Pot Calling the Kettle Black

May 27, 2008

The New York Times reports that Scott McClellan, Bush’s former White House press secretary, has written a memoir about his years where he managed the White House press as the Bush administration took steps to destory the world from July 2003 to April 2006. He is gentle on himself, noting that “I fell far short of living up to the kind of public servant I wanted to be.” Less gentle on others, the Times notes McClellan’s claims that

President Bush “convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment,” and has engaged in “self-deception” to justify his political ends.

No way, Jose! How about that. Good thing he wrote this book so that we could know this sort of thing. Wonder how much he got paid for his book? Do you think he actually stayed in the job thinking, if I stick it out long enough, I can write a book? Or he was just blinded by… I don’t know, just having a job? Being part of the action? Enjoying widespread lying and spinning to the public?

Finally, after, like, three years of deceiving to the media, and working for an administration that systematically restricts access to (important, as well as seemingly mundane) information from the media, he

calls the news media “complicit enablers” in the White House’s “carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval” in the march to the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003.

Not that I think the media is that hot. Mr. McClellan just doesn’t seem like the best person to wax all philosophical on the problems with media. Since, you know, it was his job to mislead them.

Get Free Books

January 17, 2008

My friend RG, honored and revered benefactor of this blog, has alerted me to a great way to get free books. It is called Book Mooch. www.bookmooch.com It is pretty simple. You list books you want to give away. You get a point for giving someone your book (they have to request it from you for you to get the point) and then you can use that point to get a free book from someone else. You also get points for rating people who give you books and for listing books. All you pay is the shipping cost for the book that people request of you, but then they pay the shipping cost when they send your book, so it works out evenly. The only downside is that the books available are very best-seller-ish. So if you want to get a specialized book – it might be there, but it might not. Still, if you like reading bestsellers or have far too many books that you’ll never read again laying (lying?) around your house, this is great. I have so far mooched two books and sent away three. You should all join because I imagine my blog readers have some books I would love to mooch!

The Secret Is Total Bunk

November 28, 2007

I’ve been intending to write about The Secret for a while and Rev. Fred Small‘s recent UU World article Psst: ‘The Secret’ isn’t total bunk,”(adapted form a sermon) inspired me to sit down and get to it. (The Secret has also recently been mentioned at Philocrities and over at Surviving the Workday).

The problems with the book, the DVD companion to the book, and the general philosophy/science outlined therein are so numerous that I have no intention of trying to outline them all. You can read the wikipedia article, which outlines a good number of the problematic aspects and claims. The question for me, as it is was for Rev. Small, is if there is something redeemable about The Secret. Should we throw the baby out with the bathwater?

In the end, for Rev. Small, there was something redeemable about The Secret. After pointing out some of the problems with the book, he writes:

The Secret reminded me that to dwell constantly in the negative is its own kind of hell—a hell of my own choosing. I don’t want to deny or flee the negative, but I need not build my house on its sinkhole. How effective an activist for change can I be when my thinking and speaking are infused with hopelessness? How much time and energy in all areas of my life do I devote to criticizing what is, rather than creating what could be?

“There is no greater power in the Universe than the power of love,” says The Secret. “The feeling of love is the highest frequency you can emit. If you could wrap every thought in love, if you could love everything and everyone, your life would be transformed.” That’s a view I wholeheartedly endorse.

Yet, for me, while I understand that some good thoughts and ideas can come from The Secret – especially the sense that positive thinking is important, focusing on the negative is not often helpful, that we should “emit” love our lives, I think it is total bunk. Just because some parts of a book or a way of thinking can be isolated and might be helpful, I don’t think that we can, or should, separate out the acceptable parts of thinking such as that espoused in The Secret given what the overall “package” implies – an overall package that people are buying into by the thousands.

What does the overall package imply, you ask? That your thoughts are responsible for what happens in your life – if you think positive things, positive things will happen. And if you think negative things, negative things will happen. There is no gray area here.

“Everything that’s coming into your life, you are attracting into your life. And it’s attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind,” Bob Proctor of The Secret DVD tells us.

As Rev. Small reminds us in the UU World article:

The Secret demands three simple steps: 1) Ask. 2) Believe. 3) Receive.

“It’s like having the Universe as your catalog,” explains [Dr. Vitale, Metaphysician]. “You flip through it and say, ‘I’d like to have that product and I’d like to have a person like that.’ It is You placing your order with the Universe. It’s really that easy.”

