12/30/2008 3:09:04 PM
CatholicGoogle, which deems itself “the best way for good Catholics to surf the web,” launched last week. The new search engine, which is not affiliated with Google, makes use of “ ‘safe search’ technology” to favor Catholic-related sites and screen out “unsavory content.”
Snarky bloggers have seized on the browser's priggish tone, and largely dismiss it as a backwards attempt to censor information that's unfriendly to Catholic doctrine. Religion Dispatches offers a slightly more substantial take. It ran some hot-button words—contraceptives, abortion, stem-cell research—through the engine, and reports that it generally returned conservative Catholic sites.
But CatholicGoogle’s no Catholic Big Brother: The Religion Dispatches search results were shaped by the rhetoric of the search terms. By changing ‘contraceptives’ to ‘contraceptive rights’ and ‘abortion’ to ‘abortion rights,’ I received links to some progressive Catholic organizations, as well as NARAL, the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, and Atheism.com.
The site's not so ominous, then. Whether Catholics will find it particularly compelling is another story.
12/28/2008 12:02:00 PM
According to a recent poll, the number of Americans who believe that Jews run Hollywood has significantly dropped (22 percent, down from nearly 50 percent in the 1960s). The finding has Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein all worked up. “The Anti-Defamation League, which released the poll results last month, sees in these numbers a victory against stereotyping,” he writes. “Actually, it just shows how dumb America has gotten. Jews totally run Hollywood.”
Stein hillariously rants about the deep Jewish presence in Hollywood. “The Jews are so dominant, I had to scour the trades to come up with six Gentiles in high positions at entertainment companies,” he asserts. “When I called them to talk about their incredible advancement, five of them refused to talk to me, apparently out of fear of insulting Jews. The sixth, AMC President Charlie Collier, turned out to be Jewish.”
All jokes aside, Stein does have a good point: “As a proud Jew, I want America to know about our accomplishment,” he writes. “Yes, we control Hollywood. Without us, you'd be flipping between “The 700 Club” and “Davey and Goliath” on TV all day.”
12/23/2008 10:10:33 AM
Wedding cake, birthday cake, “let them eat cake.” Cake is classy, elegant, and above all, traditional. But what about its oft-ignored dessert cousin, the pie? Salon.com writer Vincent Rossmeier argues that pie is in fact superior to cake; it is “the perfect dessert.”
“Pie is moist where cake is too often arid; it’s complex where cake is too often banal,” he writes.“Pie offers me lasting contentment, whereas all cake can tender is a cloying sugar rush. In a subtle, supple flake of pie crust there is more of heaven than in all the world’s slabs of cake combined.”
It’s a tough call to make. Who wouldn’t enjoy an airy slice of coconut cream cake? Who could say no to a perfectly spicy carrot cake with sweet cream-cheese frosting? Then again, Rossmeier has history on his side. Pie stretches back to medieval and even Egyptian times, when it was considered food as well as decoration (releasing live birds out of baked goods was popular, apparently). The English brought pie over to the colonies, where it became the go-to dessert, served with nearly every meal.
It’s no secret that dessert carries a hefty cultural caché—when’s the last time a parent sent their naughty child to bed without the salad course? In pie, Rossmeier sees the means to suffuse that most revered of courses with deep social identity. "In America, pie is as regionalized as dialects, serving as a landmark of place and history,” he writes.
(Rossmeier is preparing for his wedding, and reveals that instead of cake, he and his beloved will be serving wedding pie. His soon-to-be wife is totally fine with that.)
Image by thebittenword.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/22/2008 2:02:44 PM
Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a nonprofit that supports the development of community-friendly places, has compiled a list of 60 of their favorite public gathering spots around the world. The intro to the list waxes a bit epically, hinting at “the places we remember most vividly, the places where serendipitous things happen, the places we tell stories about.”
But the romantic tone is balanced with concrete analysis on what makes the choices compelling. PPS includes blurbs on the accessibility, comfort, activities, and sociability of each place, as well as background and historical information. While the list includes obvious picks like New Orleans’ French Quarter, it also highlights humbler, more local spots: An organic children’s garden in Toronto gets a mention for its diversity of programming, and a bus hub in Corpus Christi, TX is recognized for its festive, convivial atmosphere. All in all, it offers some insight into the qualities that make a space people-friendly, and will probably get you thinking about your own favorite public places.
Image by Doublep1, licensed under Creative Commons.
(Thanks, World Hum.)
