Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Yes, Haneke is a sick fuck, but there's method to his sickness. He appears to have a very low opinion of the human race, and he would like to punish it. Why does that make my heart sing? I guess I'm a sick fuck too. All I can say is, after watching one of his films, I want to scream I feel you, dog! I guess that makes me as much a misanthrope as Haneke. I consider Humans are an accursed lot a step up, as a moral position, from Those humans over there are an accursed lot, but we are blessed. The latter view, and not the love of money, is the root of all evil. Haneke chucks in the distinction, sketching nasty portraits of the class - the European bourgeois - most likely to cling to it, and sets about kicking their teeth in. It's fun to watch, but only if you like seeing people who richly deserve and are long overdue for a thrashing receive one. I do.
K. and I went to see Caché last night. Afterward we couldn't stop talking about it. It's never easy getting a handle on allegory (usually because the writer isn't sure what he's trying to say) which is why I tend to avoid it, but as we were hunting for the film's hidden meaning, the "real meaning," which we naturally assumed was political (I blame Hollywood for its infantilizing tendencies, yet I desperately seek refuge in the literal!) I remember saying, "It's so fucked up. He accuses this poor guy whose life he ruined of attacking him. Then he fucks his life up some more and all the while acts like he's the aggrieved party. That is so-" We both sort of looked at each other. "Oh... That's what it's about."
...Many of those who care to think about these issues (and many prefer not to), concluded that Einstein's presumption of locality - the idea that physically separated objects are really separate - is wrong.
Dr. Albert said, "The experiments show locality is false, end of story." But for others, it is the notion of realism, that things exist independent of being perceived, that must be scuttled. In fact, physicists don't even seem to agree on the definitions of things like "locality" and "realism."
"I would say we have to be careful saying what's real," Dr. Mermin said. "Properties cannot be said to be there until they are revealed by an actual experiment."
Now this is fascinating, a recapitulation among physicists of the whole argument between Berkeley and Hume about whether reality exists outside the act of our perceiving it.
Are scientists suggesting the physical universe sits in reserve, waiting for the moment when we observe it to come into existence? In other words, the question isn't: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? The question is: Is there a forest at all? Isn't that the meaning of "Properties cannot be said to be there until they are revealed by an actual experiment."
This would answer many of the questions I never received a satisfactory answer to as a child (and later, as a college student) like: What lies beyond the Big Bang? Because if the universe is expanding, there is a limit to the expansion. What lies beyond that limit? Nothing? Are the far reaches of the universe being created as the Big Bang expands into them? Wouldn't that mean that the universe exists and doesn't exist at the same time? How can that be?
It doesn't matter, these experiments suggest, because what doesn't yet exist won't exist until we look for it. Then it will. (Is that what Jesus meant when he said "Seek and you shall find." Was Jesus more than a rabbi? Was he one of the first quantum physicists?)
There's a potential explanation for the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle here as well, although I can't completely grasp it, other than to picture time and space as a single sheet of matter in which we all form constituent, as opposed to discrete, parts. Make sense?
Well, it's like the tagline from the Syriana poster: Everything is connected. Literally.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
I explained to K. some of the right wing bloggorrhea preceding the movie's release. As we were leaving K., who is Jewish, said, "I don't get it. The movie made everyone look bad." Exactly. People hate that. You want to remain a member in good standing of Team America, you've got to hate all the right people. Politics becomes more like high school with each passing day.
Here is what some people hate: making a Mossad agent look like a cold-blooded killer, even when he's killing in cold blood; making a Palestinian terrorist look (almost) human, even though he is. To the Manichean, good and evil are always pure. When the bad guys make war, it is bloody, cruel and intolerable. When we make war, it's a bake sale. Our warriors - on the right side of God and History - bake cookies and cupcakes. If they have to blow off a few heads now and again, well that's just the icing on the cake.
A quote I will never forget came in response to scattered criticism in the world press of the brutality of the US-led assault on Fallujah. A young Marine (who reminded me a lot of my brother after he returned from the first Gulf War) spoke with canny cynicism and a hint of regret about the things they were called on to do (like Bartelby, they would prefer not to, but that is up to the politicians, whom they universally despise):
What do they think we do? Marines don't shoot rainbows out of our asses. We fucking kill people.
He went on to say that if people had so many qualms, maybe next time they shouldn't rush [into war] so much.
But what I appreciated most was Munich's unflinching portrayal of the cost of violence on the men who perpetrate it, regardless of what side they are on, regardless of how justified the cause. One thing utterly lost on most politicians and pundits, entirely on the media and those members of the public without a relative serving on the front lines, is any sense that American men and women who return from Iraq alive and physically intact are still casualties of war. The psychic cost of killing another human being is one we prefer not to tally.
