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31 March 2005

Religious unity achieved in Jerusalem!

During Holy Week, it’s traditional for Christians to pray for the peace
and unity of Jerusalem (at least, it’s been traditional in the last

Who’d have thought we would get it so quickly?  All it too was the threat of thousands of homosexuals in the streets.

International gay leaders are planning a 10-day WorldPride festival
and parade in Jerusalem in August, saying they want to make a statement
about tolerance and diversity in the Holy City, home to three great
religious traditions.

Now major leaders of the three faiths –
Christianity, Judaism and Islam – are making a rare show of unity to
try to stop the festival. They say the event would desecrate the city
and convey the erroneous impression that homosexuality is acceptable.

The best part of this is how the alert was spread.  I can’t help but laugh….

The American evangelical leader who helped to galvanize the opposition,
Mr. Giovinetti, is the senior pastor of Mission Valley Christian
Fellowship, an independent church that meets in a hotel in Southern
By all accounts Mr. Giovinetti played a crucial role in spreading the
first alarms among religious leaders about the gay festival.
He said he had first heard about WorldPride from a congregation member
who had told Mr. Giovinetti that he was gay for many years and still
monitored gay Web sites….

So some ex-gay who couldn’t control himself and went cruising
on-line for porn–I mean, taking it upon himself to monitor websites
for items of obscene or poor taste– went tattling after he relieved
the urge, the need, the duty to “monitor.”

What went through the reporters’ minds when they heard that?

I’d try to be outraged, but I’m rolling on the floor.

Posted in Rayleejun on 31 March 2005 at 9:24 am by Nate
30 March 2005

Politics of God?

John Danforth, former Republican senator and an Episcopal priest, writes in the Times today:

The problem is not with people or churches that are politically
active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian
agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious

When government becomes the means of carrying out a
religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First
Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a
political party should resist identification with a religious movement.
While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes,
the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together
as one people a very diverse country. At its best, religion can be a
uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For
politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to
oppose the cause of another….

During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often
disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We
believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation
and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free
economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law,
not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged
foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were
principles shared by virtually all Republicans.

But in recent
times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become
secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I
worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not
spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the
institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.

Amen.  My marriage to a man isn’t going to hurt your
kids.  But signs from home and abroad indicate that the crushing
national debt, the national security state, and the dissolved social
safety net will.

Posted in Politicks on 30 March 2005 at 6:05 pm by Nate
29 March 2005

Harvard undergrads unsatisfied? Never!

Apparently, Harvard undergrads are unhappy about several features of the educational experience.

One thing I hate to tell them, but Harvard is a research
university.  Research universities are not really oriented toward
the undergraduate experience.  They exist to create, support, and
disseminate new knowledge, and all other goals are pretty secondary to
that.  I’m not sayng it should be this way, but it is, and the model is much larger than simply Harvard.

But right now, students can go through four years on campus with
limited contact with professors. They often take large lecture classes,
divided into sections headed by graduate student ”teaching fellows.”
Small classes are frequently taught by temporary instructors instead of
regular, tenure-track professors. And in many cases, advisers are not
professors, either, but graduate students, administrators, or full-time

”I’ve definitely had great professors, but most of the time you have
to chase them down and show initiative if you want to get to know
them,” said Kathy Lee, a junior majoring in psychology. ”I’ve had a
lot of trouble getting to know enough faculty to get the
recommendations I need for medical school.”

This is pretty much the same as at Berkeley and every large university
of my acquaintance.  You have to work hard to get what you
want.  Faculty do not chase after students.  They do not
generally take an interest in that way.  Faculty expect that
students who want to work with them will come to them, taking
initiative.  From what I can tell, most faculty would prefer to
work with the motivated students who come to office hours, who
demonstrate that they are reliable, and who can do independent
work.  Faculty work is fairly independent, lonely stuff, and
undergrads who work with faculty should expect that they will do lots
of independent work by themselves.  And, to be honest, with so
many demands on the faculty’s time, I think that faculty often want to
make sure that their interactions with undergrads (and grads, too) will
be high quality and high intensity.

