a weblog by Schuyler D. Erle

Wed, 22 Dec 2004

[22:37] Towards Real Faith-Based Politics

Let me start by saying that I believe in God. I may not believe in God the exact same way you do, if you do, but I don't think that actually matters.

I have to credit my mother-in-law's partner Rich (who is English) with pointing out that, in the United States, only conservative Christian Republicans ever bring God into political discourse. He suggests that this may be a mistake. I'm inclined to agree.

Although Americans are taught in civics or history classes about the separation of church and state, the Constitution itself merely prohbits the establishment of state religion. This is crucial for true democracy, but, let us make no mistake about it: America was founded by people with fervent spiritual beliefs, and it is still, today, a religious nation. Any political appeal will be lost on the American public if it is not grounded in, or at least makes reference to, a set of values and ethics that are born of honest faith.

For my part, I cannot believe that salvation in the Divine distinguishes between us on the basis of color, race, gender, sexual orientation, or other physical criterion, nor on the circumstances of birth, be it ethnicity, wealth, cultural identity, nationality, or language spoken. No just or equitable God could regard any human soul less valuable than any other. Therefore we must regard them all likewise. This is the start of true faith-based politics, politics that uphold justice, democracy, equality, and peace. We pursue politics that benefit the widest number of people, because, in some way, it must be God's will that we do so - that we seek to care for each other, and treat all souls equally and with respect.

The notion of a Chosen People who share a covenant with God must therefore be expanded to embrace all humanity. Likewise, the idea of a Promised Land must be brought to encompass the entire Earth, and not just a particular patch of land at a particular latitude and longitude and only for people who profess particular beliefs. We must recognize that God has chosen all of humanity for salvation, if we can work towards it together, and promised us a magnificent planet for our paradise.

Therefore our politics must be guided by that recognition. Our faith demands that we demand, and work ceaselessly towards, world peace, sustainable energy, clean air and water, community-centered development, safe working conditions, all manner of education, universal health care, and an end to hunger. These are the things that will care for all God's children, and not a select few chosen by birth, race, religious belief, or nationality.

As a consequence, the commandment to be fruitful and multiply must be regarded as obsolete. God cannot possibly want that any longer - humanity was meant to grow up in an earlier era. But as our species continues to spread, we risk ruining the beautiful planet that has been provided for us. God's handiwork is shown nowhere more richly than in the diversity of life on this planet, a diversity upon which we, in our overwhelming numbers, daily wreak ever more havoc. God's gift to us, which we have no means of replacing, must no longer be brought to the altar of capitalism for sacrifice without regard for the consequences. Similarly, religion must learn to embrace access to birth control, family planning, and people's right to consult their own conscience over giving birth to an unwanted child, or allowing a terminally ill loved one to pass into God's arms. We are not living in the Bronze Age anymore.

Coercion does not bring people to God and to salvation - only love does that. Why should not love of God's work and all God's children be the inspiration for political action? By invoking the Almighty as the basis for our political positions, we wish to appeal to the hearts of everyone, to what Martin Buber calls the "still, small voice" inside each of us, that connects the Divine to our sense of what is right. We can forge a paradise on Earth on behalf of all God's creatures, if it be God's will for us to do it.

I really wish some Democrat would have the guts to stand up and say the kind of thing I've just said. I know I'm not the only one who believes in this sort of thing, and I bet they'd get a lot more votes if they did.

[21:44] Anarchosyndicalism, the Computer Strategy Game

Jo & I are working on a computer strategy game called AnarchoSyndicalism. There are some design notes are on the University of Openess Faculty of Cartography wiki. The game is a inquiry into the motivations of action for individual versus collective benefit in society, a conceptual extension of Jo's mudlondon project into a game simulation, and more or less a response to being bored with FreeCiv, SimCity 2000, and Master of Orion 2, but wanting to play in a similar kind of computer strategy environment. I have already started implementing some agent behavior code and space modelling in Python, with vague thoughts about a cross-platform implementation in pygame. Please feel free to add your thoughts to the wiki page.