What is more human than seeing yourself in the the man facing you? It takes a lot of training to get a soldier to set aside his humanity and see another person - even his enemy - as worthy of death. This training, perfected by the military and by intellgence agencies, does irreparable harm, and the men and women who do the killing are well aware of it. One of the saddest scenes in Munich is when Avner finally returns home to Israel and asks his mother if she wants to hear what he did for his country. She says no, and we understand it is as much to spare herself as him. How many times will this scene be played out in the wake of Iraq? Soldiers will return home to loved ones eager to "spare" them any recounting of the horrors they have seen, and those warriors will understand that they are to shut up. We who have been spared do not wish to be infected by the inhumanity of those who have not.
One last thing: all the wingnuttery, the pre-release attempt at a takedown of the movie, has been carried out by people who haven't seen it. (It opened only yesterday.) How are they any different from the mullahs who condemned The Satanic Verses without having read the book? How do you condemn a work of art in advance? Are they that afraid of what the movie might say, what it might make people feel? The critics pay this work greater respect than it perhaps deserves. As Artaud said, The theatre never saved a man from starving so let's not get our panties in a wad (I'm paraphrasing). Still, Munich's critics are right about this: a work of art in its complexity (and yes, ambiguity) offers a picture of the world that mere ideology is powerless to control. It might make us think anything, that revenge is futile, that the cycle of violence must be broken, even though our enemies started it (and they did...didn't they?). So the attempt is made to kill it in its crib. For past successes of this type, see: Moses.
One of my favorite proverbs, from the Middle East as it happens, states: Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages. You'd think Munich's critics would be too busy chasing al-Qaeda out of ninety-nine villages to go after Steven Spielberg, but then again, look what they did when they had Osama trapped in the mountains at Tora Bora. They went after Saddam. At last, their strategy begins to make sense.
Monday, December 12, 2005
And even if you don't buy that, none of it matters anyway, because there's one fact all the nattering nabobs of givitivity forget: Jesus was a JEW! Jesus never owned a fucking Christmas tree! Jesus never celebrated Christmas, and he doesn't care if you do. Hell, Jesus never even celebrated Hannukah. (It hadn't been invented yet.) So will all the eager practioners of Christian self-victimization who are currently too busy wailing about their favorite Jew being taken out of Christmas to get into the proper holiday spirit, will you please shut your pie holes and have yourselves a Merry Little Xmas?
Thursday, December 08, 2005
I felt afterward that I owed my friend an explanation of the insidious, unstated philosophy - or more simply put, the attitude - that I personally believe lies behind our current foreign policy, an attitude slowly taking hold of the American mind and endangering us all.
I was immediately reminded of Nietzsche, that acid-tongued lover of aphorism, who famously warned: Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.
"How could George Bush answer Nietzsche?" I wondered. With all that has happened, all that has been disproved (WMD, an al-Qaeda connection) and proved (torture, the use of white phosphorus as an anti-personnel - aka chemical - weapon), how could our Commander in Chief justify this war? But he's George Bush, so you just know he'd try. Then it came to me:
When we torture and kill we do it for the right reasons. We are good. When they torture and kill they do it for the wrong reasons. They are evil.
I suppose a morally bankrupt individual - a chancre of a man, a malignant tumor in human form - could argue that there is a tissue thin difference between the two and that the former is preferable, but then you'd have to be...well, you'd have to be the President of the United States, or the Vice President of the United States, or the Attorney General of the United States, or the Secretary of Defense. That's what we have come to. That is our position, the final justification for this immoral misadventure measured in human lives. When we kill we do it for the right reasons. We are good. It has about as much chance of succeeding as a moral distinction as the Germans did of reaching Paris during the Battle of the Bulge. (That's a double entendre, for you non-war buffs.)
So my merry thoughts were raging when I came upon Harold Pinter's recent lecture accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature (a prize richly deserved, I might add, with all the authority of a dusty BA in Drama backing me up) and he wiped the floor with my one liner. The theme he descants upon is the same - that of moral distinctions that aren't, particularly ones that happen to favor the US - but he is far more eloquent and far more angry than I - as you might expect from a man who is dying.
Conventional wisdom states that those on the brink of extinction find, at long last, their way to the truth and the courage to speak it without fear of consequences. And there are always consequences. As the Turkish proverb says, Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages. No doubt a certain gun-loving law professor from Tennessee and a certain paranoid, fawning babydaddy from the upper Midwest are even now preparing to attack this ailing genius, but since they have yet to volunteer for the war on which our very existence hinges, according to them, they've not been issued rifles and can only fire digital blanks at their enemies.
