lördag, mars 05, 2005

[religion] Faithful Blogs Collecting Power

The Religion Journal section of the New York Times today (Saturday) features a fascinating article on the "growing number of religion-oriented blogs, many of them irreverent and contrarian, and all serving as a meeting point for the like-minded." Whether to evangelize, educate, or simply discuss church and theology, "religious bloggers are starting to realize the potential of their collective power." For example, check out SmartChristian.com.

The rather concise coverage by Debra Nussbaum Cohen points out that "in some blogs, particularly those of conservative Christians, political and religious beliefs are intertwined. But whether conservative or liberal, most religion-based blogs seem to be created by people on the extremes of the religious spectrum. 'People who blog tend to be the kind who already have firm opinions and a certain world-view,' said Kathy Shaidle, a self-described 'conservative Catholic Gen-Xer' and founder of RelapsedCatholic.com.

"While the Internet addresses of many blogs look much like those of other Web sites, blogs are fluid and interactive and create conversation and debate, rather than simply present information. No one knows precisely how many blogs there are, but a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that roughly eight million American adults have created them. Lee Rainie, director of the project, estimates that 10 percent to 20 percent of those are related to religion."

"Religious blogs give a public voice to people who otherwise might not have one, like Fatima Mohammed, a recent college graduate in Milwaukee. Ms. Mohammed, 24, is an observant Muslim who prays five times a day, dresses modestly and wears hijab to cover her hair. In her blog, LoveThyUmmah.com --Ummah means "the Muslim community" -- "I'm speaking from the perspective of a young Muslim woman in America. It's a unique outlet," Ms. Mohammed said. "The blog lets me get my voice out there."

Cohen also reports that in making use of the new medium, many of "the most fervently religious (blogs) are anonymous." Ah but of course, church demands community, and the community may look askance at the fervent self (& the more fervent, the more nettlesome its potential). Anonymity makes perfect sense. Reading on:

"Aidel Maidel, whose nom-de-blog means "Nice Jewish Girl" (aidelmaidel.blogspot.com), posts about the ups and downs of being a working religious mother who is fairly new to Hasidic life. She guards her anonymity because it lets her write things that some in her community might perceive as less than flattering, which could potentially compromise her daughters' ability to marry well, she said, though they are now respectively an infant and a toddler... "It was a place for me to vent," she said. "Blogging provided me with a real space where I could say what I wanted and nobody would judge me."

"For a few religious bloggers, online endeavors have become more than an outlet.

"For Gordon Atkinson, a Baptist minister, it has led to a book... (In his) unconventional religious blog, RealLivePreacher.com, (with) occasionally salty language, he relates his theological struggles, ideas for sermon titles and car-pooling experiences. He began blogging in December 2002 because it provided a place to write, but kept it anonymous so as not to hurt his parishioners' feelings. After being identified, he decided to continue it anyway. A Christian publisher, Eerdman's, soon invited him to assemble his essays in book form, and in October it published RealLivePreacher.com, the book.

"Mr. Atkinson is one of a swelling pool of pastors entering the blogosphere. With more than one million reader visits since his blog began, he is also one of the most successful. His writing is "about how faith and life meet in nonreligious ways," he said, adding, "I hope not to be very churchy."

In a related story from last Sunday, the Times also explores "a growing movement to call attention to the open Christianity of America's great leaders and founding documents. The goal is to reverse what many evangelical Christians claim is a secularist revision of history, to defend displays of religion in public life and to make room for God in public school classrooms.

"Their campaign and the liberal resistance have turned even the slightest clues about the souls of the Republic's great leaders - that Washington left church before communion and almost never referred to Jesus, that the famously skeptical Jefferson attended Sunday services in the House of Representatives, or that Lincoln never joined a church at all - into hotly contested turf in the battle over the place of religion in public life... And sympathetic legislators in a dozen states have passed American Heritage Education Acts intended to protect teachers who discuss religion's role in history -- measures liberals call unnecessary."

Certainly this has riled up the academic community, "including some conservative and evangelical scholars," surprisingly enough: "the 18th-century religious views of the founders hardly fit into contemporary categories like evangelical Protestant or secular humanist. Nor... do the great leaders' public expressions of faith necessarily tell us much about how their notion of an ideal relationship between religion and government."

"Sure, God shows up on the bad stuff," says David Barton, vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party and a leading advocate against the "secularist" teachings of our public education system. "We don't hear much about the five revivals in American history, but we always hear about the Salem witch trials." Still, he said, he only sought to dust off the fact of the founders' Christianity, not to argue for or against it. "If we are arguing off the premise that we have to be secular today because we have always been secular," he said, "then we are arguing off the wrong premise."

Related articles in the NYT (all except the first one below requires $premium membership$ or a $fee$ for access):
Putting God Back Into American History (February 27, 2005)
ASIA'S DEADLY WAVES: RELIGIONS; Faith Divides the Survivors And It Unites Them, Too (January 12, 2005) $
Some Democrats Believe the Party Should Get Religion (November 17, 2004) $
THE 2004 ELECTION: FAITH GROUPS; President Benefits From Efforts to Build a Coalition of Religious Voters (November 5, 2004) $
There's more results for the topics Christians and Christianity and Religion and Churches

fredag, mars 04, 2005

[advice] How to Do Just One or Two Things Really, Really Well

The key to a well-read website or personal blogplace is to specialize, focus, hone, show, and above all believe in what you are doing. Believe, and you will. Don't believe, and you won't. Simple.

