Monthly Archives: April 2005

Mr. Crankypants, evil alter ego of Dan, to the rescue. First it was birds, now it’s this Duelfer report. Good grief. Mr. Crankypants has always fancied himself as an investigative reporter, so here’s a hard-hitting interview with the alleged perpetrator of this blog…

Mr. Crankypants: Why the sudden intrusion of politics into what used to be a nice little religion blog?

Dan: Look, this is still a religion blog. But democratic principles are at the heart of who Unitarian Universalists are as a religious people. Yet we can’t even talk openly about the war in Iraq, let alone anything else, without getting into name-calling — or worse yet talking behind people’s backs. Our inability to engage in dialogue has become very divisive.

Mr. C. But why choose such a hot button issue as the Iraq war?

D. Because war has been a religious issue at least since Augustine’s justification for just wars.

Mr. C. But you hate Agustine.

D. Only because he’s a prig.

Mr. C. A while back, you spoke of the “divisiveness” that results from a lack of productive dialogue. Just what’s wrong with divisiveness, anyway?

D. Stop trying to be so evil, evil alter ego.

Mr. C. You still haven’t answered — why the emphasis on the Duelfer report? Why not some truly divisive issue like abortion or gun control, where people are so angry and shrill there’s no hope of any rapprochement in our lifetimes?

D. Exactly because there’s so little hope of understanding. With the Iraq war, there’s still hope of open, productive debate.

Mr. C. Chicken.

D. Evil alter ego.

Mr. C. Come on, I’m your alter ego — I know. ‘Fess up. Give the real reason you chose the Duelfer report.

D. I thought the report was very readable, if long…

Mr. C. [Hard stare from Mr. C] The real reason.

D. Oh, all right. I thought “Duelfer” was a cool name.

That concludes Mr. Crankpants’s investigative report. As with all investigative reporting on blogs these days, the goal has been to make the debate more shrill, and contribute to the general atmosphere of hatred and divisiveness. This is Mr. Crankypants, signing off — for now [bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah!!]

Monkey’s brain

Today I had this daydream about being a monkey… What would that be like?

What’s so funny about bein’ a monkey?
Monkeys is a very funny things —
always wanna laugh when a monkey tells a joke,
and dance when a monkey sings…

What’s so great about bein’ a monkey?
Somethin’ I gotta explain —
always know which hand you’re gonna grab your banana,
when ya got a monkey’s brain.

Yup, the Hoppin Haole Band knows what’s it’s like to be a monkey. If you have broadband, just click on the link above for audio and video (and what’s up with that ukulele player when he starts going “Ooo! Ahh!”). Dial-up connections who don’t mind waiting for an mp3 to download can find audio only at — just click the “Muisc” link, and then choose “Monkey’s Brains.”

Neither right nor left

I’ve been skimming my way through the 1,000+ page Duelfer report. Fascinating reading. Wow.

It presents a far more nuanced view of the origins of the current Iraq conflict than I have been getting through the news media. Unfortunately, partisan political points of view have had the tendency of obscuring actual events. I mean, we all know the New York Times is blatantly Democratic, and the Wall Street Journal is blatantly Republican — and frankly, I’ve long felt their news reporting has lost some nuance because of partisan bias.

The Duelfer report seems far more balanced — plus it places the entire Iraq conflict into historical context. If you want to blame someone there’s plenty of blame to go around — or to be more blunt, if you want to blame the opposite political party, you’ll find plenty of ammunition no matter what your party affiliation. But I think that misses the point of the Duelfer report. Blame is less important at this point — understanding is what we should be striving for. Given the expense and the cost in human lives, obviously we all want to avoid another conflict like this one if at all possible.

Unfortunately, what I get out of the Duelfer report is how simple misunderstanding was a major contributing factor leading to the Iraq conflict. For example, in my post yesterday, I quoted from a section of the Duelfer report that pointed out how badly Saddam Hussein misunderstood the United States. You can also find examples of how we in the United States managed to misunderstand Saddam Hussein — for example, how we misunderstood how Saddam Hussein had to maitain a fiction that Iraq was capable of producing weapons of mass destruction even when it wasn’t, in order to save face and to keep Iran aggression at bay. It also seems we in the United States misunderstood the extent to which Saddam Hussein posed a threat — he was worse in some ways than we had expected, and not as bad in other ways.