Here is what Pinter had to say. Read it and weep.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Imagine walking into a pharmacy with a prescription and being told by the pharmacist, "I won't fill it. It's my right not to fill it." It's outrageous to think this is possible, but this is exactly what happened to a 26-year-old woman who presented a prescription for emergency contraception at a Target in Fenton, MO, on September 30. Join Planned Parenthood in demanding that every woman's pills be filled -- now!
This kind of thing burns me up. You think we're fighting over a woman's right to choose? No. We've taken such a great leap backward during the Bush years that we're fighting over birth control. So I clicked, then typed, then clicked, and sent my outraged form letter off to Target. Because I'm an activitst of the usual type - you know, a little lazy, but I do care. I DO! I clicked! I typed! I clicked! And I'll do it again if I have to. Oh, and I forwarded the email to most of my mailing list with this message:
Maybe that's why I took this outrage to heart - I do shop at Target. They recently opened a store here in Brooklyn. I've given them my money on several occasions. Hell, I grew up on Target. Back in Houston, Target was our main man, for all the times we didn't have enough money to shop at Sears. BASTARDS!
A forward from Katie...
I know you're all really busy, but this is really easy (a few clicks) and really important. It isn't about abortion. It's about birth control! But that's the fight. So let's fight it. Ever shopped at a Target? Love their ads? Me too. Now let'em have it.
So today Target got back to me:
Dear Target Guest,
Target places a high priority on our role as a community pharmacy and our obligation to meet the needs of the patients we serve. We expect all our team members, including our pharmacists, to provide respectful service to our guests, particularly when it comes to their health care needs.
Like many other retailers, Target has a policy that ensures a guest’s prescription for emergency contraception is filled, whether at Target or at a different pharmacy, in a timely and respectful manner. This policy meets the health care needs of our guests while respecting the diversity of our team members.
Your thoughts help us learn more about what our guests expect, so I’ll be sure to share your feedback with our pharmacy executives.
Thanks for taking the time to share your questions, thoughts and comments. I hope we’ll see you again soon at Target.
Target Executive Offices
A form letter? Are you freakin' kidding me, Jennifer? Sure, I sent a form letter, but I'm a civilian. I've got a job to slack off at every day, for Christ's sake! But responding to inquiries and objections from customers is Jennifer's one and only job. And on reading her letter more carefully, I decided she wasn't doing it very well. There are so many things wrong with her response, so many implicit statements about Target policy which are absolutely outrageous that I was forced to shift in pro-activist mode and write a real-live, bonafide, hand-crafted letter expressing my seething outrage at her half-baked bullshit. It goes something like this:
Thank you for your timely response. It was not good enough by a longshot. I wrote to you in regard to a specific incident at your Fenton, Missouri store.
I would like to know how the issue was resolved. A young woman in need was turned away by someone who decided that providing a legal prescription was not in her job description. Given your response, I must assume Target agrees with her action. You stated:
Target has a policy that ensures a guest’s prescription for emergency contraception is filled, whether at Target or at a different pharmacy, in a timely and respectful manner. This policy meets the health care needs of our guests while respecting the diversity of our team members.
If someone has to go to a different pharmacy, then the service is not timely, is it? As for "diversity" you're simply using that as cover to avoid confronting a handful of religious extremists in your ranks. You call it respect. I call it cowardice.
Frankly, I fail to understand the logic of an employee who opposes abortion AND contraception. I thought we were done fighting over the pill. Not at Target, I guess. As you know, if a woman cannot obtain contraception, she is more likely to have an abortion later. Withholding birth control, emergency or otherwise, increases the rate of abortion. Until I hear otherwise, I will assume that Target supports an increase in the number of abortions in this country. Make no mistake, unlike your employee in Fenton, most people in this country are intelligent enough to support contraception whether they oppose abortion or not. Since your policy directly contributes to an increase in the number of abortions in this country, it will please neither right nor left.
A woman in need of emergency contraception is in a difficult situation, often desperate and emotionally fragile. If refused service, she will naturally assume that refusal represents official company policy. She is unlikely to challenge the employee and demand that someone else fill the prescription. She will go home, agonize, maybe go to another pharmacy, maybe not. She is likely to become pregnant, and then, because of your shortsighted policy, have to face the horrifying prospect of obtaining an abortion at a later date. Shame on you!
