Masks redux

There’s a growing movement to get people to wear masks at public events. The motivation? Maskless events post a risk to people with certain disabilities, and/or with chronic illnesses, and to their caregivers.

In other words, this is an issue of disabilities rights.

Of course, it’s not just masks. Ideally, all the events that we organize or participate in would be set up to minimize the transmission of infectious diseases. And it’s not just COVID. It’s also about influenza and RSV (and yikes, now there’s even a measles outbreak in Ohio).

Which brings us to “The Public Health Pledge: committing to safer and more inclusive events,” which reads like this:

“I am committed to diversity and inclusion, including people with disabilities, chronic illness, and caregivers, therefore I pledge to only participate in or organize events that have robust Health and Safety policies.

“Events must meet these criteria:
• The event has a Health and Safety policy, and if the policy changes it is only strengthened – never weakened – between the event’s announcement and the event itself.
• The event actively communicates this policy by including it on their website, in the registration flow, and speaker proposal process, discussing the policy regularly during events, and including it everywhere important announcements are shared.
• The event’s policy includes active measures designed to minimize the number of participants who are infected with transmissible diseases like COVID-19, as well as mitigate transmission between participants.”

You can “sign” the pledge online.

A good concrete way to strengthen disability rights.

Land acknowledgements

I’ve been trying to find out if the Quonahassit people, when they were pushed out of Cohasset, Mass., joined up with the Wampanoags or the Massachusett, or some went to each. I started out assuming that since they were Massachusett, they would have joined up with that nation. But I can’t find a definitive answer. Another possibility is that a Christian Quonahassit could have joined the Brothertown Indian Nation, which kept relocating westward until they wound up in Wisconsin. (And it’s possible there were at least a couple of Christian Quonahassits, since two Native people joined the Cohasset church in the 1730s.)

In any case, sometime during the course of this research, I ran across a statement by some Native person who said that a land acknowledgement is meaningless unless you have a relationships with the people whose land you’re acknowledging. While this is one Native person’s opinion, this makes sense to me: if you don’t have that relationship, a land acknowledgement can come across as empty words.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

I didn’t know about this before — the United Nations has proclaimed that December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPwD). It’s also known as International Day of People with Disabilities (and I’m guessing that the discrepancy may be because the original UN resolution wasn’t in English, so there are translation differences). In the U.S., there’s a White House proclamation, which reads in part:

“On International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we recognize and celebrate the equal rights and dignity of disabled people everywhere and reaffirm our commitment to building a world where people with disabilities are afforded the opportunities, independence, and respect they deserve.”

I found out too late to do much about IDPwD this year. I’ll have to add it into next year’s calendar.

World AIDS Day

Wear your red ribbon, it’s World AIDS Day.

(Actually, I always forget to get a red ribbon for World AIDS Day. But that’s because I’m the kind of person who forgets their spouse’s birthday.)

Founded in 1998, World AIDS Day was a response to the big pandemic before the COVID-19 pandemic. World AIDS Day is “the first ever global health day.” Even if you don’t know anyone affected by AIDS, any day that highlights public health is A Good Thing. So yeah, wear your red ribbon.

On this World AIDS Day, I’m thinking about Isaac Asimov, who died of AIDS back in 1992, twenty years ago this year. At that time, Asimov’s family had to remain silent about the cause of his death because of the stigma associated with AIDS. Too many people still think of AIDS as the “gay disease,” or the “addict’s disease,” or the “unprotected sex disease,” or they somehow associate AIDS with some behavior that is somehow perceived as being immoral.

Isaac Asimov reminds us of all the people who get AIDS through some other more of transmission. Asimov got AIDS through a blood transfusion. There are first responders who have gotten AIDS while dealing with an emergency situation. The virus that causes AIDS pays no attention to human morality; it simply takes advantage of whatever means of transmission it can.

This is also a good reminder that trying to impose human moralities on transmissible diseases does not make sense from a public health standpoint. Forget the morality, and treat the disease. It’s equally silly to impose human politics on transmissible diseases, as we have seen during the COVID pandemic (e.g., a recent study sadly concludes that more Republicans died of COVID than Democrats).

So wear your red ribbon today. We still need to fight this major public health problem.

Alt text

“Alt tet”Alt text” is text that you add to images on your website, so that people who are blind or have impaired vision can use their screen reader to tell them what the image is. I’ve been very bad about adding alt text to images on this blog, partly because I was unsure how much detail I should go into.