Mon, 13 Dec 2004

[14:48] Some Tips for Americans Living or Visiting in London

  • Do not be alarmed by the strange coins you may be handed. The thing that looks like a dime is actually a 5p coin, but is worth almost a dime. The thing that looks like a quarter is actually a 10p coin, but, if exchange rates continue the way they are headed, it will be worth almost a quarter. The thing that looks like a penny actually is a penny, and the thing that looks like a penny, only much larger, has almost certainly got to have the lowest actual value to surface area ratio of any coin in the Western world. And never mind what a shilling is (or was).
  • The legend DECUS ET TUTAMEN, which you will find on the edge of certain pound coins, is Latin for "this coin has not been forged," and is an almost certain guarantee that it has been. Don't spend them all in one place.
  • Most people you meet are either English or Scottish or Welsh, or possibly Irish, or even Northern Irish. Confuse them at your utter peril. No one here knows what the term "British" means, so don't bother with it.
  • On a related note, the national flag of Great Britain, otherwise known as the "Union Jack", combines the crosses associated with the Catholic (and now Anglican) Saints George, Andrew, and Patrick, the patron saints of England, Scotland, and (Northern) Ireland, respectively. St. George is remembered for having slain a dragon, St. Andrew is known for having been crucified in a particularly uncomfortable fashion (hence, the shape of his cross), and St. Patrick, of course, is famous for having rid Ireland of its snakes. No one in the UK actually flies the Union Jack because the English can't bear to be associated with the Scots, and vice versa, while the cross of St. Patrick is of dubious origin and is only used in earnest by people wishing to refer to (Northern) Ireland without irking either the Irish republicans or the Ulster unionists. Meanwhile, the Welsh, who aren't even represented on the Union Jack, in spite of having their own language with its own uniquely incomphrensible spelling, also have their own flag. This Welsh flag quite naturally sports a large dragon as its main feature, presumably to spite the followers of St. George.
  • Strange fact: The word for "English" in both Gaelic and Welsh is Saesneg, which I take to be a cognate of the English word Saxon. I think this says a lot about how far back the internecine squabbling has been afoot in the British Isles.
  • Meanwhile, back in London, and, indeed, clear across England, the pubs all close at 11 PM, which is why binge drinking is the national sport. This is fine, because the Tube closes just after midnight. Don't worry, you will get your comeuppance when you take your English friends to Amsterdam, and you are the only one left standing by 1 AM. On the other hand, you don't have national health care back home, so who are you sneering at?
  • For God's sake, look BOTH WAYS when crossing the street. When you first arrive in London, you will instinctively look the wrong way, and Heaven help you, because London drivers have no mercy whatsoever, especially not for foreigners. If you had to drive around a city laid out the way this one is (think: Boston), you would go berzerk eventually, too, except that you are from the States and, given the chance, you will instinctively turn your automobile into head-on traffic at the first left-hand turn, so you probably won't be driving here long enough to find out what it's really like.
  • The consequence of all this is that you, as a passenger in other people's automobiles, will perpetually try to get in the driver's seat entirely by mistake, because the cars are backwards, too.
  • More on the subject of transport: There are two kinds of cabs in London, regular cabs and mini-cabs. Traditional London cab drivers are required to go through a rigorous years-long training course which includes hypnogogic instruction in the names and locations of every street in greater London. Mini-cab drivers, on the other hand, are by and large some guy who just showed up with an unexpired driver's license, and haven't the foggiest clue where even the most basic nearby landmarks are, but they will still promise to take you there for a fiver. The main difference between cabs and mini-cabs is that the former will rip you off, whereas the latter will rip you off not quite as badly, but with the added thrill of the remote possibility that you may wake up some hours later minus a kidney. I, for one, recommend sticking to the night buses after the Tube closes.
  • You will find computer keyboards in the UK confusing. They have swapped the at-sign and the double quotes, which they call "inverted commas", and <shift>-3 is still the pound key, but not the pounds you expect. (If this sort of thing causes you to weep and gnash your teeth, just wait until you make it to the Continent.)