12/19/2008 4:02:48 PM
Last September Forbes released a list of America's most stressful cities. Chicago came out on top, right above places like San Francisco and New York, due to issues like unemployment, population density, and low air quality. Many people, both in and outside of those communities, think it’s impossible to achieve mental tranquility within the city.
But contrary to a certain strain of popular belief, you don’t have to run off to the woods or to India to find a little peace. Common Ground magazine used Forbes’ list as a springboard to consult yoga and meditation experts, neighborhood bartenders, and doctors on how to deal with stresses like overcrowding, multitasking, and economic hardship. The result is practical, effective advice on beating "urban angst," good ideas that people often forget when they're caught up in the pressures of everyday city life.
Image courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/18/2008 5:09:45 PM
A federal judge halted South Carolina’s plans to offer Christian-themed license plates last week, ruling that to do so would constitute state-sponsored religious preference, reports The State.
According to Religion Dispatches, the concern over the legality of the plates mostly has to do with process. Private organizations can offer specialty plates through the DMV, and do, like one for the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry inscribed with the words “In Reason We Trust.” Another privately-produced (and currently available) plate sports an anti-abortion message, notes Associated Baptist Press. Since the "I Believe" licenses were sponsored by the state legislature, however, they were subject to legal challenge. Take a look at this Utne blog from last summer, which explores the uproar around the case in more depth.
South Carolina is not the only state to debate religious plates—Florida and Indiana have courted controversy after attempting to approve similar designs. Check out Stephen Colbert’s hilarious response to Florida’s most recent attempt:
12/16/2008 5:17:31 PM
Ah, holiday gift crunch time. No matter how much planning you do, there’s always something of a scramble towards the finish line. Take a deep breath, Utne Reader is here to help with its 2008 Alternative Press Gift Guide. The best part of gifting one of these alternative publications? Not only will you sustain the intellect of the recipient, you’ll support the independent press. Plus: No wrapping and certainly no waiting in line at the post office!
For the sister who likes hipster culture minus the pretense: Venus Zine is chock-full great coverage on women in music, culture, fashion, and art. They also have a killer DIY section featuring recipes, how-to’s, and practical advice.
For the brother who’s totally over Rolling Stone: Formerly a Grateful Dead fan ‘zine, Relix has been putting out music news, reviews, and interviews since the 70s. Their tastes run the gamut from jam bands to Ryan Adams, always with an eye on new and exciting acts. Each issue also includes a CD sampler of featured songs.
For the aunt who always wants to hear stories about your life: Billed as a quarterly of true stories and original art, Fray is a new magazine full of compelling personal narratives organized around a theme. The newest issue contains stories of geekdom and obsession, including a pocket protector collection and one girl’s primordial love for naked mole rats. Deliciously humorous and entertaining as well as educational, Fray sates the hunger for a good story.
For the friend whose “artsy-ness” never fails to make you feel inferior: The Believer’s beautiful pages and eclectic mix of material covered is almost intimidating in its apparent high-brow ambiance. Your artsy friend is bound to extrapolate meaning from the artwork and essays that you could only dream to understand.
For the dog-lover (but not Dog Fancy-er): The Bark is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year as the “modern dog culture magazine.” What is dog culture, you ask? Everything from health nutrition information to pet fashion to new books featuring canine protagonists.
For the independent, sassy Jewish mom: When up against bigger Jewish-centered magazines like Moment and Hadassah, quarterly magazine Lilith stands out for its unapologetic (yet non-hostile) feminist stance and its commitment to ideas and stories that matter but have perhaps not made it to the mainstream.
For the Spanish-speaking wannabe: The monthly magazine Think Spanish is written in Spanish for English speakers, with vocab words bolded in the text and defined on the side of the page. The format allows people to read seamlessly if they understand the articles and learn new words if they don’t. The articles aren’t exactly hard-hitting, but they’re interesting enough to keep readers engaged.
For the tech-geek in your office: The electrical engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum has been churning out some great issues lately. The magazine features plenty of articles on new tech-developments that could interest laypeople, and enough hard-core nerdiness to impress even the most jaded of computer dorks.
For anyone interested in psychological health: Psychotherapy Networker describes itself as a resource for therapists, but the cheeky bimonthly never fails to transcend its intended audience with broad-based appeal. From the science of happiness and mindful approaches to depression, to our cultural relationship with insomnia and new ways to approach sex, the articles are intellectually rigorous and provide fascinating into the human mind.
