RSSCategory: Community

Isn’t it NEWS when the daily newspaper fires one of its prominent columnists?

April 19, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More
Isn’t it NEWS when the daily newspaper fires one of its prominent columnists?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently fired one of its prominent columnists, Sylvester Brown. Why? Here’s all you’ll find even if you carefully scour the Post-Dispatch: A one-paragraph “Note” that Sylvester Brown acted unethically and that he deserved to be gone.

But isn’t it a big news story whenever the only daily newspaper serving a major metropolitan area fires one of its columnists for a purported isolated ethics infraction? Doesn’t it deserve more coverage than a one-paragraph “Note to Readers”? Isn’t this story news?

What about when the columnist (who wrote three full columns per week) disputes the Post-Dispatch version of the facts? Isn’t that news? You won’t read about both sides of this dispute in the Post-Dispatch (though you can read about it here).

What about the fact that Brown often criticized the Mayor of St. Louis coupled with the fact that the Mayor is on the paper’s “Advisory Board?” Isn’t that news? Should a newspaper ever have politicians on its “Advisory Board”? Isn’t that issue big news?

I decided to put out my own “edition” of the St. Louis Daily newspaper. I called it the St. Louis Post-Disgrace. Click on it to see the “paper” full screen.” It contains the headlines that illustrate various aspects of the Sylvester Brown story that the Post-Dispatch failed to cover. I’ll be waiting and watching to see whether the Post-Dispatch ever advises its readers any of these issues.

sylvester-brown-mockup-b-and-w

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Refusing to shuffle quietly out the door, one local journalist stands tall –

April 15, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More
Refusing to shuffle quietly out the door, one local journalist stands tall –

Post-2008-election, I felt as though our country was finally regaining consciousness. I felt hope and optimism rise and my cynicism roll back ever-so-slightly, breezes of fresh thought dispersing the haze. As my vision returned, I could once again engage in conversations that did not fizzle into frustrated non-verbal noise.

I began to see glimpses of a cultural evolution of thought through the wider population. Just glimpses, but they were there, I know it. I felt the whoosh of tired air as egos fat with imaginary power based on non-existent wealth were deflated by the reality of financial correction. I smiled as the facade of organized evangelical religion cracked under self-made storms of condescending hypocrisy. I grinned with sincere joy every time I heard new dialogue about race and culture in the wake of electing our first minority president.

All in all, I saw daily reminders that people, all of us, are truly equal underneath all the cultural trappings. Eye contact became pleasant again. The obvious human connections we share – that we all love and laugh and hurt and seethe and wonder and sigh and ache and even hate – I could see those commonalities beginning to connect us again. We argue and bicker, we debate and discuss, we learn, we teach, we manage, we create, we err and we try. We help, we care, sometimes we dismiss. We each react to information and situations from our own perspectives, wrought upon our own personalities by our own life stories. But we seemed to be listening to each other again.

I hoped anew that as a culture, we were learning that all of those life stories matter. That each one of us brings a unique self to the cultural table and that even when we strenuously disagree, we do not dismiss each other simply because of it.

Silly me.

Last week, a friend of mine was fired. Not a big deal, you might think, as people have been laid off in record numbers (including myself) over the past months of economic strife. Sure, a big deal for him, maybe. But, well, welcome to the masses. Except that this friend represented something we cannot afford to lose, and his firing rips further into the frayed fiber of our local democracy. Sadly, too many will dismiss the loss as no big deal – for the exact reason we so desperately needed Sylvester Brown to stay.

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It’s that time of year…

April 13, 2009 | By | 14 Replies More
It’s that time of year…

Spring on a large university campus means but one thing: crazy evangelicals. Since I attend (arguably) the largest university in the country, I get my fair share of kookery. Most evangelical preachers simply stand on a grassy area and preach, for hours, about the damnation that sinful, depraved college students face. Some gather crowds and screaming voices of dissent, but many are as easily ignored.

But every spring, the evangelical season is rung in by a group so passionate they cannot be ignored: the abortion protesters. They cover the campus in the blight of propaganda- their commitment is clear. This year, I decided to take a few photos of the madness, and string them into a quick youtube slideshow. Check it out, and note the response of the pro-choice counter protesters:

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Amazon.com Now Censors As Policy

April 12, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Amazon.com Now Censors As Policy

Amazon.com has just initiated a new marketing policy. They are stripping away the sales ranking of any book with so-called Adult Content. Here’s their little explanation:

“In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D
Member Services
Amazon.com Advantage

What this mean in effect, however, is that books primarily with gay and lesbian content are being singled out for exclusion from database searches. It is being applied in a bigoted and surprisingly hamfisted manner to conform to someone’s standard of what constitutes Offensive Material.

