Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Socialism in the Bible, and Britney. Again.

Does God want us to be socialists? Well, I'm beginning to wonder, what with this passage from the Bible - that's right, the Bible - that Sojourners recently emailed out. Wonder what religious fundamentalist, so philosophically averse to "communism," make of it?

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

- Acts 4:32-35

I'm Like So Totally Shocked ...

On another topic, Britney Spears and her now-pregnant 16-year-old sister are making themselves useful in one area: being negative object lessons for pubescent girls. Yes, I know - they're sort of victims. But they're sort of perpetrators, too, and that's where their saga needs to end. Our already hyper-sexualized teen girls don't need any more examples of empty-headed and pathetic female behavior. What I hope girls learn? How's this: Put on a tube top and lip gloss, warm up the flashbulbs, and suddenly you're ... nowhere at all. Look at the Spears' girls.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More on Russia's Slide

From a Wall Street Journal article about a Russian Orthodox priest who was defrocked because of his support for an opponent of Putin. Miracle of miracles - he saw his errors, repented, and now he's back in his robes.

Mr. Taratukhin's repentance reinforces what has become a pillar of Mr. Putin's Russia: an intimate alliance between the Orthodox Church and the Kremlin reminiscent of czarist days. Rigidly hierarchical, intolerant of dissent and wary of competition, both share a vision of Russia's future -- rooted in robust nationalism and at odds with Western-style liberal democracy.

In recent months, Orthodox priests have sprinkled holy water on a new Russian surface-to-air-missile system called Triumph and blessed a Dec. 2 parliamentary election condemned by European observers as neither free nor fair. When the Kremlin last week unveiled its plan to effectively keep Mr. Putin in charge after his time as president ends, the head of the church, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II, went on TV to laud the scheme as a "great blessing for Russia."

Who's watching all this unfold? Why aren't more people talking about it?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Russia, Once and Future

I've been reading "The Whisperers," Orlando Figes' truly stunning account of private life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. It's a profoundly disquieting book not because the basic facts weren't known before; everyone knows about the insidious NKVD, the purges, the Terror, the Gulag. What's remarkable about this work is how Figes has collected literally hundreds of stories, some already extant in memoirs, many others the product of personal interviews, and woven them into a many-layered political and social history of almost overwhelming sadness. The stories here, though familiar in outline, still have the power to shock, and far more so because they follow breathlessly one on another.

The effect is almost claustrophobic. One after another we see bureaucrats, Party officials, factory workers, artists and peasants brutalized almost beyond comprehension, one family at a time, one career at a time, one prison term and exile at a time. Hearing the story told this way, one wonders if it's possible for an entire country to suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome (or battered-wife syndrome, as the case may be), and if that accounts for why Russians have never gained a sense of true perspective or even moral clarity about what happened to them in the 20's, '30s, '40s' and '50s. So amnesiac is the country that reportedly some Russians, bemoaning their lack of national self-discipline, remember Stalin and his iron fist fondly, longing for his equal today. How terribly disturbing, especially given the country's slow slide into what one Russian historian calls "mild authoritarianism."

It's not entirely surprising that Vladimir Putin calls the Soviet Union's disintegration a terrible mistake, or that the Russian secret police seem to be reopening their old bag of tricks, squashing opponents and critics with impunity. What's surprising is that everyone seems so willing to forgive and forget. Russians and everyone else in the immediate post-Soviet orb needs to read this book to remind themselves what happened, and why it really, really shouldn't happen again.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Faboprahlous and Photos

I like Oprah as much as anyone else, but does anyone imagine that a white Obama would excite her quite as much as the black one? I don't exactly blame her for wanting to promote a smart, electable black guy, but the obvious racial dimension here gives the lie to her insistence that she's being objective. She's not. (By the way, I happen to think Obama is a smart, sexy, cool guy who could be just what we need ... but I'm not willing to take Oprah's word for it, and anybody who is probably shouldn't be allowed to vote. Do you think?)

On another topic, two cool photos I took with my new Canon Powershot S31S.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Going to Baltimore, Wrecking the Planet

Oh, we're living in a green time alright. Which is why I'd like to know why one of the very best things we could all do to promote greenness can't seem to get any traction. I'm talking about this nonsense whereby we all fly around the country to sit at meetings where our presence isn't truly required - where we smile at all the right times, make a few pertinent remarks, and otherwise sit pondering the only question we really care about, which is how soon we can get back to the airport and then back home.

According to Native Energy, a website that calculates the amount of greenhouse gases various kinds of travel emit, a flight I took this week from Boston to Baltimore contributed, if that's the word, .288 tons of C02 to the atmosphere.

This is how the site says it calculates this number:

Shorter flights are more fuel intensive because of the significant amount of altitude gain relative to the length of the flight itself. On a short trip, a large portion of the energy per mile is devoted to climbing and landing, compared to cruising. That means shorter trips are more carbon intensive.

Depending on whether your travel fits into the short, medium or long haul category, we apply a CO 2 emissions factor of 0.64, 0.44 or 0.40 lbs of CO 2 per passenger mile, respectively. This gives us the direct CO 2 emissions from your flight. [These factors are from the GHG Protocol Commuting Emissions Tool v 1.2]

In addition, we apply an RFI (radiative forcing index) of 2.0 to the direct CO 2 emissions from air travel, resulting in total CO 2 equivalent emission factors of 1.28, 0.88 or 0.8 for short, medium and long haul flight segments. By doubling the direct CO 2 emissions, our goal is to account for the overall global warming impact of air travel for all air emissions - not just the CO 2 - such as the warming effect of contrails.

I don't fly all that much, but even so, a "carbon footprint" quiz I took recently tells me that if everyone on earth lived the way I did, we'd need four and a half planets to sequester all the C02 we'd produce.

So why in the world aren't we simply talking on the phone with one another instead of rushing compulsively to these face-to-face meetings that cost us a fortune, exhaust us, eat up productive work hours at our offices, and - this is the kicker - ruin the planet? Anyone? Chime in. I'd love to hear.

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