I want to explore further this line of thought in the coming weeks. But for now I note that Dave Pollard has got that covered, more or less. So here's his quicklist on "How to do one or two things really well:

Believe in yourself. You can do anything if you believe. You can't do anything if you don't.

Find one or two very specific things that are either very useful or very interesting, that you do (or can learn to do) really well, better than anyone else, and which you like doing.

Hone your skill in and deepen your knowledge about those one or two things.

Stop doing other things that distract your focus from achieving brilliance in those one or two things.

Show others, bravely, how well you can do these things -- It's not a distinctive competency unless others recognize it as such.

Trust your instincts to tell you what to do, what not to do, when to persevere and when to give up and try something else."

onsdag, mars 02, 2005

[acting] Five Who Played Howard Hughes Before Leo (I'm Rooting for Tommy Lee)

The 1977 TV-movie of Howard Hughes, with Tommy Lee Jones far more persuasive as the reclusive maverick millionaire, is out on DVD. Nice enough for a late night viewing, judging from the first half-hour that I've watched. Nothing interesting at the Rotten Tomatoes site; I googled around and found this: "Hollywood itself has had the occasional fixation over Hughes with such projects as �The Amazing Howard Hughes,� a TV biography starring Tommy Lee Jones, and Jonathan Demme's offbeat �Melvin and Howard,� about a luckless man who claims he gave hitchhiker Hughes (Jason Robards) a lift and subsequently was left a fortune by the recluse. Dean Stockwell made a memorably creepy cameo as Hughes in Francis Ford Coppola's �Tucker: The Man and His Dream.�"

Better info from the Boston Globe: "at least five actors preceding Leonardo DiCaprio in playing the eccentric reclusive billionaire. And that's not counting" wannabes like Warren Beatty and Johnny Depp.

There's the first portrayal, discreet but true, of "Robert Ryan's sinister, controlling paranoid in "Caught" (1949), (who) has the memorable moniker "Smith Ohlrig."

"Lean and dark, Ryan bears at least a passing resemblance to Hughes. That's more than can be said for George Peppard's Jonas Cord, in "The Carpetbaggers" (1964). The movie focuses on Hughes's early Hollywood years, before the craziness began to show. Unfortunately, Peppard's Blond Beast looks have more in common with a Hughes Tool oil rig (or ohlrig) than with Hughes.

After Hughes's death, in 1976, there was no need for pseudonyms -- or discretion. The 1977 TV movie 'The Amazing Howard Hughes' is based on a tell-all bestseller by Hughes's right-hand man, Noah Dietrich. (John C. Reilly plays him in 'The Aviator.') As Hughes, Tommy Lee Jones combines Robert Robert Ryan's dark good looks with George Peppard's beefiness and gets to impressively chew the (germ-free) scenery.

In 'Melvin and Howard' (1980), Jason Robards is clearly having a grand time. All stringy hair and beard, he plays Hughes as the world's richest hermit on the lam. He's an eccentric in the best Jonathan Demme tradition -- except, of course, that Hughes really existed (though whether he actually ever met Melvin Dummar, his purported heir, is another matter).

Dean Stockwell has a creepy, saturnine grandeur playing Hughes in 'Tucker' (1980). His fedora'd gloom is pure antimatter to the sunny boyishness of Jeff Bridges's title character. There are no switchblade-long fingernails or Mormon-guarded manias to be seen, but you can feel the weirdness just waiting to emerge."

[business] Whistleblowing Doth Geth Dark & Byzantine

The new Forbes (dated 3/14/5) came in the mail today, and its cover article is a sobering and very well-written examination of the whistleblowing phenomenon that got revved up in 1986. Of course, being a bizness mag, its focus is on "The Dark Side of Whistleblowing."

Note that in many areas the feds already cap the good-squealors' fiscal incentive to more earthbound parameters (a quarter mil for customs cases, $1.6m for bank fraud). Still, prudence and sanity indicate that we may have swung tooo far the other way, and need to redress to a new balance.

An excerpt: "In the post-Enron era, these self-appointed do-gooders are granted breathless audiences by Congress, extolled on national television and lauded by Time magazine as Persons of the Year. But some whistleblowers are motivated by greed, willing to stretch the truth for profit. That owes to the whistleblower law, adopted in 1986, that hands informants as much as a 30% cut of any money recouped by the government. ...

Since then whistleblower cases have boomed, recovering $7.9 billion from offending companies--and paying out $1.3 billion to the insiders who ratted on the wrongdoers. A whistleblower bar now spans some 200 lawyers. As word of giant awards has spread--$100 million to the two guys who blew the whistle on HCA and $32 million for a suit against Schering-Plough--the number of suits has soared. Fiscal 2003 saw 326 whistleblower suits, ten times as many as cropped up in 1986; the government gets involved in only about one-sixth of the cases, but these yield 96% of recoveries. And while the law first took aim at defense contractors and sought to protect low-level tattlers, it is now used to target fraud in health care and an array of other businesses."
EDIT. Doth, not Doeth. [Geth not proper archaic?] Swung tooo far the other way.