Monday, March 24, 2014

Michael Pollan's Cooked.1

I picked this book up on a whim. I didn't even intend to browse the library, just to walk in and pick up what I had on hold at the reference desk.

I love the way Pollan writes. Instead of sharing every single awesome quote on Facebook, I thought I'd put some of them here.

"Specialization is undeniably a powerful social and economic force. And yet it is also debilitating. It breeds helplessness, dependence, and ignorance and, eventually, it undermines any sense of responsibility" (19).

"Changing the world will always require action and participation in the public realm, but in our time that will no longer be sufficient. We'll have to change the way we live, too. What that means is that the sites of our everyday engagement with nature--our kitchens, gardens, houses, cars--matter to the fate of the world in a way they never have before" (22).

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Climate Change

It's been a while since I've posted here. I think I have another active blog somewhere where this might be better suited, but all I know is that Facebook isn't enough.

First, the video:

Meet the Press on NBC via MotherJones.com - 13 minutes worth watching

Next, my tirade: (and I can cite sources on any of my claims if you really want to push me on it; it'll just take me a while to find the citations)

I won't call Marsha Blackburn a complete idiot, because she's talking about dollars-in-the-pockets-now stuff. She knows (some of) her voters. A long-term cost-benefit analysis, though, will tell you that reducing carbon at whatever economic cost now is going to be better than the entire planet being dead in 50 years. Major props to David Gregory for arguing with her that there IS scientific consensus about climate change. Now to Bill Nye. Yay for calling her out on the absurd notion that the increased percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is insignificant. And I'm also impressed that his head didn't actually explode a couple of times. One thing Nye and Gregory failed to call her out on was the idea that increased carbon will improve agriculture yields. This may true in small areas for short periods of time, but in aggregate, increased carbon will kill far more plants as their proteins denature entirely, AND increased carbon changes areas that were once fertile into deserts, meaning that not only do the farms have to move but so do huge populations of people. This will cause even more political instability (due to famine, plague, war, and, yes, conquest), which will be more expensive for the U.S. to mitigate as we expand our military and our private contractors to make sure that we control the ever-dwindling resources on an ever-sprawling, sucking, and consuming population.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Theodore Parker's Sermon on what is Transient and what is Permanent in Christianity

The full text is available here, and an excellent tome that includes this, two other sermons, and a 1960s commentary on the three and their influence on Unitarian Universalism, can be found here. Below are some of the points I found most interesting personally.
  • "more attention is commonly paid to the particular phenomena than to the general law"
  • the divine life of the soul requires two things: 1. Love God. 2. Love your fellow man. Jesus said so, and it's pretty consistent.
  • Parker is cool and acknowledges how Christianity has consistently adopted pagan rituals.
  • "The Stream of Christianity, as men receive it, has caught a stain for every soil it has filtered through.' That is, it's less and less pure every time it is derived or put through someone else's interpretation. It's not "pure water from the well of life."
  • "Why need we accept the commandment of men, as the doctrine of God?"
  • "the living spirit could not be had without the killing letter" in old Christianities
  • I believe the Bible is not literal but I question Parker. Is it not equally circular for him to use the Bible as a tool to prove that the Bible isn't infallible? Why believe any of it? 
  • Parker says to believe what Jesus said and not worry about how he was the authority.
  • "there is a reverence for man's nature, a sublime trust in God, and a depth of piety rarely felt in these cold northern hearts of ours" in the truest Christianities
  • Do what Jesus said. Go back to the second point - love God and love man.
  • Today we create idols of nitpickery.
  • "make all men one with God as Christ was one with him" - that is the purpose of this faith
  • Parker's sermon embraces the diversity of belief and lifestyle so long as they are rooted in piety (whatever that means).
  • Even the Scriptures say we can't get it all now. Jesus said there is stuff we just wouldn't understand yet.
  • "Real Christianity [...] makes us outgrow any form, or any system of doctrines we have devised, and approach still closer to the truth."
  • "For it is not so much by the Christ who lived so blameless and beautiful eighteen centuries ago, that we are saved directly, but by the Christ we form in our hearts and live out in our daily life, that we save ourselves, God working with us, both to will and to do."
  • "It seems the whole race of man is needed to do justice to the whole of truth."
  • What Parker says at the very end of his sermon is interesting. This is yet another of the many sermons of its time that was given at the ordination of another minister. Parker tells the audience that if the minister ordained this day doesn't know the truth, don't judge him. Look for truth where you can find it. But if he knows the truth and lies about it, that's not cool.
  • "The hearer affects the speaker," he also says. Don't yell at your minister just because you don't like what he says politically. "You may hire your servants to preach as you bid; to spare your vices and flatter your follies; to prophecy smooth things.... Yet in doing so you weaken and enthrall yourselves."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The College Station Address

Eleven score and seventeen years ago our fathers and mothers, but mostly father brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty after stealing the liberty of those who already existed on this continent, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, except for brown and black and red men. And women.