For optimists (or, curmudgeons who seriously need a lift): There isn't a better magazine than Greater Good, published by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Greater Good reports on innovative research into altruism and compassion. Far from wonky, its savvy editors fuse findings with real-world relevance, showing how "the science of a meaningful life" impacts everything from education to public policy.
For more great publications, check out the nominees for the 19th annual Utne Independent Press Awards, and Utne Reader's 2007 Gift-Giving Guide. From environmental to spiritual coverage, from best design to best writing, there's bound to be a perfect-fit publication for everyone on your holiday gifting list.
Image by Cláudia*~Assad, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/15/2008 4:06:39 PM
The holidays aren’t always a party for single people, especially when family members insist on using Christmas gatherings to pressure young people into getting married. “So,” someone always asks, “are you seeing anyone special?”
Deflecting these all-too-personal interrogations can takes dexterity and grace, but it can help to be prepared. Writing for the Christian site Busted Halo, Dr. Christine B. Whelan gives some advice and sample answers for single people on the holidays. For example, if someone asks, “You’re always at the office! Do you even have time for a relationship?” Whelan suggests cracking a joke by saying, “Oh, it’s OK. I keep him/her in a closet. He’s very patient.”
The jokes aren’t very funny, but they could work in deflecting some of the pressure. Whelan suggests keeping in mind that most people sincerely want single people to be happy, no matter what the actual outcome of their questions may be. Here are a few other stock answers I would suggest:
Question: Are you dating anyone?
Answer: No, I haven’t dated anyone. Not since… the accident. (Then trail off and walk away.)
Question: What happened to that nice girl/boy you were dating?
Answer: He/She was eaten by an angry hippopotamus a few months ago.
Question: You’re still single? What’s wrong with you?
Answer: Que? Discúlpame, pero no hablo ingles. Permiso, yo necesito un trago.
Image by Greg Palmer, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/12/2008 11:36:57 AM
The Adbusters-promoted National Buy Nothing Day (a.k.a. Black Friday) has gained steam over the past few years, but what about an entire buy-nothing Christmas? The anti-consumerism magazine wants to help. In the latest issue, writer Gary Gach ruminates on "What Would the Buddha Buy?"—the first in a series of articles to help identify and avoid the “moment during which real pleasure becomes abstract desire—the want to want.”
Easier said than done, of course, which is why Gach also advocates mindful purchases and donations in place of buying for buying’s sake. Instead of obsessing over finding perfect gifts for your loved ones, make spending time with them a priority. Instead of purchasing a new gadget or sweater, donate what you already have but don’t use; the strategy has the double benefit of helping those in need and clearing up space. “It’s harder to be grasping greedily when your arms are extended in giving,” Gach writes.
Image by mermay19, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/11/2008 4:55:21 PM
The simple act of laughing can make people healthier and happier. “Smiling is not just a result of happiness," Michael Castleman writes for Utne Reader’s sister publication Mother Earth News. “It also causes happiness.” According to the article, laughter lowers blood pressure, releases endorphins, and increases the oxygen in people’s blood streams by helping with respiration. And laughter is good exercise, too. One psychiatrist mentioned in the article suggests that people who are unable to exercise should laugh instead.
Buddhist practitioners also experiment with laughter as a mindfulness exercise. Hasya Yoga, also known as Laughter Yoga, uses group laughing sessions as a breathing exercises to increase mindfulness. Laughter Yoga International now claims 6,000 laughter clubs in 60 countries.
You can watch a video of former Monty Python member John Cleese at a laughter club in India below:
, licensed under
12/11/2008 9:42:38 AM
Washington D.C. buses are the front lines in a new kind of religious conflict: ad wars.
The American Humanist Association threw the first punch by running an ad on 200 city buses reading: “Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness’ sake,” On Faith's Under God blog reports. The ad is part of the group’s “godless holiday campaign,” aimed at raising humanism’s profile and connecting non-believers through whybelieveinagod.org.
“Humanists have always understood that you don’t need a god to be good,” said AHA executive director Roy Speckhardt in a statement posted on the association’s website. “Morality doesn’t come from religion.”
The D.C. Examiner reports that one woman is leading a grassroots effort to counter the AHA with an ad saying, “Why believe? Because I created you and I love you, for goodness’ sake. –God.”
