30 June 2007

23 June 2007

Back with the "R" Rating ...

All it took was one post on pornography and liberal religion to regain my R rating:

Online Dating

According to the Mingle2 rating web site, my rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

  • porn (5x)
  • sex (4x)
  • bomb (1x)

Pornography and Liberal Religion

Reason and Reverence and El Cáliz Azul (The Blue Chalice) and have both commented on the question of the responses that liberal religion should take towards pornography. You can read both blog posts here:
Both posts raise some concerns with pornography and ethics. Specifically, Reason and Reverence mentions the following concerns about pornography as a social ill:
I need look no farther than the UU principles as a start for why religious liberals may want to start thinking about why pornography is a social problem. The first two principles:
  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
Pornography seems to seriously violate both of these cherished principles. It is a humongous, selfish, disgusting industry that belittles and trivializes human sexuality. It objectifies and commodifies men and women. It portrays sex in a brutal, selfish, unrealistic way.
I'll agree that there are segments of the pornography and sexually-related businesses that are selfish and inconsiderate.

Some sexually-related businesses do belittle and trivialize human sexuality. And some do economically exploit their workers.

However, the objectification and brutality mentioned above sounds like a description of the "Gonzo Porn" genre. These objections may not apply to all pornography. Like other types of media, there is a wide range of normal variation in pornography.

The explicit values in the Our Whole Lives (OWL) curriculum jointly developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ may be useful for exploring pornography as a values issue. You can find the OWL values online here.

The OWL curriculum spends very little time discussing pornography. Most of the discussion of porn as a values issue happens in the adult curriculum where many views are presented and it's left as an open-ended question for the group to discuss.

Let's look at the list of issues that Reason and Reverence raised with pornography:
  • Humongous, selfish, disgusting industry
  • Belittles and trivializes human sexuality
  • Objectifies and commodifies men and women
  • Portrays sex in a brutal, selfish, unrealistic way
I wonder if we can peel back the layers of concern here to discover if pornography can exist in a manner consistent with the sexual values promoted by Unitarian Universalists.

Is pornography innately incompatible with our religious values? Or the problems that we've identified with pornography due to the corporate commercial culture that produces much of the pornography in North America?

For example, would amateur porn made by lesbians for lesbians be OK within our values?

This hypothetical example would eliminate the commercialization issues and the patriarchy oppression issues commonly associated with pornography. However, it would still involve people obtaining pleasure from viewing sexually explicit images.

Personally, I've enjoyed the sex-positive feminist perspective on porn issues. Here are some sex-positive feminist web resources that you can check out:
For an example of visually erotic but non-explotative pornography, you may want to check out Nothing but the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image as an example of sex-positive feminism in action. Susie Bright has a sampling of photos from this book on her web site here.

Blog Rating Update ... I'm now PG

Apparently, the online blog rating system is just as inconsistent in applying ratings as the real-life MPAA rating system.

Here's my rating as of this morning:

Online Dating

22 June 2007

My Blog is Rated "R" ...

I saw this blog rating service mentioned on Adrastos, the blog that belongs to a family friend in New Orleans who blogs about post-Katrina life in his city.

Apparently, my blog isn't acceptable for all ages:

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

I was also curious to see what the rating for my congregation's web site was using this service:

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

I'm pretty sure that my congregation's leadership will be relieved to know they are safe for all ages.

In case anyone is interested, here's the ratings for several blogs that I routinely read:

And this blog content rating service is just as openly transparent as the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) rating system for movies that is often criticized for its effect on artistic expression in film. The documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated examines the problems with the MPAA ratings and the non-transparency of the MPAA process.

12 June 2007

Sokal Affair and Theological Writing

After reading about the Sokal Affair (a hoax by physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated on the editorial staff and readership of a then-non-peer-reviewed postmodern cultural studies journal called Social Text), I'm curious about another application of Sokal's technique.