Now we are again engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1838 Divinity Address

I'm taking a seminar at my church on the three 'prophets' of religious liberalism as chosen by the Unitarian Universalist faith. William Ellery Channing was pretty awesome as the first one, and he argued that the Bible, which was still the primary source of God's revelation, had to be read via Reason, a god-given faculty. The Bible read through the lens of reason, he thought, showed that God is good, that Jesus was a man and not God and just a really awesome prophet, that Jesus's words and not just his miracles were important, and that there are certain virtues, which include loving God (with quiet, real zeal), loving Christ, and being benevolent and charitable to all humanity. I took some decent notes on that sermon for my own edification and am now using this blog to process my notes and highlights from the Emerson sermon. Emerson was a student of Channing's and takes things a step more to the religiously liberal. Fragments and my opinions and insights follow:

  • "corn and the wine have been freely dealt to all creatures" - I just love the way he says this the first time, that all men are given the truth within them
  • the truth of the human is that "his being is without bound; that, to the good, to the perfect, he is born, low as he now lies in evil and weakness"
  • Bad isn't just bad because someone says it's bad but because it makes you bad; "he who does a mean deed, is by the action itself contracted.... If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being." I call this idea instant karma, and I don't see it playing out for a lot of people. Emerson seems very libertarian his ideas of cause and effect and not just personal responsibility but personal agency and capacity.
  • "Evil is merely privative, not absolute: it is like cold, which is the privation of heat." Heat, or good, is the being, the essence, the given, and cold and evil are what happens when you take it away.
  • These sentiments are "deifying." Emerson goes so far as some of my favorite mystics have to say that we are godlike when we are in deepest touch with our truest, goodest selves. How far is that from modesty or the idea of original sin? What use is original sin to us except as a tool to keep us down... or is it needed in moderation to keep us somewhat humble, to beware our own boundaries. We are amazing, capable beings, says my understanding of humanism; but we are not superior to all others. Rather, just because we will something selfishly does not mean we are correct. How do we separate these ideas?
  • Jesus wasn't the sole truthgiver, just the one who resonated with us in the West. "Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets." but "Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man."
  • Intuition is from our divinity. "The absence of this primary faith is the presence of degredation." This is a toughie for me. It pushes too much into the "if you don't believe you're good, it's sort of your own fault" idea. 
  • What's wrong with churches?: "churches are not built on his principles but on his tropes" (5 on my copy; will not correspond with y'all's)
  • "Having seen that the law in us is commanding, he would not suffer it to be commanded." i.e. Jesus doesn't need to make laws enforced by fear or governance; they come from within.
  • Christianity is now a monarchy based on fear ""
  • This subordinance we have means that we are not responsible for the world.
  • "To aim to convert a man by miracles, is a profanation of the soul." Instead, it's made by 'beautiful sentiments,' or, less sloppily, by resonating with the soul (6).
  • Again with the American and libertarian ideas: "It is a low benefit to give me something; it is a high benefit to enable me to do somewhat of myself."
  • Do not degrade the life and dialogues of Christ out of the circle by this charm, by insulation and peculiarity. Let them lie as they befel, alive and warm..." Jesus was a worthy messenger of the truth without miracles.
  • Emerson says that Christianity focuses too much on the person of Jesus instead of the message and that the revelation of God is ancient and no longer alive, "as if God were dead."
  • Emerson liked preachers; he was talking to them, after all. But he sort of claimed that the spirit works through you. If you are making art or sermons or books or anything without the spirit of God/truth/self behind it - if you're not being honest, then art is artifice indeed.
  • "Preaching is the expression of the moral sentiment in application to the duties of life" (7) But this moral sentiment has to be real, sincere passion. Emerson demands it.
  • Bad sermons make us feel alone (8). "The snow storm was real; the preacher merely spectral," he felt when he heard a cold, insincere sermon.
  • The role of the preacher is "to convert life into truth" (8).