While Under God calls the back-and-forth, “a light-hearted joust,” some are taking the campaign quite seriously. The Dakota Voice reports that Christian groups calling the ads “another attempt by those waging a war on Christmas to ban God from the public square.” In a more aggressive response, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, David Hankins, attacks humanism in the Baptist Press:
We do have some recent examples of societies that do not believe in God nor recognize a mandated divine value on human beings. They are associated with names like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Idi Amin, and Saddam Hussein. Devoid of any sense of God or godliness, they created a social order of mayhem and evil that destroyed millions of lives. So much for the morality of godlessness.
12/8/2008 10:40:00 AM
The insular Lubavitch Jewish community has been dragged into the headlines by the Rubashkin family, heads of the powerful Agriprocessors company, a multimillion-dollar kosher meat empire located near Postville, Iowa. The family has been flooded with legal problems recently: Sholom Rubashkin, CEO of Agriprocessors, was arrested for bank fraud. Moshe Rubashkin, Sholom’s brother, was sentenced to 16 months in prison for illegally storing the hazardous waste. And the plant in Iowa was the place where 389 undocumented workers were detained by the federal government in one of the biggest immigration raids in U.S. history.
Utne Reader contributor Elizabeth Dwoskin recently published an impressive profile of the Rubashkin family in the Village Voice. Dwoskin, who wrote for Utne Reader about Brazilian efforts at cultural preservation, details the “checkered history of the family's business practices—some of it well reported, but much of it less well known.” She also points out the dissent against the Rubashkins that’s being fomented online, in such blogs as FailedMessiah.com, written by a former Lubavitch butcher, and such news outlets as CrownHeights.info and VosIzNeis.com.
12/5/2008 1:26:47 PM
Notre Dame football has been wallowing in mediocrity lately, much to the dismay of the storied program’s die-hard fans. In light of the team’s lame record, the university’s decision this week to let Coach Charlie Weis keep his job ruffled many feathers, including those of many leading figures in the Catholic community.
The Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called an emergency meeting this week to mull over their response to the Weis controversy. Tucson bishop and USCCB vice president, Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas said the bishops were “unanimous in our conviction that something must be done,” according to Commonweal. But he also said that rather than focusing their attention exclusively on Coach Weis, the bishops were responsible for offering “all Notre Dame football fans a moral framework with which they can properly form their consciences on this delicate issue. We are not telling anyone whom to fire or not to fire.”
Image by Fated to Pretend, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/5/2008 1:07:01 PM
Researchers continue to explore the therapeutic benefits of meditation, and one new study on depression touts mindfulness exercises as viable alternatives to anti-depressants.
Just two months of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) prevented relapses better than traditional treatments, according to researchers at the University of Exeter. Forty-seven percent of patients relapsed after MBCT, compared with sixty percent who relied on traditional treatment methods, and the MBCT test groups reported higher levels of satisfaction with their physical well-being and in their day-to-day activities.
In the MBCT trials, a therapist led small groups in focusing exercises, inspired in part by Buddhist meditation techniques. The exercises encouraged participants to concentrate on the present rather than past or future events. The therapy was designed for simplicity, allowing patients to practice independently after the study ended. According to Professor Willem Kuyken, who led the study, MBCT works because it “teaches skills for life.”
Interest in the therapeutic applications of meditation isn’t particularly new—Utne Reader recently covered the issue here and here. MBCT seems promising, though, as a realistic way to integrate mindfulness practices with more conventional forms of psychological treatments. MBCT is a potentially cost-effective option for treating depression on a large scale because it’s led by a single therapist in groups of eight to fifteen, patients learn to practice the techniques without oversight, and it appears to stave off relapses. The Exeter team, encouraged by the findings, has already announced plans for further study on MBCT techniques.
(Thanks, Shambala Sun.)
12/2/2008 11:23:58 PM
Religious institutions are far from immune to the woes of recession. Recent articles for the Boston Globe and Ethics Daily report that many churches and religious organizations are already feeling the downturn squeeze. And as the Globe points out, widespread financial crises are particularly tricky for the faithful:
For religious organizations, the nation's economic woes hit twice. The faith groups rely for income on sources vulnerable to a downturn - contributions from individuals, income from investments, and, in the case of faith-based social service organizations, funding from government. But the faith groups also aspire to assist the hungry and homeless and unemployed, meaning that during a recession their expenses go up even as their revenue may go down.
For Ethics Daily, Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics predicts a Darwin-esque future for religion, which he thinks could profoundly affect our belief landscape:
A deeper and prolonged financial crisis will likely result in a survival-of-the-fittest scenario among local and national faith organizations, which, in turn, will reshape the religious ethos for years to come.
(Thanks, Religion Blog.)
Image by szlea, licensed under Creative Commons.
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