The insurmountable problem I have with this is that the logical conclusion these sort of theological/scientific claims require: if things aren’t going well for you, it is because you are doing something wrong. Not only is this just reprehensible to me in general (thinking of those I know who have suffered and succumbed to cancer despite hopeful, joyful honest asking and believing), but this is also a quite racist, classist and sexist claim as well: those who are doing well are doing so because they have asked and believed – because they have done what they need to do, attracting good to themselves. Those who are not doing well have not asked and have not believed – according to The Secret‘s law of attraction, they have not attracted good things to them because their thoughts and energies are not good enough. So, women, if you get raped: you could have prevented that with different thoughts. To the millions suffering from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa: you could have prevented this by thinking different thoughts. Did your wife get laid off from her job?: that also could have prevented by thinking different thoughts. If you go to a highly segregated school that is vastly underfunded and get an inadequate education: you simply did not open that catalog of the universe and pick out what you wanted – you could have prevented this by maybe taking a little action, but mostly by thinking different thoughts, emitting different energy. It’s really that easy.

Rhonda Byrne speaks to this in a Newsweek article:

“The law of attraction is that each one of us is determining the frequency that we’re on by what we’re thinking and feeling,” Byrne said in a telephone interview, in response to a question about the massacre in Rwanda. “If we are in fear, if we’re feeling in our lives that we’re victims and feeling powerless, then we are on a frequency of attracting those things to us … totally unconsciously, totally innocently, totally all of those words that are so important.” (Jerry Adler. “Decoding ‘The Secret'” Newsweek, March 2007)

Right. So apparently the Rwandans might who were massacred (or those killed during the Holocaust or, say, Matthew Shepard or other people who have been brutally killed) might have been having totally unconscious, totally innocent frequencies which, in the end, resulted in their deaths. What a woefully inadequate answer to questions about longing, hoping, and suffering in our world. Shame on you Rhonda Byrne.

Positive thinking is great. Emitting love frequencies is great. But this is not what The Secret is about. The Secret is making claims about how the universe works. If you think about what you want, believe it will come to you, it will. If it doesn’t, you aren’t doing things right. This sounds to me too much like blaming those who suffer from injustice, oppression, and simply those who suffer. It feels like such a slap in the face to all of the people who I have known throughout my life – and really, those throughout the world – who have believed, and yet suffered and struggled and not received. And, it is a slap in the face to those who, for whatever reason, have not been able to believe.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith does not offer easy answers to why there is suffering in the world. We do not have answers as to why we do not always get what we want, or why justice and goodness and health so often fail to manifest in our lives. This is because there are not easy answers to these questions. These are important places for reflection, exploration, struggle, and grappling with hard theological and scientific questions. Why did the cancer treatment not work? Why did our dad lose his job? Why does violence like that which we see in Darfur continue? The Secret, and any embrace of it, dismisses these questions and this grappling that is so central to our faith with easy, simplistic answers.

Let’s call this what it is. The Secret is bad pseudo-science and has nothing to do with what Unitarian Universalism is about. We can embrace love and positive thinking and hope without contaminating our faith or our lives with the absurd theological and scientific claims of The Secret.

Addendum: I just want to clarify, after reflecting on this post, that my frustration with The Secret is primarily about The Secret and its theology, not about Rev. Small’s attempt to glean something useful from it. I understand where Rev. Small was going with trying to take some good out of a book/theology/world-view that he takes pains to point out has great problems. I just respectfully disagree with that approach. I don’t know Rev. Small, but imagine, like so many of our ministers, is a thoughtful, kind, and very wise person. Just thought it was important to clarify this.

Meet Jesus: My running list of things that would somewhat traumatize lots of people I know

June 14, 2007

I just got a huge kick out of what is probably a great book. It is called Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher and it is on the front page of the UUA bookstore website. It is so something I would get for my kids (if I had them) but I just envisioned some of my dear and beloved more traditional Christian friends and relatives and how dreadfully horrible this book would seem to them – you might as well give your kid a book called “How to Be Evil.” This goes in the same category with the tradition at my home UU church where everyone is invited to dress in costume the Sunday closest to Halloween and sing a song called “The Witch Song” with the following chorus:

Who were the witches, where did they come from?
Maybe your great great grandmother was one.
Witches were wise, wise women they say,
And there’s a little witch in every woman today.
There’s a little witch in every woman today.

Perhaps you have to come from a Baptist charismatic background to appreciate the absolute horror that these two very nice UU innovations would invoke. Why makes me laugh, I don’t know. It just does. It would so not be funny if these ideas were even ever mentioned anywhere some of my nearest and dearest. Or in my hometown. So not funny.