Has anyone ever tried Sokal's experiment with a theology journal? Some skeptics like Richard Dawkins are critical of many theologians. The counter-charge is that folks like Dawkins are not well-read in the current theological literature.

A successful Sokal experiment involving a theology journal would address some of the criticism that the current crop of Atheist writers should know more about current trends in theology.

03 June 2007

Followup on Microsoft Office 2007 File Formats

This blog post is a follow-up to my earlier post on Microsoft Office 2007 and the "incompatible" file formats for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint ("incompatible" for those who are using an older version of Microsoft Office, open-source software, Mac OS X, or Linux).

The first possible solution is an article from the Tidbits Mac news site:
MacLinkPlus Deluxe Converts Word/Excel 2007 Documents
Thanks to Jim Dewitt, who alerted me that DataViz's venerable MacLinkPlus Deluxe, now at version 16, also includes read-only support for the file formats used by Word 2007 and Excel 2007 under Windows. So, if Microsoft's free beta converter doesn't work for you (see "Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter in Beta," 2007-05-21), and you want an alternative to Panergy's docXConverter, check out MacLinkPlus Deluxe. DataViz deserves kudos for sticking with the conversion game for so long and with such a large list of file formats. My experience is that conversions are seldom perfect, but any automatic tool that brings you closer to the desired result is a good thing.
The second solution was also mentioned on the Tidbits news site and may be useful for Windows and Mac OS X users:
You have received a file from the new Office 2007 and cannot open it...

If this file is a Word file (generally with the extension docx)

. . . have a look at docXConverter today!

With docXConverter you can simply:

Forget that one minute ago you couldn't open this file.

Continue your work without missing a single comma.

With docXConverter there is:

Nothing lost and nothing new to learn. Just double-click on the file and let docXConverter work for you, silently and without getting in the way.

docXConverter version 1.3 works on the following systems:

Windows 98 to Vista
Mac OS X version 10.2 to 10.4

Mac OS 9.2
Finally, a older Tidbits article also mentioned some future updates for the Mac OS X file format converter software for the Mac OS X version of Microsoft Office:
Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter in Beta
If you find yourself needing to access Office Open XML documents created by Windows users in Word 2007, Microsoft now has a free beta converter that may help. The Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter for Mac 0.1b can convert .docx and .docm documents (the latter are Word macro-enabled documents) into RTF format, which can be opened in Word 2004 and Word X on the Mac. The converter provides both individual file and batch conversion.

In this beta release, macros and Visual Basic scripts are dropped from the converted file, and charts and SmartArt graphics are converted to pictures. Other problems that might crop up in the beta include resizing of graphics, loss of color fills and shading in tables, loss of certain document formatting and layout, loss of some Unicode characters and picture bullets, and font substitution. The conversion might fail entirely if the document contains a bibliography, citations, WordArt, or very large pictures, or if you use an SMB network volume as the destination. To summarize all that, most documents should convert fine, but some that use less-common features may have troubles. Nonetheless, it's great to see Microsoft's Mac Business Unit releasing this beta now; even though it's clearly not done, it will undoubtedly be useful to Mac users right away. Now if only they could give it a snappier name.

The Microsoft Office Open XML File Format Converter for Mac beta is a
24.9 MB download and expires on 31-Dec-07. It requires Mac OS X 10.4.8, and either at least Office 2004 11.3.4 or Office X 10.1.9 to open the converted documents. Free upgrades to both versions of Office are available from Microsoft's Mac Downloads page.

If you find yourself needing a conversion capability that this free beta doesn't support, it's worth taking a look at Panergy's $20 docXConverter, which promises to convert the majority of Word 2007 features to RTF as well.

Microsoft tells us that updates to the converter in a few months will include support for PowerPoint and Excel documents, and a version of it that provides read/write conversion will be integrated into Office 2004 six to eight weeks after the release of Office 2008 for Mac. For more about it, check out Geoff Price's post in the Mac Mojo blog.
These options may be useful for you when you receive a newsletter article or other church business documents in these new "incompatible" Microsoft Office file formats.