  • When you first step on a scale in the changing room at the gym, you may discover that you have weighed yourself in both kilograms and stone. Stone? you may ask. Do not panic. The English use this archaic measure solely to weigh people, though no one can recall why. There are 14 pounds to one stone, and 2.2 pounds to a kilo, so either way you reckon at it, you had probably best be planning to spend more time in the gym.
  • The English are ambivalent about their relationship with Europe, and in particular with their allies, the French, whom they refer to as "frogs" and who refer to them as "les roast beef". The crowning act of defiance on the part of the English is their insistence on keeping all their road sign distances marked in miles. In spite of this, nearly everything else (except people, as described above) is measured in metric units.
  • In England, people actually pay for broadcast television. No foolin'. It's called the "license fee," and if you own a television, you are supposed to pay it (to the tune of ~100 pounds every year) for the privilege. Although the rumors of television detector vans that roam the cityscape looking for offenders are widely scoffed at, you will still see ads in the Tube that read "We have a list of all the homes in the UK that haven't paid a TV license fee. Just thought you should know."
  • On that subject, the UK does not have a Fourth Amendment - why, they don't even have a constitution! - and so the concept of privacy does not have an awful lot of legal protection around here. In particular, expect to have a closed circuit camera trained on you any time you're in public. Hey, what are you sneering at, buddy, you don't even have national health back... Oh, wait, I already mentioned that, sorry. Anyway, if it makes you feel paranoid, just think what foreigners have to go through when they visit the States (and don't get me started on that).
  • Now, for some terminology: In England, a clamp is a boot, and a boot is a trunk. Also, a skip is something you empty your dustbin into, possibly after you've got done hoovering.
  • Contrary to popular belief, real live English people do not say "pip pip", and only occasionally are they moved to say "cheerio".
  • In England, pasties are not something a stripper wears to keep her nipples warm. Nevertheless, you will still enjoy nibbling on them. Remember to pronounce it past-eez, not paste-eez.
  • In England, fries are chips, and chips are crisps. In any event, try the chips (if your arteries can stand it) and be sure to have them with salt and vinegar. Other recommended chip toppings include mayonnaise, so-called "curry sauce", and "brown sauce," which sounds vaguely repulsive, but is actually just A-1 sauce.
  • Since England was not by and large blessed with edible cuisine of an indigenous nature, they have mastered the art of importing other people's. Be sure to try the Indian curries and the falafel. (When they ask you if you want salad with that, just say yes.) Vegetarians actually make out okay here, better even than on the Continent - in particular, Chinese food is more or less like you'd expect it to be. As a vegetarian, I've never had the the Turkish kebab, but if you are so inclined, stop and remember two things: Mad, and Cow.
  • Actually, to be fair, the English have perfected the concept of breakfast, which includes, but is not limited to, eggs, toast, chips, beans, peas, mashed potatoes, fried tomatoes (?), something called "bubble" which is actually quite tasty, your choice of dodgy meat substance, hot tea, and Marmite, which is indistinguishable from the Australian knock-off Vegemite, even though the whole of England swears up and down that's it's somehow better. Mmm, Marmite.
  • On that subject, you are always going to be the loudest one in the restaurant. Sorry, get used to it. (Actually, maybe that's just me.)
  • As an American, you will have to repeat yourself constantly when addressing strangers. It's not that they can't understand your accent - they hear it on TV and in the movies all the time, after all - it's just that when you open your mouth, they instinctively expect a different set of noises to come out. There is not much you can do about this besides give them a second to recalibrate, and then start again, only this time, more slowly.
  • If, while in London, you are at any point challenged in an uncomfortable fashion by the locals about your national identity, remember the following handy reply: "What are you talking aboot? I'm Canadian, eh!" (Note: Do not try this at the immigration desk at Heathrow.)
  • In spite of how I may have made it sound, you will probably like it here, if you can stand the weather. People are invariably polite and even friendly (if a bit reserved), and there is no shortage of things to do or places to see. Do come visit!

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