Saturday, January 10, 2009

American Democracy vs. Richard John Neuhaus's Kind

I heard this story on NPR on my way home from work last night; it's about recently deceased theologian and author Richard John Neuhaus. Somewhere in the middle author George Weigel lauds Neuhaus as "a genuine democrat with a small 'd'" -- apparently Neuhaus was a proponent of Christianity driving public policy in the U.S. I don't know if he plainly argued against our separation of church and state (or Christianity and State, the way these things tend to be; no one gets much of a hearing who is against the separation of non-Christian religions and U.S. government), but these people continue to miss the most basic point of this tenet of our democracy: codifying separation of religion and government was explicitly done (and continues) to protect the most faithful.

Yes, almost exclusively Christians at first. The founding fathers were not particularly concerned with protecting Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists in the late 1700's. For one thing there just weren't very many around in post-colonial America.

When Weigel said Neuhaus was a "democrat", I thought "No way;" but had to correct myself. Yes, technically a democracy is ruled by the will of the majority. So he can be genuinely democratic -- but that doesn't make him a tremendous supporter of American democracy. True little 'd' democracies, though, are characterized by the tyranny of the majority against the minority. American democracy has a great pillar in our "Bill of Rights", a set of tenets that protect individuals and minorities and that can't be overturned by a simple majority -- they require a strong super-majority to change them, being, as they are, a part of our Constitution.

Protection of the minority (and individual) is in all of our best interest -- sooner or later we all find ourselves as a minority of one kind or another, or standing alone in some predicament either on principle or through unfortunate happenstance.

So unless, Father Neuhaus, you plan to always be in the majority, you and those you would have in your flock, please help us to preserve our protections; to solidify our rights and embrace our separations where they are emplaced to deny tyranny and injustice. If you are comfortably ensconced in your majority, here's just one example of how majority can be fleeting, if you are a U.S. citizen and caucasian you are currently in the majority. Reuters tells us that you likely will not be by the year 2050 -- you'll be a plurality, i.e. less than 50% of the population, not enough to vote your will onto society even in a little 'd' democracy. So if you are under the age of 35, there's a good chance you'll live to be in a racial non-majority. Let's keep the Golden Rule in mind. Let's bring morality into our government as often and deeply as possible, but we can do that without the accoutrements of organized religions.

Rest in peace.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Obama Bandwagon

I'd swear I'm seeing more Obama bumper stickers now than ever before. Right up until the election you really had to keep your eyeballs peeled in order to spot the handfull of cars with Obama propaganda on them. Ever since then it seems the percentage of cars on the road here in Northern Alabama with "Obama '08" or "Yes We Can" (still not many "Alobama" slogans around) has been, it seems to me, steadily increasing. Now even a short ride to the store often contains a sighting.

Not that it's a problem for me. I'm as enthusiastic as ever about our choice for "next President", even if the timing, what with the economy wretching, is a bit of a downer. And I'm psyched to see more and more people jumping on the Obama Bandwagon -- I hope we really do all rally around him and our new Congress and make this a greater country and a great time to be in it. Only a dozen more days until the swearing in!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Losing My Motherboard

A friend sent me a reference to Google Linux.

Yeah, I said, hard to know where to focus forward. Currently I’m resisting modernizing my home computers – the newer one, that my son and I built back in ’02, is losing its motherboard. Leaky capacitors – it’ll still boot if you try several times in succession; I guess the capacitors build up a charge and then acquiesce. I’m going to try replacing the old motherboard with one that came out in ’04 (couldn’t find my exact model) – still using IDE drives and DDR (184 pin) memory. Meanwhile my son is now a sophomore in college and on his second laptop in 3 years….

SILive Island Girl Hat Tip

I got a(nother) mention in Island Girl’s blog.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Not So Bad Christmas Movies and Non-Times-Square Ball Dropping

So we saw the movie Four Christmases this afternoon. Probably wouldn't have except we had some free tickets from a newspaper contest. The reviews I'd read were pretty negative; one critic complained about too much profanity and a disrespectful Nativity play; and that it's not a family film. Okay there's a bit of profanity but the Nativity scene seemed no more or less respectful than many modern farces -- certainly as much so as most local productions of the play "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever". I do have to agree that this is mostly a vehicle for Vince Vaughn, and I'm not a big fan of his -- an anti-fan, really. But there are some legitimate chuckles here and not much that is offensive beyond some swearing and the usual farce ridiculousnesses.

I don't expect Four Christmases to land on many people's annual "must re-watch every year" holiday movie lists; and it's not as clever or endearing as, say, Love, Actually. But as much as I like Love, Actually, it's not a family film eithre, nor is it without ridiculousnesses. Anyway, Four Christmases is about Christmas in California, which is a bit different than in the heartland (or the Bible Belt). They used a Tom Petty Christmas song and everything ("Christmas All Over Again").

And we get the satisfying ending, with a little cherry on top. Family harmony, after a fashion, after all. Since it's actually New Year's Day today, with resolutions and promises to live better, truer, longer lives, I also wanted to point to some family-first wisdom from Dave Winer's site, and just say "Right On" (click through for the full quote):

"A rubber ball will bounce and someone else can pick it up. That's your work life. The glass ball is family, friends, your health. Drop it, and if you're lucky it'll just crack. If you're not so lucky, it'll break into a million pieces. "

Finally, maybe I was put in a better mood for the film by seeing a "First Look" at the upcoming Watchmen film during the previews. I recently read this graphic novel that is on Time magazine's All Time 100 Novels list. I also just loaned my copy to my parents, not only for them to read, but for my Reverend Uncle, too; I think he'll get a lift out of it.

Books for Christmas

I received a few books for Christmas, and I'm looking forward to all of them.
My wife and kids got me:
1) War of Honor (audio book) by David Weber, a science fiction author that I'm unfamiliar with but was recommended by a coworker.
2) Best of Gothic Horror: Edgar Allan Poe Collection, Frankenstein (Mary Shelly) and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Rober Louis Stevenson) (audio book). I'm sure I've read the Poe previously but it's always inspiring. I read chunks of Frankenstein in a college class called Frankenstein to Bioengineering in about 1983, when bioengineering was as much science fiction as science, I think I've only read the Classic Comics version of Dr. Jekyll it should be a fun listen.
3) The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited and published posthumously by his son, Christopher Tolkien). Of course I loved the LotR, dog-earing my copies until I had to replace a couple of them, and enjoyed the Silmarillion. The cover illustration on this one is fantastic.

And from my parents:
A history of the American People by Paul Johnson; this is a tome and I expect to wade through it slowly, but with great interest, especially as the Obama administration gets rolling.

Feline Pharaohed

We put together one of the toughest and least fun yet satisfying jigsaw puzzles I've ever done over the holidays. It's a thousand-piecer, but one of those "mystery story" ones so you don't have a picture to go by -- and it was a lot of brown and tan. It's called "Curse of the Feline Pharaoh" by Bepuzzled. Fortunately I found a picture of the completed puzzle on the internet, although only at a low resolution, at least it showed the layout of the basic components. I really like being able to pick up a random piece, go to the picture on the box, and say "Ah, yes, that is exactly where this piece will go." No way to do that with this baby -- even with a high resolution picture that wouldn't have worked for a lot of pieces -- the colors are too non-distinct.

Also fortunately, my parents came by for a couple days and pitched in, especially my mom who likes working jigsaws on occasion, and she pulled in my daughter, who doesn't like hard puzzles but likes working with Grandma. Here's a picture of some of us near to completing the puzzle; but I'm selling mine on Amazon.