect: to Stop Chasing and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life "The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men"
-George Eliot

We are constantly bombarded with perfection. Adonis on the cover of Men'sHealth and Helen on the cover of Vogue; women and men getting together on the larger-than-life screen, resolving conflicts in two hours or less, delivering perfect lines, making perfect love. Parents and teachers exalt the flawless 'A'; college admission officers expect resumes without end. We've all heard our self-help Gurus tell us that there is no limit to our potential, that what we can believe we can achieve, that where there's a will there's a way. We've been told that we can find bliss if only we follow the road not taken, or the road taken by our serene spiritual leader -- the one with the best smile on the cover of the New York Times best seller.

The yearning for perfection has its roots in the Garden of Eden, having descended there from Heaven; it blossomed throughout Western Philosophy, first in the shape of Plato's forms, and then in the form of Weber's ideal types. "When Plato wrote that everything on earth has its ideal version in heaven," says Diane Ackerman, "many took what he said literally. But for me the importance of Plato's ideal forms lies not in their truth but in our desire for the flawless." The desire for the flawless condemns us to perpetual displeasure with who we are: "Even the most comely of us feel like eternally ugly ducklings who yearn to be transformed into swans."

Who among us has not, at times, allowed an awareness of our shortcomings to overshadow our triumphs and achievements? Is the flesh and blood behind the Adonic picture wholly satisfied with his relationships, or his investments, and does he not feel threatened by next month's cover boy? Is the non-digitally-enhanced Helen totally happy with her skin or SAT scores, and is she indifferent to the ticking of the clock and the omnipresent force of gravity?

The antidote to perfectionism is acceptance. When we do not accept our flaws, we focus on them constantly -- we magnify them and deny ourselves the silent satisfaction of serenity. Imagine spending a year in school -- reading and writing and learning -- without concern for the report card at the end of the ride. Or being in a relationship without the need to mask imperfections. Or getting up in the morning and embracing the man, or woman, in the mirror.

Acceptance, however, is not the panacea for perfectionism, and expecting it to work miracles will only lead to further unhappiness. In our search for serenity through acceptance, we inevitably experience much turmoil. Swayed by promises of heaven on earth, lured by sirens in the odyssey toward self acceptance, we look for perfect tranquility -- and when we do not find it, we feel frustrated, disillusioned. And it is, indeed, an illusion that we can be perfectly accepting and hence perfectly serene. For can anyone living sustain the eternal tranquility of a Mona Lisa?

There is no end point in the journey toward tranquility, no final destination where we have completely accepted ourselves. The place of eternal bliss and serenity, as far as I can tell, exists only in dreams and magazines -- not in the valley of green pastures nor on a mountain top above the clouds. So rather than following Sisyphus' footsteps, why not just drop the burden, let go of the myth of perfection? Why not be a little bit easier on ourselves and accept that to experience fear, jealousy, anger, and, at times, to be unaccepting of ourselves, is simply, and perfectly, human.

©2009 Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D, author of The Pursuit of Perfect: to Stop Chasing and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life

Author Bio Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., author of The Pursuit of Perfect: to Stop Chasing and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life, is the New York Times bestselling author of Happier. He taught one of the most popular courses in Harvard's history, and he currently consults and lectures around the world to multinational organizations, the general public, and at-risk populations. He obtained his Ph.D. in organizations behavior and his B.A. in philosophy and psychology from Harvard. For more information, please visit

Friday, March 13, 2009

Saying something

Before I get to the point of this post, let me say that I'm the sort of person who on occasion speaks to a manager of a business to pass along my thoughts about it. Most frequently, that might be the manager of a restaurant, for example. I've told managers that the service I got from a waitperson was really great, that the food was really good, or that there was a little slippery spot on the floor (s)he might want to know about. My theory is that the more a manager knows about a patron's feelings, the better the establishment will be. I have no idea if it's a valid theory or not.

I've been going to a music venue for the last several months. The venue is what they call acoustic music; I would call it folk (my experience starts in the 60s). Most often it's acoustic guitar, but sometimes electric piano.

I've missed the last few performances for reasons beyond my control, and wrote to the coordinator explaining why. I also offered the following observations:

Here's one thing I've wanted to mention to you for a while about the shows ... please take it for what it's worth. Many of the people who perform have a couple of attributes that I think could be improved.