Look, faculty may have 500 students a semester, if they teach a large
lecture course.  Even if they teach a moderate one of 150
students, there’s no time to interact with those students.  Say
you gave 5 minutes of interaction to half of that 150 person class each
week.  That’s 375 minutes, or more than 6 hours a week in student
contact time.  That’s six fewer hours to prep lectures (and
faculty can spend hours writing each one), six fewer hours to do
research, six fewer hours to interact with colleagues, via e-mail,
meetings, or conferences, and if you think that faculty should simply
do this on top of normal duties, six fewer hours with
family/friends.  And none of this enhances faculty professionally,
in terms of tenure or advancement.

Also, I know faculty who have indicated their willingness to spend time
with students, eating lunch with them in the houses and such, and it’s
a fairly small percentage of any class that takes advantage of this
chance.  Maybe ten percent, from what I have seen so far.

“Chasing faculty down” serves as the self-selection mechanism, so you
can see who’s serious about knowing or working wiht you.  When I
was in college, I got to know two of my professors quite well. 
Both Gary and Scott gave
me increasing contact and mentoring as I progressed in showing them
that I was up to the work put before me.  And neither of them
sought me out–I had to go to office hours, ask if there was anything
that I could do to do research for them, and keep showing
initiative.  Faculty contact is, in my experience, something
earned.  And in addition, some faculty, just by dint of
personality, are more generous with their time, just as some undergrads
will or won’t come to office hours, based on their own personalities.

Students’ experiences also vary widely from department to department.
Some of the most popular — and thus overburdened — majors, such as
economics or government, have fairly low ratings on internal student
surveys, while small majors like classics and philosophy get better

On the social front, students complain that Harvard lacks places where
students can socialize and has so many rules that it is difficult to
hold a party on-campus, where almost all undergraduates live.

The Harvard administration has also been working hard in the last few
years to improve social life. The school has been experimenting with
popular ”pub nights” on some Fridays, and has allowed campus parties
to stay open an hour later, until 2 a.m. They have tried other novelty
programs from dodge ball tournaments to speed dating, and doubled the
amount of athletic equipment in the main gym used by undergraduates.

Hey, in the large majors, we do our best.  But here in
government, we have about 600 students (excluding frosh).  There’s
only so much that can be done.  I’d venture that it’s easier to
dislike the government experience, since it’s bound to be less
personal.  In a small department, you know the people, and so you
can probably think of specific experiences to base your opinion upon;
in a large program, it’s more likely to be impressionistic and

Socially, I can think of one improvement we could use here–a student
union.  I can see how students find it hard to socialize across
houses.  And perhaps the party regulations could be loosened
(although in my examination of them, they seem no more strenuous than
those at my undergraduate school; again, the rules seem to create a
minimum of motivation and organization necessary on the part of the
students, so parties will be well-planned and organized).  And I’d
be interested to see how much student-initiated social activity is
going on.  If the administration is getting in the way of good
stuff that the students want to do, then we need to loosen up to foster
students’ creativity.  But students still need to initiate most of
the content of their social lives.

Posted in IvoryTower on 29 March 2005 at 11:39 am by Nate

We found some evangelicals!

Apparently, the big media outlets discovered evangelical Christians this week.  The New York Times Magazine ran a long piece on the phenomenon of the exurban megachurchJeff Sharlet over at The Revealer has excellent analysis, and many of his commenters have pretty intelligent stuff to say, too.

This morning, the Boston Globe ran its “Meet the evangelicals” story
Although I enjoyed the NYT article and its semi-practice of Weberian
ideal type analysis, today’s Globe story was more interesting. 
It, also, substituted this particular family, the Wilkersons, for a
larger phenomenon, but unlike the Times, Brian MacQuarrie did not shy
away from presenting the contradictions and harshness of the
evangelical worldview.