I continue to be bothered by the fact that the Democrats and the Republicans — the “liberals” and the “conservatives” — continue to point fingers of blame at each other, continue to indulge in shrill rhetoric rather than reasoned debate that might lead to a deeper understanding of the situation in Iraq. I find this increasingly unacceptable. We need to understand what’s going on in Iraq in order that we may end the Iraq conflict safely, effectively, and as quickly as possible. I am concerned that reasoned debate about the Iraq conflict, and about foreign affairs in general, has degenerated to the point where liberals and conservatives have essentially stopped talking with one another — particularly within Unitarian Universalist circles. We all need to get over being angry with each other. That’s just a waste of our time. We need to re-learn how to have effective, and openly democratic debate and conversation.

So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is this — 1. Read the Duelfer report. 2. Find a Unitarian Universalist who has the opposite political position from you (liberals, find a conservative, and conservatives, find a liberal). 3. Ask that person what s/he thinks — then, before you respond, repeat back to them exactly what they said, and ask them if you got it right. 4. Then ask them what we, as Unitarian Universalists, can affirm about the religious implications of the Iraq conflict — again, before you respond, repeat back to them exactly what they said and ask them if you got it right.

In other words, let’s see if we can move towards dialogue — and understanding — as “seekers after truth and goodness,” and as “not agreeing in opinion.”

Just war, unjust war?

In a democracy, citizens have to keep themselves informed about key events and issues. That’s why I’ve been working my way through the Duelfer Report, the Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. And from a religious point of view, this report poses the difficult question — is the second Gulf War a just war?

The report now available on the Web in HTML and as extremely large PDF files. Forget the PDF files, they’re too big — go straight for the HTML version of the report at

I was struck by this passage:

Saddam did not consider the United States a natural adversary, as he did Iran and Israel, and he hoped that Iraq might again enjoy improved relations with the United States, according to Tariq ‘Aziz and the presidential secretary. Tariq ‘Aziz pointed to a series of issues, which occurred between the end of the Iran-Iraq war and 1991, to explain why Saddam failed to improve relations with the United States: Irangate (the covert supplying of Iran with missiles, leaked in 1986), a continuing US fleet presence in the Gulf, suspected CIA links with Kurds and Iraqi dissidents and the withdrawal of agricultural export credits. After Irangate, Saddam believed that Washington could not be trusted and that it was out to get him personally. His outlook encouraged him to attack Kuwait, and helps explain his later half-hearted concessions to the West. These concerns collectively indicated to Saddam that there was no hope of a positive relationship with the United States in the period before the attack on Kuwait.

Although the United States was not considered a natural adversary, some Iraqi decision-makers viewed it as Iraq’s most pressing concern, according to former Vice President Ramadan. Throughout the 1990s, Saddam and the Ba’th Regime considered full-scale invasion by US forces to be the most dangerous potential threat to unseating the Regime, although Saddam rated the probability of an invasion as very low.

Clearly Saddam Hussein misjudged the political situation in the United States. As I work my way through the rest of the report, perhaps I’ll have additional comments. You look at the report, too, and tell me what you think….

Master’s thesis, anyone?

The archives of this church contain lots of fascinating historical documents. According to Keith Coryell, director of the Geneva History Center, the original record book of the church, dating back to 1842 and earlier, could easily generate a master’s thesis in history. I’ve recently been looking at another remarkable document in the archives here, titled “Records of the Unitarian Sunday School of Geneva Ills. copied from original entries in another book beginning with the date of Nov. 9, 1867, ending with June 12, 1892.” The records continue in other hands to the closing of the Sunday school in 1901 due to lack of enrollment, with one additional entry recording a christening in 1907. This record book, combined with other material in the archives, could be the foundation of yet another master’s thesis, this time in religious education.

Here’s one entry from the Sunday school record book, written in a beautiful round hand with a very fine pen nib:

January 1st 1896

An entertainment was given by the Unitarian Sunday School, at the Unitarian Church on New Year’s Eve and was attended by a packed housed [sic] and proved to be a very entertaining affair. The efforts of the children, big and little, in representing the holidays of the year under the leadership of Father Time, were really good — all given in costume — and made a decided hit, besides being in an entirely new line. They were assisted by Mae Blackman in solos, Mrs. Will Harvey in readings, Stella Mann in Recitations, and the little Cory Sisters in duetts [sic] and solos. Mrs. Woolley [Rev. Celia Parker Woolley, minister here at that time] arranged and managed the affair and the lady teachers who assisted her, earned much credit.

A fee of ten cents was asked from those outside of the pupils of the school and the net proceeds were $12.00.

Mr. Crankypants, my evil alter ego, tells me he is “sick of hearing about @#$!!% birds.” He also wants to know “Who really cares about your sister anyway? It’s time for Mr. Crankypants to write something again.” So before he pushes me bodily away from the computer, let me introduce Mr. Crankypants (ouch! quit pushing, I’m going already)….