02 June 2007

Speculation on UUA Independent Affiliate Decisions

Within the past week, there has been some speculation on the recently announced ("leaked"?) decision by the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees to reduce the number of non-congregational Independent Affiliates.

Some speculation has mentioned the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness (UUPA) as a factor for this decision.

Here's a sample quote from The UU Enforcer blog that illustrates a representative example of this speculation:
"I have been thinking and talking and reading about the whole independent affiliate status tussle going on and one of the things that was pointed out to me was that this occurred, this being a whole lot of bureaucratic hoops to jump through, because no one wanted to come out and say to the Polyamorists get out! Yup instead of having some back bone and saying "sorry you missed the sixties, but you can't try and relive it here" the UUA board tried to avoid the conversation and set up some pretty high bars for groups to reach."
If that's the "real" reason behind this decision (and I hope it's not), I would find it troubling.

To me, this decision might be analogous to the tactics used by the Salt Lake City school administration to eliminate all extra-curricular student clubs because fairness and equal treatment laws demanded that the school officials allow for a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in the public schools. The ACLU of Utah has background info on this case here.

The school administrators were forced to allow GSA groups if they allowed extra-curricular clubs. The "fairness" requirement was externally imposed by the Federal Law guaranteeing equal access for student-led clubs.

For Unitarian Universalists, our "fairness" requirement was not externally imposed by legislation. It comes from our Principles and Purposes along with the mostly implicit theology that our principles come from.

Like the Salt Lake City schools facing the GSA decision, it's possible that our UUA Board side-stepped any future decisions regarding the UUPA and official recognition by raising the bar.

And it's one way to avoid our theological requirement for fairness in who we choose to welcome or not welcome in our faith community.

For folks who are traveling to General Assembly in Portland, there will be a series of meetings to examine the future of non-congregational affiliates. More details can be found here.

"Critiquing Ideology" or "Bashing Another's Beliefs"

This past week, several discussions (many very heated) have popped up in a response to a Church of the Larger Fellowship article.

This article briefly mentioned the decision at Starr King School for the Ministry to stop using the term "brown bag" to describe lunchtime talks where one brings one's lunch to the talk. This is due to the historical association between brown bags and colorism discrimination.

One good place to find many links to these blog conversations is Philocrites blog article "Brown bag landmines, culling the affiliates, and more."

The Unitarian Universalist minister author of Ms. Kitty's Saloon and Road Show commented on her concerns about ministerial collegiality in the "brown bag" blog conversations.

One of the replies to Ms. Kitty's concerns voiced her belief that a criticism of an ideology should be permissible:
"An ideology was being critiqued. Ain't no guidelines against that and I hope to God there never will be."
Of course, this comment opens up the question what's an ideology and what's a sincerely held religious belief?

The online Merriam-Websters provides "a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture" as one definition for "ideology."

Since an ideology is just a term to describe an organized collection of ideas, the term would include most religious belief systems (e.g. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Paganism, Humanism, etc).

Do we want any ideologies to be off-limits from criticism in Unitarian Universalist communities?

For example, would a "Dawkins" or "Harris" criticism of belief in God and traditional religion be OK or would that be off-limits in a Unitarian Universalist setting?

I guess that Unitarian Universalist Christians will need to remove the term "Christian-bashing" from their vocabularies for two reasons:
  1. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever been "bashed" (physically assaulted) for being a Christian in a Unitarian Universalist congregation or other settings -- mostly it's a verbal criticism of ideology.
  2. Criticism of ideology is OK for some Unitarian Universalists and some Unitarian Universalist Christians.
But do we want to live in a congregation where this frank criticism of ideology happens?

I think that no ideology or system of belief is so sacred that we cannot look at it critically.

However, I do see a problem with excessive criticism of ideologies in our congregations.

How do we examine an ideology critically in such a way that we don't shut down communication and eventually end up in the heated ritualistic exchange of verb-pronoun combinations?