We learn that the Wilkersons feel bad and even attacked that they are
thought of as narrow-minded and exclusionary people, but we also learn
what they believe.

”Christianity is lived out every hour of every day. I have no hidden
agenda,” Michael says. Thumbing through a Bible, he adds, ”I don’t
know why people hate this story so much.”

To him, the media and entertainment industry have for decades
caricatured devout Christians as narrow-minded, judgmental bumpkins. In
the Wilkersons’ view, Hollywood is out of touch with the mainstream,
instead of the reverse.

”Those people don’t have a clue,” Michael says, shaking his head in disgust….

On the subject of gays, the Wilkersons say they oppose discrimination,
but their view of marriage is a divinely-sanctioned biblical one,
limited to a man and a woman for the purpose of creating a family.
Michael turns to St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, 6:9-11,
which reads in part in the New International version: ”Neither the
sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor
homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor
slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” He
interprets the Scripture to mean gays cannot be admitted to heaven.

”I don’t hate anyone who’s a homosexual,” Michael says. ”But do I hate what they do? Yes.”

[What do we do?  One
wonders if he knows.  And from what he thinks he knows, he might
consider how his subculture, evangelical Christianity, plays out in the
popular imagination before assuming he knows much about gays. -Ed.

On abortion, the Wilkersons are adamant: ”A life is a life,” MarCee
says, and to her, life begins at conception. The only possible
exception for abortion, MarCee says, is when the life of the mother is
in jeopardy — not for rape, and not for incest.

[If a life is a life, then
wouldn’t taking the life of the embryo or fetus to save another life
still constitute some form of killing?  If it’s an absolute, then
how do we justify that exception? -Ed.

Like many evangelical congregations, Hope Church is nondenominational.
Its members include former mainstream Protestants as well as one-time
Catholics ”who now are Christians,” Michael says. ”The Catholic
religion? I’m not too sure that Jesus is a big, integral part of that.”

[Have they ever been in a Roman Catholic Church?  Jesus is usually pretty front and center, literally even.  -Ed.]

…”Basically, it comes down to there’s only one God,” Michael says.
”You have to come to that conclusion: There’s one way to that God, and
that’s through Jesus.”

Unfortunately, Wilkerson said sadly, the ”harsh reality” of the Bible precludes salvation for non-Christians.

When asked if that means Gandhi, a Hindu who reached across religious
lines, was denied entry to heaven, Wilkerson dropped his head and

It sounds to me like this family (who may or may not actually
represent evangelicals [although my experience leads me to say that
they’re pretty representative], but who are being made to function as
such) has some hatred of gays (the separation of action from identity
in any identity/affinity group is highly problematic), believes Roman
Catholics are probably not Christians (one wonders if they know where
their own religion came from), hasn’t thought through the full
implications of their position on abortion, and may even be ashamed of
the absoluteness of their belief that only their particular form of
Christianity goes to heaven.

One thing that comes up in the Globe article more than that in the
Times is the not just the harsh absoluteness of evangelical life, but
the rule-oriented basis of it.  Don’t listen to the wrong sorts of
music, don’t be gay, don’t have an abortion, don’t, don’t, don’t. 
Rules can be useful, but in this sense, the rules seem to be the ticket
into heaven, which is the real goal of this life. 

Everything that the Wilkersons do orients them to the reward of
heaven. “In the end, two cars, a pickup, a nice home, good jobs, and a
comfortable life in the American heartland are all temporary amenities
to the Wilkersons and the other churchgoers who fill Hope’s sanctuary
with song and prayer each Sunday. They have their eyes on the

This attention to heaven seems the largest tragedy for a people who have such a focus on
not being like the world.  (In the circles I grew up in, a
favorite Scripture to quote was, “Be in the world but not of the
world.”  There was even a Christian pop song that used this as a
chorus.)  It’s a capitalist, materially oriented way of
approaching their faith.  Faith is a transactional
interaction–it’s like employment in a firm.  God sets out a contract for that which He expects me
to do.  I fulfill those obligations.  I am compensated with
eternal life in heaven.