Well, someone on Mastodon pointed out this guide to writing alt text on the UX Collective website: “How to write an image description.” The author, Alex Chen, suggests a model format he calls “object-action-context.”

Then Chen provides examples of alt text using his object-action-context model. He goes into details like how long alt text descriptions should be (it varies depending on the image). He also points out that any image description is better than none at all.

Chen has inspired me to add alt text to all images on my websites, and (more importantly) on our congregation’s website.

UUA politics: Article II revision, pt. 2

Once again, I’ll say that I’m critical of the present Article II, and since at least 2005 I’ve been advocating revision. And while I criticized the current draft revision in a previous post, I think the revision is headed in the right direction — towards a complete rewrite.


In a conversation on Mastodon, Peter Bowden said something that made sense to me: This is not the time to revise Article II.

All the UU congregations that I know are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. We are in survival mode. (As an aside, I’m predicting that in the next few years, as many as a third of all UU congregations are going to go under.)

And for many UU congregations, the old “Principles and Purposes” are woven throughout their congregational life. Many, maybe most, UU congregations have the old “Principles and Purposes” posted somewhere in their buildings, maybe as a framed poster, sometimes even painted right on the walls. UU congregations have incorporated the old “Principles and Purposes” into their bylaws, on their websites, in their Sunday school curriculums, in their worship services, everywhere. When congregations are still reeling from the pandemic, we’re asking a lot of them to remove this central part of their identity.

Does Article II need to be revised? Heck yeah.

Is now the time to revise Article II? Mm, no.

In that Mastodon conversation, Peter Bowden suggested maybe by 2030. At first I thought he was exaggerating, but as I thought about my current congregation I think that might be a realistic time frame for when we will have the bandwidth to take this on.

UUA politics: Article 2 revision

It’s long past time for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to revise the Principles and Purposes section of the UUA Bylaws. The first post on this blog — way back in 2005, when this blog was hosted on AOL — was a critique of the seven principles. So I’m glad that the Article II Commission is working on a revision of the principles and purposes.

With that in mind, I’ll take a look at the draft version of the new Article II, and point out the things that drew my attention.

Section C-2.1 ends with this sentence: “We will transform the world by our liberating love.” I’m not sure what it means, especially the phrase “liberating love.” For me, using the word “love” implies a kind of post-Christian liberation theology. I’m fine with liberation theology. But as a Universalist myself, I’d prefer the phrase “universal love.”

Section C-2.2 begins by stating, “Love is the enduring force that holds us together.” I tend to agree with that, since I trace my religious roots back to the teachings of Jesus. However, I wonder what UU Buddhists think of this — Buddhist teachings tend to be centered more on compassion than love. And what about UU Hindus, and UU Jews, and UU Pagans — does this seem Christian-centric? I don’t know.

Section C-2.2, second paragraph continues with the assumption that covenant is central to Unitarian Universalism. This was a grounding assumption of the old Principle and Purposes as well. But the importance of covenant is a fairly recent historical interpretation, promulgated by historian Conrad Wright in the mid-twentieth century. As history, Wright’s arguments are problematic. So I read Wright’s arguments for the centrality of covenant, not as history, but as mid-twentieth century theology. I feel that covenant-as-theology is showing its age, and needs rethinking.

Section C-2.2, third paragraph includes a diagram. If you want to include a visual, it should be at least as well crafted as the text. This is not a well-crafted visual (using Microsoft Word to create a graphic does not constitute a high level of craft). I used to have a side-hustle as a graphic artist, so I find poorly-done visuals especially annoying. Before this draft goes any further, someone who has some actual visual training needs to create a decent graphic.

Section C-2.2 statement on justice: I’m glad that racism is named explicitly. I’m troubled that sexism isn’t explicitly named, given that clergy sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in our congregations continues to be a major problem. Nor is ableism named, nor is heteronormativity named, nor is… well, you get the idea.

Section C-2.2 statement on generosity: I’m not against this in principle. But the statement as it is worded comes off sounding like the UUA is softening people up to give more money. Needs to be rewritten.

Section C-2.2 statement on evolution: I completely disagree that this should be included as a value. Evolution is more properly a scientific concept. As a value, evolution is a product of European colonialism, where the scientific concept was perverted to mean that European civilization was higher and better than all the non-European “savage” and “heathen” cultures. So any application of “evolution” to social science concepts is, to me, immediately suspect.