Favorite Books

April 12, 2007

Gosh, how have I not posted on this topic? Dan Harper over at Yet Another Unitarian Universalist recently posted about books that changed your life. My cousin Lydia who has her own blog lists her favorite books here (we used to have reading contests when I was little – who could read the most Nancy Drew books the fastest and when Lydia turned out to be more of a reader than me, my Dad would always point out the books she was reading sort of like, “Well at least someone your age appreciate books as they should.”). Maybe the reason I haven’t posted on this is because I read so many academic books that I have to trudge through, I forgot how fun reading is and how wonderful a good book can be. Not that I don’t like my academic books, but it is a different sort of satisfaction. Without further ado, a start to My Favorite Books list. Since this will take time to reflect on and fill out, this is just an off-the top of my head start. And these may not be my favorite books to read now, although lots of them are, but have been important favorite books throughout time.

Three Books that Come to Mind as Absolute Favorites

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

The Prince of Tides – Pat Conroy

(While the movies are all pretty good, the books came first for me. Movies later. As I noted in my comment on Yet Another UU, I first read all of these by the time I was 12. My parents were big readers and my Dad was an English teacher so my sister and I just sort of read whatever was around. It included lots of children’s books, but my parents liked these books and so I figured they must be good. As you can imagine, this meant that I didn’t really understand the books the first or second time I read them – but yet, even though I wasn’t getting it all, I had a strong sense that they were important books. I still read them all again every few years.)

Other Books I Really Like a Lot For Various Reasons

Texasville – Larry McMurtry (Just so funny.)

Evensong – Gail Godwin (link to my amazon.com review – scroll down to view)

Lie Down in Darkness – William Styron (As with a lot of other books, I read this first when I was way too young so I didn’t understand it that well the first time I read it, but somehow it stands out as a favorite because of the beautiful, tragic language, but also because it is a favorite of my Dad’s and somehow that makes it special to me.)

Amazing Grace – Jonathan Kozol (Caused an a-ha moment about my purpose in the world and an important realization about injustice in the world.

The Corner – David Simon and Edward Burns (link to my amazon.com review – scroll down to view after clicking)

Books for Children

Behind the Attic Wall – Sylvia Cassedy (this was a favorite in fourth grade)

Gypsy Summer – Wilma Yeo (a third grade favorite that I’m sure I read 20 times that is now out-of-print)

Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh (another third grade favorite – way before it was a movie!)

Steven Kellogg books – love them all

Academic-ish Books

In Memory of Her – Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza

Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World – Judith Lieu

more to come!

The Simple Living Guide – Book Review

March 19, 2007

So I cover simple living and increased simplicity a lot here, and I wanted to suggest one of my favorite books for getting inspired to live more simply and save money. It is The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs.  I wish so much that there was a newer version of it – it came out in 1997 so it is a little dated in some ways.  Still – I have, for a very long time, wanted to save more money and live a life that is less driven by getting things done and one that is more focused on living life right now and enjoying those things that are important to me. I think a lot of time the right book comes along at the right time in our lives, and for me, this book was it. It provides lots of ideas – some about being just a little more simple and some that are about pretty drastic changes. This is not likely a book that people who want to live very radically simple lives would find valuable. This is for folks who still want electricity, maybe a car, some nice “things,” and so on. I found it very readable with lots of ideas, and also a very exciting philosophy – driving home the idea that we lose sight of the point of life – that for most people, it doesn’t make sense to work a lot, to get lots of money, to get a bigger house and lots of stuff. Rather, we can be more content (and have a lighter environmental impact) by working only as much as we need to in order to meet the needs that are basic and the needs that are most important to us. Thus, if having a nice car is important, save for that and cut down on expensive clothes. It encourages you to thin of life in terms of tradeoffs. If I work 50 hours a week, I can have a big house, but much less time to live in it or be with family. Is this worth it. It also helps to counter conventional wisdom about the kind of money it takes to live a “decent” life. This was big for me.  I loved the idea that it is not unreasonable to consider living on $40,000 with two children (okay, not in Boston) and not feel deprived. I know that lots of people live on much less than that, but the idea here was that you can live on much less than you think you can and not feel poor or deprived. It challenges assumptions and offers new way to think about things. The book did not come across as preachy to me. I think you can take from it what is helpful in your life – it is like a sourcebook or reference book. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

I won’t review here, but I also really liked Simplify Your Life.

Who Says You Can’t Publish Your Masters Thesis?

August 13, 2006

Nicole Sotelo, who was part of a small feminist group with me at HDS, and now works for Call to Action, published her masters thesis with Paulist Press. Isn’t that just wonderful!? I just found it randomly while doing another search.

Women Healing from Abuse: Meditations for Finding Peace

Book Review: The Garden of Vegan and How it All Vegan

August 1, 2006

The Garden of Vegan and How It All Vegan

Both of these cookbooks by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer are good for regular folks that just want to make a healthy, compasionate little something to eat for lunch or dinner. So many vegan/vegetarian cookbooks call for essence of this or fresh herb something or other imported from Japan which really makes it hard to cook some regular food for someone who is not a chef. I wasn’t good at cooking food before I became vegetarian so it isn’t like I would magically be great (or committed to spending hours in the kitchen) after I eliminated a whole host of ingredients.