But the faith of these people, at least in the Globe article,
doesn’t seem to have much to actually do with God.  Rules,
yes.  Regulating other people, yes.  God?

(In the church that my parents go to, which is a member of the same
denomination as the Wilkersons’ [contrary to the Globe reporter’s
assertion, “Evangelical Free” is a denominational marker, even if the
congregation wants to downplay it], they have a group for Adventists
“recovering from legalism.”  I always found this a remarkable
short-sightedness, since Protestant evagelicals are a pretty rule-bound
lot of people.)

For depth on that matter, we have to go to the Times article.

The spiritual sell is also a soft one. There are no crosses, no images
of Jesus or any other form of religious iconography. Bibles are
optional (all biblical quotations are flashed on huge video screens
above the stage). Almost half of each service is given over to live
Christian rock with simple, repetitive lyrics in which Jesus is treated
like a high-school crush: ”Jesus, you are my best friend, and you will
always be. Nothing will ever change that.” Committing your life to
Christ is as easy as checking a box on the communication cards that can
be found on the back of every chair. (Last year, 1,055 people did so.)

This is what bothered me about the Christians portrayed in the Times
article.  There is no challenge, no difficulty, no struggle
involved in their faith.  Faith is the means by which one
overcomes struggle, but it is not a struggle in itself.  But what
both hagiographers and historians seem to tell us is that “saints”,
“religious innovators”, and the like all struggle with their faith and
their faith leads them not out of struggle but into the fray of
it.  Gandhi certainly did not see faith as a way out of trouble
and trial–it led him straight to it.  In light of the Passion
last week and Easter for this week, neither did Jesus.  Neither
did Martin Luther, or Martin Luther King, or Oscar Romero.

Not all evangelicals think this way, as there is some trenchant
criticism out there from within the evangelical movement.  (See,
for example, Ronald Sider’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience
in Christianity Today.)  And in fact, the Wilkersons seem to be
enacting many of the problematic elements that Sider points out. 
Where’s the talk about materialism and the poor?  All we have is
evidence of material accumlation.  What about racism?  They
seem to be tolerant of other races, as long as those people are also
their sort of Christians.  But are there many non-white people in
their church?  Why or why not?

Until then, the Wilkersons say, their journey is one worth emulating.

”If you want the country to be better, you would want to take a model
of a husband and wife and a family who wants to do the right thing,”
Michael says. ”You would think that would be the model the country
would want to go after.

Absolutely not.  That model neatly ravaged body and soul in my case, and I have seen it do the same to many others.

Posted in Rayleejun on 29 March 2005 at 10:09 am by Nate
24 March 2005

Ooh, this is good for the end of Holy Week

From Frederick Buechner’s Wishful Thinking:  A Seeker’s ABC:


The power of sin is centrifugal.  When at
work in a human life, it tends to push everything out toward the periphery. 
Bits and pieces go flying off until only the core is left.  Eventually bits and
pieces of the core itself go flying off until in the end nothing at all is left.
“The wages of sin is death” is Saint Paul’s way of saying the same thing.

Other people and (if you happen to believe in him) God or
(if you happen not to) the World, Society, Nature– whatever you call the
greater whole of which you’re part– sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that
pushes them away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps
within your self.

For example, the sin of the Pharisee is
not just (a) his holier-than-thou attitude which pushes other people away, but
(b) his secret suspicion that his own holiness is deficient too, which pushes
part of himself away, and (c) his possibly not-so-subconscious feeling that
anybody who expects him to be all that holy must be a cosmic SOB, which pushes
Guess Who away.