Section C-2.2 statement on pluralism: This is not bad for a draft statement. It’s perhaps the best thing in the whole document.

Section C-2.2 statement on equity: I’m not sure how this adds much to the statement on justice. There’s probably something important here, but revision is needed.

Section C-2.2 statement on interdependence: This is not too bad. As is typical with Unitarian Universalists, however, this statement makes humans seem somehow separate from the interdependent web. There’s an easy fix for that, though — reword the statement something like this: “We honor the sacred interdependent web of all existence, which includes all human relationships, the relationships of all living beings, and the relationship of living beings to non-living matter.”

Section C-2.3 is a vast improvement on the so-called “six sources” of the present principles and purposes. I would however remove the phrase “we draw upon, and are inspired by, the full depth and breadth of sacred understandings,” for two reasons. First, there are sacred understandings that we as Unitarian Universalists find reprehensible. Second, this smacks of colonialism, where colonial powers felt they could appropriate any religious tradition for their own uses; I feel this phrase gives tacit permission to Unitarian Universalists to do that kind of religious misappropriation. The second sentence is all that’s needed here.

Section C-2.4 is quite good. It could replace the statements on justice and equity in Section C-2.2.

Section C-2.5 is half good. The last sentence should be dropped. This is the kind of sentence that can too easily be warped and weaponized. Plus, it simply isn’t necessary, given all that has gone before.

What’s missing: The big thing that’s missing in this draft of Article II is any statement in support of democracy. This, when many parts of the world seems to be heading in the direction of fascism.

This is a deal-breaker for me. I can put up with poorly-drawn diagrams, I can put up with outdated mid-twentieth century covenant theology — but I could not, in good conscience, vote for a statement that does not explicitly support democracy.

Marketing for congregations

When I arrived at First Parish in Cohasset in August, I started watching for newcomers. Of course, I didn’t know most of the people, but each Sunday I would ask the long-time members if there were any newcomers.

We had no newcomers in August. One in September. None in October. Then two so far in November.

As a former salesperson, when I see so few newcomers I immediately assume that there’s no marketing going on. That’s what marketing does — it reaches people who are new to your business (and a small nonprofit organization like a congregation is a business). The primary form of marketing for most Unitarian Universalist congregations is a website. So I decided to take a look at the First Parish website. I found that since the COVID pandemic had started, there had been very little new material added to the website (no surprise there, people were busy doing other things). The administrator and I started adding content to the website at least weekly, beginning in October. Sure enough, we got a couple of newcomers stopping by in November.

I’d like to believe the tiny uptick in newcomers is a result of our markting efforts. Of course I know this is the worst kind of evidence — it’s all anecdotal, there’s no way of proving a causal relationship, etc., etc. I know that I could simply be deluded by confirmation bias here — I see something that confirms what I already believe, and continue to believe what I believe.

But I still think marketing works. If your website is your only form of marketing, then paying attention to your website should yield dividends.

Casablanca with Link Hogthrob

Someone on Mastodon wondered what it would be like if Muppet characters took the place of a human actors in a romantic movie. Then she came up with a series of movie stills to show what it might have looked like.

So I began to think about my favorite movie, Casablanca, and how a Muppet character might fit in. Instead of Humphrey Bogart, what if Link Hogthrob played the part of Rick Blaine… and this is what my imagination came up with:

Muppet character Black and white photo of Link Hogthrob dressed in a white dinner jacket standing behind Ingrid Bergman.

Radical Bird Club

Some people in Scotland have started a Radical Bird Club. Here is part of their manifesto:

“RBC strives to be inclusive* to adults** of any age, class, sexuality, race & ability. you don’t even have to know anything about birds. it’s just walking, talking, observing, listening & being with other people who want to appreciate the natural bounty around us – whether you’ve been doing it for years or are just realising that it’s kind of your thing.
*does not include bigots, fascists, sexists, racists, homophobes or ableists
**must be okay with general sweariness, so not recommended for anyone under 16″

I like this idea. I’ve been shying away from joining local bird clubs because too many of them feel too competitive to me. The competition can include macho posturing around who has seen the most birds, to wealth posturing around who has the most expensive birding gear. A Radical Bird Club focused on “walking, talking, observing, listening & being with other people” seems like a good idea.

They want to turn this into a global phenomenon. RBCs around the world!

I haven’t time or energy to organize anything at this point in my life. But if someone else organizes an RB near me, I’d check it out.