  • A bad preacher tells not of himself but shares only empty platitudes, which do not inspire ore RESONATE but only comfort folks. 
  • Sometimes, bad sermons have the power to do good, as everybody can be resonated by something a little difference. Emerson seems to say that it's not the congregation's fault if they're bored or unmoved, though ;-)
  • What's wrong with the church? "The preaching of this country... comes out of the memory, and not out of the soul; that it aims at what is usual, and not at what is necessary and eternal;... historical Christianity destroys the power of preaching, by withdrawing it from the exploration of the moral nature of man, where the sublime is, where are the resources of astonishment and power.... The soul of the community is sick and faithless. It wants nothing so much as a stern, high, stoical, Christian discipline... Man is ashamed of himself. Scarcely does any man dare to be wise and good," because he believes he is not (9).
  • Emerson found that some in his day thought it wicked to go to church, presumably because that's where all the other, nonpious, bad people go (10). 
  • When worship goes down, genius flees for *gasp* "the senate, or the market." This just made me laugh and laugh.
  • "We have contrasted the Church with the Soul," the manmade with the eternal yet present with/in us divine. "The stationariness of religion; the assumption that the age of inspiration is past, that the Bible is closed; the fear of degrading the character of Jesus by representing him as a man; indicate with sufficient clearness the falsehood of our theology. IT IS THE OFFICE OF A TRUE TEACHER TO SHOW US THAT GOD IS, NOT WAS."
  • More libertarianism: "They think society wiser than their soul, and know not that one soul, and their soul, is wiser than the whole world."
  • Taking other men's ideas and revelations as your own is simply derivative.
  • Emerson was like another Protestant revolutionary: "refuse the good models" and "dare to love God without mediator or veil"
  • "Thank God for these good men, but say, "I also am a man'" (11).
  • "Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost"
  • "By trusting your own heart, you shall gain more confidence in other men."
  • "All men have sublime thoughts," and it's the preacher's job, if any, to help them find themselves.These are the souls that made our souls wiser.
  • Near the end of this sermon, Emerson said, less earthshatteringly but still interestingly on him as a person, that society's praise can be cheaply secured and he warns preachers, I think, not to seek praise or worldly fame. Real people don't have to be so flashy. After all, "you would not praise an angel" for being itself. I see no problem personally in sharing real gratitude and delight when I see other people living out their light.
  • Emerson says, finally, don't bother building a new church. Just do better with the churches you have. "The remedy to their deformity is, first, soul, and second, soul, and evermore, soul" (12). Cue Billy Joel ;-)
  • So what good is Christianity to the world in 1838? Emerson says Christianity is good for giving us the Sabbath and thus (not sure how it works yet) the dignity of spiritual being. I guess as a time to delight in it? And Christianity is good for the institution of preaching (funny a preacher would say that), "the speech of man to man" (12). I choose to believe he meant our ability to communicate in general.
  • Emerson looked forward to the day when the words and revelations of the past would not be necessary and when the spirit would move through each of us in the eternal now (my words, not his).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Blue Revolution.3

Today I read most of the book's fourth chapter, which tells the story of Duke Energy in the Carolinas. The following quotes say a lot to me:

  • "[E]nergy production now requires more water than any other sector..." in the United States, including agriculture (63). 
  • "By 1930, Americans consumed more electricity than anyone else on the planet combined" (68). I didn't realize this had happened so early.
  • "At this point, every single alternative fuel source being considered for large scale power generation is projected to further hike fresh water demand" (73; originally cited in the 2009 issue of Ground Water). This does not include individual photovoltaic cells, which are fairly efficient, but it does include multiple PV cells used together to create steam power. It also doesn't include wind power, which is also pretty low on water use but isn't a huge part of the market in the U.S. at all.
  • Saul Griffith [check him out on wikipedia and youtube/TED] has a doctorate in engineering from MIT and received a MacArthur "genius grant" a few years ago. He "has come to believe the most urgent environmental need 'is not for some miraculous-seeming scientific breakthrough but for a vast, unprecedented transformation of human behavior'" (74). 
Please opine in the comments or by bugging me directly. <3 div="">