Sex is sinful to the degree that, instead
of drawing you closer to other human beings in their humanness, it unites bodies
but leaves the lives inside them hungrier and more alone than before.

Religion and unreligion are both sinful to the degree
that they widen the gap between you and the people who don’t share your views.

The word charity illustrates the insidiousness of
sin.  From meaning a free and loving gift it has come to mean a
demeaning handout

“Original Sin” means we all
originate out of a sinful world which taints us from the word go.  We all tend
to make ourselves the center of the universe, pushing away centrifugally from
that center everything that seems to impede its free-wheeling.  More even than
hunger, poverty, or disease, it is what Jesus said he came to save the world

Posted in Rayleejun on 24 March 2005 at 10:06 am by Nate
19 March 2005

Roots of atheism in “religion”

One of BF’s advisers, the atheism guy, gave a speech in Rome this
.  Father Buckley is fascinating and frightfully intelligent,
and his books have been about how modern atheism and modern religion have given birth to one another, in a sense.

In essence, Buckley argued that by the 19th century, “religion” had
come to mean something very different than it did in the medieval
period for thinkers such as St. Thomas Aquinas. For Durkheim and Freud,
“religion” was a cluster of beliefs, symbols, and rites, essentially a
subset of the artifacts of human culture. Religion was a genus, of
which the various “religions” — Christianity, Hinduism, and so on —
were species.

From this point of view, “religions” are a little bit like
Pepsi and Coke — specifications of the generic category “soda.” (The
analogy is my own, not Buckley’s). They become separate and mutually
exclusive “brand names.”

For Aquinas, on the other hand, the idea of “a religion”
would have made no sense, Buckley said. Aquinas regarded religion not
as a set of beliefs and practices, but as a moral virtue “by which one
gives God what is due to God, and lives in appropriate relation to
God.” Symbols, hymns, rituals and doctrines are not “religion,” they
are the acts or objects of religion, with God as its ultimate end. This
virtue of religion is universal, even if people and cultures have
different ways of cultivating it.

Buckley argued that the scientific study of religion thus
settled the issue in favor of atheism from its opening move. When one
sees “religion” as instructive not about God but about human culture,
he said, the question of God’s existence is already asked and answered.

“God is either incomprehensibly absolute in his being and in
his goodness and so adored in his self-communication, or God is not at
all,” Buckley said.

It’s an interesting alternative viewpoint to the study of religion
concept.  I often explain to people who ask what BF does that
religious studies approaches religion from outside of any belief
structure while theology is the study of religion from inside a
particualr set of beliefs.

But I have often pondered how the atheism of religious studies is
replicated in other social science disciplines.  Do we political
scientists not believe in politics?  (I think that this may be
often true.)  How does that affect how we study the phenomena?

Posted in Rayleejun on 19 March 2005 at 10:51 am by Nate
18 March 2005

Rule of law turned on its ear

I’ve never admitted this on this site before, but I’ve followed the
Terry Schiavo case in Florida sort of closely for the last year or
so.  I’m not an expert on its wranglings, but the last couple of
days have brought all sorts of new wrinkles to the case

Today, all protestations of the Congress, the president, the governor
of Florida, the state legislature, Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, and the
“pro-life” lobby, Judge Greer ordered her feeding tube removed, so that
she may die.

This has been tossed back and forth for years, mostly between Mr.
Schiavo and Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, the Schindlers.  I’m less
interested in who’s right here (although my bias will be obvious) than
in asking some questions about the issues.  First, what seems to
be most in accord with the rule of law?  Second, what does our
best, reasonable evidence tell us?