First, they don't seem to have a sense of what entertainment is. A good entertainer, for example, has a strong sense of how to segue from one song to another with introductions, general commentary, etc. Many good entertainers, but not all, have a good sense of humor and use it liberally. I'd say that the majority of the performers at the series fumble their way from one song to another without any forethought.

Second: many of the performers are not good at enunciating their lyrics clearly. I don't know about anyone else, but I get bored really quickly when I have to struggle to understand what's being sung. Do others feel this way?

I honestly mention these things for 2 reasons. One, if they're valid criticisms, then getting performers to work on them would make them better - and hopefully more successful - performers. Two, I'd enjoy the performances more :)

Personally, I thought that was legitimate criticism of a number of the performers, but not all. My feeling is that performers who are working for free (except for tips and CD sales) might be interested in one person's opinion of general things they might look at in their own styles which, of course, they could take or leave.

Well, it didn't go over so well. Apparently no one who has ever attended these shows has verbalized a similar opinion, and my impression is that the coordinator felt that, therefore, no one ever had the same opinion. What I heard back was how wonderfully talented all of the performers were.

So I wonder: should I have just kept my mouth shut because there was the risk of offending someone? I believe in constructive criticism. Maybe what I said wasn't construed as constructive?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Badmouthing the stimulus bill

Back in the middle of February, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took some time out his busy schedule to walk down the main street of the business district of the Park Circle area of North Charleston, SC badmouthing the stimulus bill.

It got me to wondering: assuming that someone as busy as Senator Graham does nothing without a specific purpose, what was the purpose of this trash-talk walk? To assure his constituents that the end is near? To convince any of them that voted for Obama that they made a mistake? (Charleston County, of which North Charleston is a part, was one the only of the 46 counties in SC to go for Obama).

It saddens me that after Obama won a clear victory, Republicans feel the need to do everything in their power to undermine everything he's trying to do. And it amazes me that "cut taxes" and "don't spend any money" are their solutions to every single problem the country has.

For the first time in a long time, we have a president who has bold visions both to get us out of this financial morass and to make this a better country by improving health care, energy, education, infrastructure and more. And all the Republicans in Congress can do is whine about how nothing is going to work. Some contribution that is.

Practicing your investment skills

I ran into an interesting site called where you can practice your investment skills. They give you a virtual $1 million account and the people who beat the Standard and Poors 500 Index every month win money.

Hey, you can't do much worse than than experienced investment bankers have been doing!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Citibank Sends Nigerian Scammer $27 Million

Here's where part of the banking bailout money is going ...
37-year-old Nigerian scammer Paul Gabriel Amos convinced Citibank officials to wire him $27 million belonging to Ethiopia. Rather than go with the usual Nigerian nom de plumes like prince or will executor, Famous Amos pretended to be an official with the National Bank of Ethiopia. Amos forged "official-looking" documents that confirmed his status with the central bank and instructed Citibank to await faxes telling them where to send the country's cash. ...
Boy, if they only fell for that 40 or so times, they be out over a billion dollars! Now that would start to look like significant money ...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Job Lead

I've got my resume up on Monster. As those of you who know me know, I'm an IT (Information Technology) kinda of guy. (For those of you who don't know me, I'm also an IT kind of guy). So my resume is full of words and expressions like Oracle SQL, UNIX , and COBOL. Helps to use the right buzzwords.

So I got a lead today from Monster - I was psyched! Somebody's hiring! Here's the email:

After reviewing your resume we feel as though you fit the criteria we are looking for in a local Account Executive position. We are a Sports Marketing company that works with all the local Schools and Teams in your area. We do all of their published materials including Sports posters, game tickets, programs, banners, websites, coupon books, and schedule cards; what ever these teams license or contract us out to do for them. Your job as an account executive would include maintaining relationships with local schools and teams, as well as their sponsors. Sponsors would be businesses such as Bank of America, Pepsi-Cola, AT&T Wireless as well as smaller "Mom and Pop" type businesses that support local teams. The territory is about a 60 miles radius around the city and it is established so one would take over existing accounts --but, of course we are always looking to grow, so business development is fundamental to the position. We do have a base salary plus commission structure, with medical benefits and a retirement plan. If this interests you please call us (do not email we have already reviewed your resume) to get more detailed information and possibly set up an interview.
I was a little confused, but didn't want to pass up a potential opportunity. In spite of the the request to call them, I sent them an email. I tried to be very careful in how I worded it - I wanted them to know that I was interested in the posssibility of employment, while just wanting to clarify a few minor details:
Thank you so much for your email below regarding positions with your organization.