Adult Content generally means anything with more than coyly suggested sex in it. However, as a sample of the books not having their sales ranking stripped away, consider these:

–Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds by Chronicle Books (pictures of over 600 naked women)
–Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love” (explicit heterosexual romance);
–Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Wolf and the Dove (explicit heterosexual romance);
–Bertrice Smal’s Skye o’Malley which are all explicit heterosexual romances
–and Alan Moore’s Lost Girls (which is a very explicit sexual graphic novel)

These book sell very well, generally, so it’s obvious that there’s a dollar connection to this new policy. Midlist—the vast majority of books—will be targeted.

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What if every scientist (and every author) had a unique identification number?

April 10, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More
What if every scientist (and every author) had a unique identification number?

The March 27, 2009 edition of Science explores the issue of personal identification numbers for scientists. Why? Because it’s getting difficult to tell authors apart.

A universal numbering system could aid scientists trying to stay on top of the literature, help universities more readily track staff productivity, and enable funding agencies to better monitor the bang they’re getting for their buck. An effective identification number might also make it easier to find information about an author’s affiliations, collaborators, interests, or simply their current whereabouts.

This article indicates that published scientific papers are growing in quantity by 3% annually. Many authors are getting married or divorced and therefore changing their names. Some journals have varying style rules for noting first names and initials. Chinese authors often transliterate their names using opinion. “At least 20 different Chinese names, many of them common, are transliterated as “Wang Hong.” And, of course, there are many scientists not of Chinese descent who have common names who don’t want to be confused with others.

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Iowa becomes the third state to allow gay marriage

April 3, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Iowa becomes the third state to allow gay marriage

Based on a unanimous ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court, Iowa has become the third state in the nation to allow gay marriage (joining Connecticut and Massachusetts). The following excerpt is from the Desmoine Register:

Iowa’s gay marriage ban “is unconstitutional, because the county has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification for excluding plaintiffs from the institution of civil marriage,” Cady wrote in the 69-page opinion that seemed to dismiss the concept of civil unions as an option for gay couples.

“A new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution,” Cady wrote.

The ruling, however, also addressed what it called the “religious undercurrent propelling the same-sex marriage debate,” and said judges must remain outside the fray. . .

“Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring that government avoids them,” the opinion says.

The ruling explicitly does not affect “the freedom of a religious organization to define marriage it solemnizes as unions between a man and a woman,” the justices stressed.

Although I haven’t yet read the opinion, it sounds like the Justices are pointing to a common-sense compromise to the gay marriage dispute: The civil ceremony applies to any two people and the state must not discriminate as to sex by requiring those two people to be of the opposite sex. The state-sanctioned marriage will endow all couples equally with all of the legal benefits of marriage. On the other hand, religions are free to define marriage as they would like. A conservative church would be free to reject an application to marry same sex couples. I think that this is the best way to approach the national divide. If your religion is really important to you, go ahead and let your religion (not your government) define marriage. In the meantime, don’t try to deny government benefits to others based upon sex differences.

When I read the opinion, I’m interested in knowing how the Court found discrimination. After all, the traditional government definition is not anti-woman or anti-man. In a sense, it’s even-handed. From the perspective of any gay person seeking to be married, though, that definition trods on what I would agree to be fundamental liberties such as the right to associate. After I review the opinion, I’ll add a comment.

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Can churches for non-believers survive?

April 2, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Can churches for non-believers survive?

There are some new local humanist centers springing up and they resemble churches in many ways, according to an article by USA Today. What do they do?

[They meet] monthly with about 10 families. Acosta says trips to museums and a parenting course called “Compassionate Communication” are planned. The Harvard chaplaincy also hosts “Humanist Small Group” biweekly Sunday brunch discussion and buys drinks at biweekly “Humanist Community Pub Nights.” Last month, it hosted holiday-style celebrations around Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and is hosting a talk by humanist writer and director Joss Whedon of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame.

What is the long-term outlook for such groups? I have always assumed that there was something about traditional churches that would help keep the group intact, something having to do with a solution to the fear of death. Churches work hard to play up both the fear and the solution. Non-believers tend to have a different focus: the here and now.

The USA Today article quotes Richard Lints, a professor of philosophical theology who

doubts humanism can sustain itself in the local congregations Epstein envisions because community is not a natural part of humanism, where the individual is the ultimate source of meaning. If humanism becomes concerned with the “greater good,” and a sort of natural moral order that implies, it starts to resemble religion and humanists will back away, he said. “At the heart of the humanist project is deep individualism,” Lints said. “It’s always going to be difficult to sustain a real robust community.”

Certainly one of model of such a community has been successful, that of the Ethical Societies such as this one. Also, consider that many religions are not traditionally religious–they run along a continuum. As proof, consider the scorn heaped on Unitarian Churches by right wing fundamentalists. Here’s one dramatic example.

Can non-theistic “churches” hold together? Time will tell.

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