The rule of law has been entirely overturned in this case.  First,
even though as a husband Mr. Schiavo is his wife’s next-of-kin, his
right to make decisions regarding her health care and her life in the
case that she cannot has been violated time after time.  Various
entities, from his in-laws to legislative bodies, have interfered with
his legal right and obligation as a husband.  And it seems to have
been overturned based upon passions rather than upon a strict reading
of the law (which is something many of those who do not support Mr.
Schiavo in this case generally claim to support).  Second, the
various executive and legislative branches involved in this case
continue to make bills and laws specifically for this case, deciding
the public policy of Florida and the United States based upon the
specific contours and emotional appeals of one case rather than trying
to do their job and figure out general principles to guide all of
us.  What will they do, decide each case of similar and
non-similar features individually?

Furthermore, in making this decision case-by-case, the various
politicians extend the coercive power of the state deeply into our
lives, in a way incongruent with individual freedom and the best
aspirations of our history.  By jumping into this case,
extralegally as they try to bypass the duly established authorities
(courts and judges) established to make such decisions, the politicians
of the legislatures and executives show that they are willing and think
themselves justified in forcing their way into any person’s life,
should they deem it in their interest.  What this means is that
whenever a politician deems it expedient, even if for purely selfish,
electoral-professional reasons, s/he will be able to micro-manage the
details of any situation chosen.  If it scores points with
constituents, political bodies may decide that it’s fine to order any
of us to do anything the popular will demands.

The Schiavo case is rare, in that the statistics that I have run across
before indicate that situations such as this don’t happen often. 
And still we have laws to address such rare situations — we place
decisions about what to do in the hands of the next-of-kin, which
status is determined and elaborated in the law.  Where the law is
ambiguous or unclear, we have courts and judges (and appeals systems)
to help determine what to do in those situations.  But Congress
has usurped the constitutional authority of the courts.

“The Senate and House remain dedicated to saving Terry Schiavo’s
life,” Senator Frist said, adding that March 28 was the date
Congressional leaders would seek to hold a hearing with the Schiavos.
“The purpose of the hearing is to review health care policies and
practices relevant to the care of nonambulatory persons such as Mrs.

Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House
Republican leader, said House leaders would work all day and through
the weekend, if necessary, to reconcile differences between House and
Senate legislation.

Mr. DeLay said it would be “barbaric” to
remove the tube and let Ms. Schiavo starve and dehydrate for two weeks.
“I don’t care what her husband says,” he told reporters.

Well, we know that the law doesn’t care what Tom DeLay says, since
it designates Mr. Schiavo her legal guardian, not Tom DeLay.  Of
course, we know that Tom DeLay doesn’t really care what the law says
anyway.  And why hasn’t Sen. *DR.* Frist been interested in
holding hearings before the final hours of Mrs. Schiavo’s case?  There’s more of calculation than of caring here.

Second, we have overturned the standard of reason, which can be the
only arbiter in such a case as this, because the passions are so
inflamed on either side that they can’t serve as a useful guide to what
we might do.  Just becasue each side *believes* that it is right
does not offer us a guideline about what is moral to do.  The
doctors tell us that Mrs. Schiavo is dead, in that she bears no real
resemblance to a human being, except in physicality.  Her body
functions, but only in a cellular sense, and her brain performs only
those most primitive of functions required to make her heart beat and
lungs move.  Nothing else of the person that she was remains, they
tell us.  Her parents are convinced that they receive
communication from her, through hand squeezes and such, but the doctors
tell us that those could simply be firings of electricity through her
nervous system, similar to those that fire her heart and lungs every
few seconds.

(I’ve felt sorry for her parents for some time.  They seem stuck
in that first stage of grief, of shock and disbelief, and most of their
public pronouncements have sounded like a person in initial denial of a
horrible happening.  Except that this initial denial has continued
for them for 15 years.)