I believe, however, you may have sent me the wrong form letter. My resume indicated that I am interested in Information Technology positions.

Also, to be completely honest, although I'm 60 years old, it was only within the past few years that I found out what league the Boston Red Sox are in. I hope my complete lack of interest and knowledge about sports would not hurt too much if I were to become associated with your firm.

If you have a different form letter regarding Information Technology positions, I would be glad to review it.

I'm waiting with baited breath to see what the next step will be. Wish me luck!

Friday, February 06, 2009


I found a great new word today: Apatheism. Wikipedia defines it as
acting with apathy, disregard, or lack of interest towards belief, or lack of belief in a deity. Apatheism describes the manner of acting towards a belief or lack of a belief in a deity; so applies to both theism and atheism. An apatheist is also someone who is not interested in accepting or denying any claims that gods exist or do not exist. In other words, an apatheist is someone who considers the question of the existence of gods as neither meaningful nor relevant to his or her life; nor to human affairs.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A commercial for Trader Joe's if they made commercials

Since my favorite food store, Trader Joe's (which doesn't exist in South Carolina!) doesn't make TV commercials, someone made one for them:

Monday, February 02, 2009

Unitarian Universalist Thomas Jefferson District Growth Conference

In January 2009, the Unitarian Universalist Thomas Jefferson District held a Growth Conference. One presentation outlined which factors promote church group in UU congregations. Below are notes from that presentation, written by Rev. Peter Lanzillotta of the Unitarian Church in Charleston (SC) which sponsored the event. The notes are reproduced with permission.

1) Churches located in cities have the second best chance to grow (The suburbs are the first; rural is the least.)

2) The age of the congregation is a factor; generally speaking, older churches are less likely to grow... If there are only 10% that are over 60, and there is an increasing young adult population, it is a positive sign for potential growth.

3) When your church is 60% or more female, it is less likely to grow; More men indicate more intact families -- long term growth and stability are often connected to family participation and family involvement.

4) Among the mainline churches, the ones that are most likely to grow are the more liberally minded; Among the evangelicals or more conservative theological churches, it is the moderates to mega-churches that will show the greatest potentials for growth.

5) One of the most universal factors of significant growth is when there is a greater clarity of purpose shared among the existing members... They know who and what they are, and that they share a inclusive sense of religious vitality among them. Congregations that are more open to a spiritual approach are more likely to grow than those who insist on a particular approach, viewpoint, or theology.

6) The degree of closeness and familiarity (a close-knit group) is NOT conducive to growth; churches that are growing will often disagree among themselves. What replaces the intimacy of a small church family includes more small group ministries, and more Connecting circles, interest groups, Pastoral care programs, adult religious education, Intergenerational activities all done on a smaller geographical scale than what any Sunday morning gathering of a larger church can provide.

7) Another central and important factor to consider in measuring growth potentials is the "willingness to change." The greater the flexibility or openness to change, adaptation, innovation, etc., the congregation is, the greater will be the opportunity to grow.

8) IF the congregation has had a major conflict in the last two to three years, then they are much less likely to grow.

Considerations around Worship

9) Growing congregations have at least 3 services per weekend!!!

This can mean 2 services on a Sunday at different times, but it also means different themes, approaches, and styles of worship that are tailored to a variety of audiences; Family style, Traditional, spiritual; musical, etc.

10) There is a factor called "irreverence." Which does not mean a lack of spiritual or theological content; it refers to the energy, and the enthusiasm of the worship style; The kind of music chosen; the style of preaching used, etc.; Whether the service is too staid and intellectual versus more joyous and inspirational... Also allowing for some innovation and variety is important.

One interesting note here about music- it seems as if there is a very positive correlation between the use of drums or percussion and the rate of growth!