Mr. Crankypants is going to resist the temptation of commenting on the crowning of Pope Ratzinger of the Inquisition. What’s that you say? It’s not a crowning? Dear dear, it sure looks like remnants of Holy Roman Empire ritual to Mr. Crankypants. And what’s that — he has a different name now? Well, it doesn’t matter anyway because that’s not the subject of this post.

No, let’s skip the Pope and talk about the Unitarian Universalist succession of leadership. That’s right, at General Assembly this year, Rev. Bill Sinkford is running for re-election as president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Since he is running unopposed, we all pretty much know who’s going to win the election. And surprisingly Mr. Crankypants can’t even find all that many bad things to say about Bill Sinkford. But there’s still no reason not to ask some uncomfortable questions. (Mr. Crankypants just loves uncomfortable questions.)

Looking back on the first term of Bill Sinkford’s presidency of our tiny little association of religious liberals, what really stands out is the lack of money. Sinkford has spent most of his time trying to deal with massive budget cuts — it’s amazing he’s gotten anything else done. Now Mr. Crankypants has heard people explain away this lack of money by saying, Oh the UUA’s investment income dropped precipitously during the stock market crash of the early 00’s. Not true, replies Mr. Crankypants. What really happened was that we became addicted to easy money from from the UUA’s investment portfolio. That gave everybody (this means you) an excuse to give less money to the UUA — as if Unitarian Universalists needed another excuse, because with the exception of Caroline Veatch, Unitarian Universalists are just about the biggest cheapskates Mr. Crankpants has ever seen, who never give much money to support liberal religion in the best of times.

Mr. Crankypants could tolerate the fact that Unitarian Universalists are such big cheapskates except for one thing — they also love to whine and complain about the UUA. Ordinarily Mr. Crankypants does not object to whining and complaining. Cynically, however, Mr. Crankypants thinks that Unitarian Universalists deliberately starve the UUA for money just so they can then complain about how ineffectual the UUA is. That’s just not sporting.

Back to the hard questions to ask during our own leadership transition. Hard question number one: How do you plan to participate in the democratic process of Bill Sinkford’s re-election? What’s that you say? You don’t even know how that election works? Oh dear — you better check this Web site — — and get back to Mr. Crankypants for further harrangue, or rather further discussion, after you’ve read it.

Documenting ordinary things

My older sister Jean teaches writing at Indiana University east. She and I sometimes talk about how a writer can bring the voices and lives of ordinary people to wider notice.

She’s recently developed a course that gets students to write about “real people and real events,” and then get that work out of the classroom to a wider public. I think it’s a great way to use the arts — read this article, and see what you think:

I think there are some interesting paralells to her class, and what we do in churches — learn to listen to, learn to really see other people, and figure out ways to integrate the arts into ordinary lives.

Sky drama

Carol and I were walking down Hamilton Street towards the river this afternoon, and just as we crossed First Street a small drama was enacted in the sky above us.

The first thing I noticed was three or four pigeons wheeling above the State Street bridge, and then flying low and fast upriver. Then a larger bird wheeled above us — it looked like a small hawk.

Twenty or so pigeons came from under the bridge, flying very close to one another, dropping quickly back down to cover by the bridge. The larger bird flapped twice, wheeled into the wind and soared for a second. As it turned above us, I could see it was a small hawk, an accipter, probably a Cooper’s Hawk.

The hawk wheeled twice more, and drifted downwind, towards the south. Suddenly another bird appeared close behind it — a Crow — then two more. The three Crows began mobbing the the hawk, driving it west away from the river. Half a dozen smaller birds broke cover and headed north, away from the hawk. Crows are just about the same size as a Cooper’s Hawk, so it hardly seemed a fair fight — three Crows mobbing the one Hawk.

The last I saw, the Cooper’s Hawk had dropped down to treetop level, still followed by the Crows. My guess is that it wanted to take advantage of its ability to dart and fly swiftly through trees, so it could get away from the Crows. I wondered if it is the mate of the Cooper’s Hawk that is sitting on a nest a few blocks from our house.

The clouds yesterday and the rain today brought back seasonable temperatures, down in the forties instead of in the eighties last week. The house at the corner of 6th and Hamilton here in Geneva is surrounded by red tulips ready to open — but with the cold weather, they have remained shut for the past couple of days.

Yesterday, I took the train downtown to the Loop. Next to the Boeing building, which is on the south branch of the Chicago River at Randolph St., you can walk down some steps to a little pocket park just above river level. There I found green grass, and a few trees with their leaves just opening — and, of all surprising things, I also found a Hermit Thrush, who looked a little bewildered by the urban environment. It flitted back and forth between the small trees, and appeared disturbed by my close presence. By today, I’m sure this bird has flown further north towards its breeding grounds.