Both books call for easy ingredients and simple directions. I especially love the recipes where they note that they can be frozen and reheated later. I have such a hard time cooking good healthy food while working and going to school, but this book is full of recipes that let you do that especially if you can freeze them and eat them later! Plus, the authors seem to have great laid back personalities. Not too “ooh-la-la” — very down to earth. They may try to be a little too cool sometimes, but it is better than someone who takes themselves oh-so-seriously as a chef.

These recipes are great for anyone who is looking to eat more healthily. Downside of the book is that there aren’t pictures of the food and sometimes I can’t quite tell what it is that the recipe is for (like Jessie’s Cuban Sensation– very nice title, but what is it?). How It All Vegan has more basic recipes and the The Garden of Vegan expands your range of foods. They also have great ideas for parties, make-it-yourself products for the home and a special section for college students trying to be vegan in a dorm.

How it All Vegan also has a helpful section for those who are used to more traditional cooking. It goes over what to stock in a vegan kitchen and helps one learn how to get a feel for vegan cooking. What to use in place of eggs? Soy milk or rice milk? What about cheese replacement?

Speaking of cheese, one thing that lacks in these books, and I really think many vegan cookbooks, is this whole thing where they write “top with vegan parmesan cheese.” Oh really? That easy, is it? As far as I can tell, vegan land still lacks convincing replacement for most cheeses. The vegan cheeses I’ve found here in Cambridge, MA are not edible and my guess is that Cambridge has a relatively good selection of alternative food options. Store bought vegan cheese does not resemble cheese taste or texture to me AT ALL nor to my lovely partner who is much less picky than I am. The best thing I have found for cheese replacement is nutritional yeast. It actually has a cheesy taste and semi-cheese-like texture. But that’s for another post. So enjoy these two books. They helped me move past pasta as my main food.

Book Review: The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony

July 29, 2006

By East Coast standards, I married pretty young – 24. It has worked out beautifully, but was, um, shall we say quite the challenge early on. In the midst of this challenging period, a friend of mine suggested I read The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony and I felt like it was very helpful and very accurate and I sure wish I would have read it before getting married and having a wedding. It isn’t that I wouldn’t have gotten married had I read this book first, but rather I would have done it with a different mindset. After I read this, I got online at Amazon.com and sent “used” copies to several of my closest friends. If you are between 20-37 or so, I suggest you get yourself a copy. It is heterosexual focused, but if you can stand the hetero-ness of the whole thing, there is probably helpful stuff for all people regardless of orientation.

The book is not perfect, and Paul (the author) can make some big jumps in her conclusions. So don’t read this as a super-controlled scientific assessment (which it isn’t supposed to be anyway). I found that the book wasn’t anti-marriage or pro-marriage, but rather just touched up on a lot of the realities, myths, struggles, and ideas that Gen X (and a little older and younger) face when it comes marriage — like how so many go into marriage with the subconscious expectation that it will make life complete or fix things that marriages just can’t “fix.”

I was especially thankful on her section about the “wedding industry” that markets absurdly expensive weddings (the perfect dress, the biggest ring, the best food… the most important day of your life!) to individuals and couples and that often contributes to a loss of perspective about what the actual marriage after the wedding might involve. I managed to prevent this madness for our, by “average” wedding standards, small and cheap wedding, but I felt that pressure and that implication that if you make the wedding great, everything else will follow.

One of the most helpful things I got from this book was the articulation of a feeling that I and many of my friends have — that you are not complete until you are married and that being married will “make things okay,” which, until this book, I hadn’t recognized as so widespread/generational/cultural.

Secondly, I appreciated the feeling from the book that divorce can be okay, is sometimes better, but that sometimes a marriage just takes a little more work. I was glad she made it clear that marriage has had too high of expectations hoisted upon it, that it is hard work, can be great, can be hard, and can be rewarding. She is legitimately hard on the “pro-marriage” camp that promotes marriage as the savior of civilization and that advocates staying married at all costs. If you want an anti-divorce book, this is not it. But if you want a fair treatment of many of the struggles that the twenty and thirty somethings face in trying to make a life with a partner, in the face of work, high expectations for marriage, our parents’ marriages and divorces and a culture that sends amazingly mixed and strong messages about marriage, sex, and “success” this is a great place to start. Particularly for those thinking of getting married or struggling in the early years of a marriage, this might be particularly helpful.

Happy reading.