So in discounting our best available advice about this poor woman’s
“life”, we overturn a legal system of centuries’ work and torture her
loved ones.  We’ve viciously turned on the man our society appointed as the
arbiter in this case, whom we asked to make our own tough decisions,
and whom we now try to punish when we decide that we didn’t like the
standards we gave him to make these choices for us.  (Judge George
Greer was described in yesterday’s paper
as “a ‘compassionate
conservative,’ a man whose religious faith is as dear to him as his
reputation as a legal scholar.”  And yet, his Southern Baptist
church has run him away, and he has to travel with two armed sheriff’s
deputies and home protection to prevent those who purport to believe in
Mrs. Schiavo’s life from injuring or killing him.)  And in
reality, we treat Mrs. Schiavo less like the full human being she once
was and much more like a human-shaped hunk of meat.

(And by the way, I am on record with BF as wanting no part of such a
thing in the future.  If I end up in a vegetative state, I do not
wish to be kept alive.  And we’ve set it up legally so that he
will make that decision, rather than my parents or anyone else. 
If you are not married and want to make a specific designation of
someone to handle such decisions for you, it’s pretty simple. 
Just ask your medical practice’s social worker, therapist, or patient
care coordinator, and they’ll tell you what to do in your state. 
Here in Massachusetts, it’s a simple form.  Many other states are

Posted in Politicks on 18 March 2005 at 3:57 pm by Nate
16 March 2005

Sweet, small revenge

Some people make a game out of getting even with the smaller, most annoying facets of modern life.

I take all the ads that get put into my bills and put them in the
return envelopes so that the companies can experience the same joy of
trying to figure out what’s relevant and what’s garbage.

Some people take it really far.

Wesley A. Williams spent more than a year exacting his revenge
against junk mailers. When signing up for a no-junk-mail list failed to
stem the flow, he resorted to writing at the top of each unwanted item:
“Not at this address. Return to sender.” But the mail kept coming
because the envelopes had “or current resident” on them, obligating
mail carriers to deliver it, he said.

Next, he began stuffing
the mail back into the “business reply” envelope and sending it back so
that the mailer would have to pay the postage. “That wasn’t exacting a
heavy enough cost from them for bothering me,” said Mr. Williams, 35, a
middle school science teacher who lives in Melrose, N.Y., near Albany.

checking with a postal clerk about the legality of stepping up his
efforts, he began cutting up magazines, heavy bond paper, and small
strips of sheet metal and stuffing them into the business reply
envelopes that came with the junk packages.

“You wouldn’t
believe how heavy I got some of these envelopes to weigh,” said Mr.
Williams, who added that he saw an immediate drop in the amount of
arriving junk mail. A spokesman for the United States Postal Service,
Gerald McKiernan, said that Mr. Williams’s actions sounded legal, as
long as the envelope was properly sealed.

I have nothing but admiration for this man.

What do you do?

Posted in Day2Day on 16 March 2005 at 10:22 pm by Nate

Not the easiest time

The continuing conversation about l’affaire Harvard dominates around here.  We even discussed it over dinner at the monastery last night.

The president of the university, Larry Summers, has described the last
two months as among some of the hardest of his professional life. 
And yesterday was probably one of his hardest days yet….

This coming from a man who dealt with world leaders and helped to manage the world economy.

We academics are not an easy people to work with.  ‘Course, from
everything I hear from faculty, neither is the university president.

Posted in IvoryTower on 16 March 2005 at 10:16 pm by Nate
14 March 2005

Riding on others’ fame

That is, I am blatantly riding on the fame of people I know….

A colleague from my cohort at Berkeley left our program a couple of
years back, and became a writer at the Paper of Record.  She
co-wrote yesterday’s article about the Bush Administration’s creation
of prepackaged news items that many TV news outlets have wittingly and
unwittingly aired with virtually no changes (raising the question of
whether this is propaganda or not)
.  Check it out — it’s a great article.

And another Berkeley colleague, who also went to my church there, married someone the other day, and the announcement showed up in the Paper of Record.  Fortunately for them, it did not make an appearance at “Veiled Conceit,” the blog that mocks (to put it gently) the Weddings page.

Posted in OnTheWeb on 14 March 2005 at 9:08 am by Nate