Considerations linked to Families & Religious Education

11) The visibility of children and their participation in at least a portion of the worship time has a strong correlation to growth.

Considerations pertaining to internal structure and outreach; What the Public Relations and Outreach committees can do along with the Membership Committee that could improve growth:

12) Be willing to sponsor programs at your church that are welcoming to nonmembers... Hosting various social, political, environmental, and cultural events promote awareness of mission and can foster growth. There is an approach called growing "sideways" that is important... Utility and value to the larger community is a crucial point.

13) Sponsoring or providing room for support groups to meet... Tailoring the groups to the social need; today's job market and support for the unemployed, for an example.

14) Turning visitors into members: a) invitation to Gage Hall [coffee hour]; b) mugs; c) 3-5 greetings from members, d) a follow-up letter, and most of all- a call or e-mail from someone they met inviting them back to church! Having the Minister greet them at the door, is seen as a positive activity.

15) Churches that involve people in the planning of growth do better than those who just keep their doors open; its a matter of intention... And this caveat: One does not welcome growth as a solution to their money problems; we encourage growth to promote our mission, purpose, and value to the community!

Concerning tracking and Computer resources

16) There needs to be a membership module on your administrative software that allows you to record the entrance and exit of members; it should list their children; their address; contact numbers, etc.; any particular talents or interests, and any other issue or concern ( health, etc.) They might have.

The church's web site needs to be kept up to date! A poor design or a cluttered site is discouraging; It has to include easy navigation, pictures, directions, and contain a readily available page of essential listings and information.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bin Yah: There’s No Place Like Home

I had the opportunity to see the film Bin Yah a few nights ago as part of a film series in Park Circle (North Charleston). It's a documentary presented by The ChasDOC Film Society that explores the potential loss of important historic African American communities in Mt. Pleasant, S.C due to growth and development.

"Bin yah" is Gullah and it sort of means "been here (for a long time)". It's also a noun for a person who's been in the area for a long time. A "come yah" is everyone else.

Check out the web site for the film. If you live in the Charleston area, you absolutely need to see it. If not, you still should see it - it's a good description of what happens when development threatens to overrun historical areas.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I am Theist, You are Humanist

A song by Joyce Dowling and Connie Coombs of the Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Camp Springs, Maryland ...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Application Guidelines for TARP Capital Purchase Program

If you're wondering how to get a handful or so of the billions of dollars the Treasury is giving to banks, here's the 2-page application (with instructions).

The entire first of the 2 pages is name, address, phone stuff. No address - apparently they'll know where to send the check.

Should take about 5 minutes for anyone with decent hand-printing skills to complete.

Lending Club

I've been following the social lending concept for a few years. One of the older ones is Prosper, but that one is currently closed to investors because they're in a lender "quiet period" and going through a registration process.

Another social lending site is Lending Club. Here's how they describe themselves:

Borrowers with good credit can get personal loans at interest rates they find more attractive than those available from conventional funding sources such as banks and credit cards, taking advantage of a streamlined process between the source of funds (lenders) and the borrowers who need those funds.

Lenders get an opportunity to fund specific borrowers by investing in Notes we issue that correspond to specific borrower loans. The stated interest rates on Notes range from 6.69% to 19.37% (after deduction of our 1.00% service charge). Notes are offered only by means of a prospectus.

They've got a pretty high-powered team, including senior people from MasterCard International and JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Charles Schwab, and Visa.

Monday, December 15, 2008

2008 Holiday Pastoral Message from Rev. William G. Sinkford

The President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, recently returned from a pilgrimage to Africa, offers his thoughts on our reasons for concern as well as hope in this season of renewal.

Unitarian Universalist Minister/Blogger Known As Peacebang has written a piece called How To Write and Deliver a Sermon. I'm not a minister, of course, so I can't comment on most of her points from experience (although intuitively they make sense).

The one I can totally agree with - from the perspective of someone who listens to UU sermons weekly is this:

Sermons are not "talks" or lectures. They should minister to people, not merely inform them.
Now I like lectures as much as the next guy - I love to learn things. But there are lots of places I can go for lectures. My guess is that lectures are a lot easier to write than sermons that minister to the congregation, and some ministers have a greater or lesser tendency to lapse into taking it a little bit easy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Old Fat Naked Women for Peace

Thanks to the Socinian for passing this song by The Righteous Mothers along.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Method And Apparatus for Making A Sandwich

In case you think making a sandwich is easy, McDonalds has filed for a patent for a combination of a tool and methods for making a sandwich.
The present invention relates to methods of making a sandwich. In one aspect, the invention relates to pre-assembly of sandwich components and simultaneous preparation of different parts of the same sandwich. In one aspect, the invention relates to one or more of the following: pre-assembly of meat and cheese; simultaneous toasting of a bread component and heating a pre-assembled meat and/or cheese filling; and assembly of sandwich garnishes and condiments on a sandwich assembly tool. In another aspect, the present invention relates to a sandwich assembly tool useful in the foregoing methods for preparation of a sandwich, including, for example, a made-to-order sandwich.
Be sure not to miss the Claims section, which appears to divide the application into 27 sections, some of which are:
  • The method of claim 14 further comprising combining a condiment with a sandwich garnish and placing a bread component onto the condiment and sandwich garnish combination.
  • The method of claim 15 further comprising inverting the combination of bread component, condiment, and sandwich garnish.
  • The method of claim 16 further comprising assembling the sandwich using the heated sandwich filling and the combination of bread component, condiment, and sandwich garnish.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quote for the day

From James Ishmael Ford, senior minister of the First Unitarian Church of Providence, Rhode Island.
God is a hole in the language into which we throw all our hopes and fears.

People of Faith, Standing on the Side of Love

A video by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in support of gay marriage ...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fox Business interview mentions Oak Terrace Preserve

A Fox Business interview with Noisette's John Knott mentions the Oak Terrace Preserve community in which I live.

Knott discusses the $800 million that Noisette has already invested in North Charleston, and says that it's going to be up to $3 billion over 20 years.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

MSNBC Keith Olbermann on Prop 8

Here's the best thing I've seen on why voting for Prop 8 in California (against gay marriage) was so wrong ...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Barack roasts Rahm

Here's what Obama had to say about his new Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel 3 years ago at a roast ...

UUs aren't an extension of the DNC

This past Sunday, my church had a sermon/discussion entitled Reflections on the Election: Where do we go from here?. Our minister spoke briefly, and then turned the microphones over to the members of the congregation to share their feelings about the election.

As expected, everyone spoke of what a wonderful thing it was that Obama won. As much as I agreed with what was being said, the high-level uniformity of the comments started to irritate me, so I put my two cents in. I said something to the effect of this:

I agree with what everyone has been saying. I, too, am exceedingly pleased that Obama won.

That being said, we have to remember that there's a big difference between liberal politics and liberal religion. I've only been a member of this congregation for a short time [exactly a week, actually], but I have a suspicion that there are a number of Republicans attending the service today. I even have a suspicion that some of them voted for their party's candidate. We need to remember to respect equally the opinions of everyone within this congregation.

This is not the time for those of a liberal/progressive political persuasion to merely tolerate those with opposing views. If we're going to believe what Obama says, we need to listen to views that differ from ours and acknowledge that those with different views are as American and patriotic as we are.

Progressives don't have a monopoly on the solutions to our problems. Neither do conservatives. What we share is the ability to look at our current situation, analyze what has worked and not worked in the past, and come up with potential approaches to taking us forward within the goals that the new administration has outlined.

And from a Unitarian Universalist religious perspective, what we need to do is keep party politics out of the discussion. We need to look at everyone's ideas, bounce them against the UU Principles and our own reason, and support those ideas that pass our tests. No matter which political party those ideas come from.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

0% of Alaska governors know that Africa is a continent

Check out this amazing story and video from Fox News via about how totally clueless Sarah Palin was.
... However, perhaps one of the most astounding and previously unknown tidbits about Sarah Palin has to do with her already dubious grasp of geography. According to Fox News Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron, there was great concern within the McCain campaign that Palin lacked "a degree of knowledgeability necessary to be a running mate, a vice president, a heartbeat away from the presidency," in part because she didn't know which countries were in NAFTA, and she "didn't understand that Africa was a continent, rather than a series, a country just in itself." ...