Further, as your policy makes clear, an entire store could refuse to fill a prescription. Why else promise to have it filled "at a different pharmacy"? Am I to believe that if an entire store opposes birth control, its employees will nevertheless provide the information necessary to get a prescription filled elsewhere? Where in Fenton did your customer have her prescription filled? If the Target in Fenton refused to deliver birth control, am I to believe a local mom-and-pop operation stepped up in your place? Do you know? I assume you keep a record of these referals?
You just opened a new Target a few blocks from my home in Brooklyn, at the Atlantic Center on Flatbush Avenue. I will not be shopping there again. Nor will my hundred contacts, nor their hundred contacts in Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, Michigan, Florida. A form letter will not get our business back. If you continue kowtowing to religious extremists and refuse service to the vast majority of Americans, you will never get it back.
Thank you for your time.
Friday, October 07, 2005
I'm no Bob Shrum, but I have a few ideas for a Democratic version of the Contract. We have the right to be bold, even visionary. We can over-reach. The public will forgive us. The key is to fearlessly describe the America we all dream of living in. Each item in the Contract should be a direct repudiation of Crony Republicanism.
1) Ban Senators, House members, and political appointees from engaging in legalized bribery - i.e. lobbying - for the length of any Congress or Administration in which they serve. That could mean a 7 year ban from K Street in the case of White House staffers who leave a two-term administration in its first year.
2) Institute public financing of campaigns, and ramp up the McCain-Feingold limits. Choke the influence of corporate cash. Donations to candidates are not a form of free speech - as Mitch McConnell once claimed - they are bribes. I keep hearing candidates say things along the lines of, Enron only donated $10,000 to my campaign. You think I can be bought so cheap? Which I don't consider an entirely rhetorical question. It sounds more like a warning to potential donors that influence costs a lot more than 10 grand. The idea that certain amounts do not affect a poltician is utter bullshit. My brother loans me 40 bucks, I kiss his ass until it's paid back. That's human nature.
3) Push for a Constitutional amendment to eliminate the electoral college and institute direct election of the President. Had this democratic reform been in place in 2000, we wouldn't be discussing this Bushit.
4) Raise the Minimum wage by the exact same percentage that Congressional pay has been raised each of the last ten years. Begin paying male Senators and Congressmen the minimum wage. (Female Senators and Congresswomen can stay at their current pay grade.)
5) Require the conversion of every automobile sold in America to hybrid technology by 2010, rather than the generation GWB has given automakers to come up with hydrogen fuel cell technology. Hybrid technology exists now, and we should begin curtailing our use of Saudi Arabian, Venezuelan, Iranian and Russian oil now.
6) Etc. etc.
I can't think of a better time for a Democratic Contract With America than right now. In a few days we may see Karl Rove being frog-marched out of the White House. If God exists, we may even see the Vice President taken into custody (let me dream). If at that time the Democrats aren't ready to say enough is enough and present the electorate with a real alternative, our best chance will be lost. As others have noted, people want something to vote for, not just against. In the absence of a well-defined alternative to the Republican party, Americans will seek out incorruptible Republicans, those hardy few who will return the party to its true Conservative roots. Some Republicans understand this and they are already stepping up to the plate. Yesterday the McCain bill passed the Senate 90-9. Here we have a Republican standing against torture and the worst offenses of the Cheney Administration (Lindsay Graham and Chuck Hagel also come to mind) while even the bravest Democrats seem content to whisper Me too!
Me too! doesn't win elections. Never has, never will.
Monday, October 03, 2005
It may be hard in times like these to make such fine distinctions, hard to point to a single instance of injustice and say, "Other things are fucked, but this so perfectly epitomizes the true fuckedupness of the world we live in that this must be our singular and unyielding point of attack," but we have no choice. We must prioritize, and having prioritized, we must be willing to point fingers and scream, J'ACCUSE!
So let's dig our conscience and our passion for justice out of the black hole we tossed them in years ago and commit to taking on these corporate Eichmans. Because this isn't about China persecuting a democrat. It's about an American company enabling that persecution. Or as Yahoo put it: "just abiding by local laws." (Sounds a lot like "just following orders" doesn't it?) If we don't put a stop to this, the future of freedom is threatened, and not just in China.
Now I don't Yahoo. I hate their name, their ads, their site and their search engine. But some of you do. Well... STOP! Cancel any and all services you have with the company, urge all your contacts to do the same, and let Yahoo know exactly why you are taking this action. Something along the lines of -
I don't do business with sniveling cowards who suck Communist cock. I don't do business with companies that enable dictatorships to crush democracy.
I once hoped the internet would break the back of totalitarian regimes everywhere by giving people unrestricted access to the marketplace of ideas. Little did I suspect Yahoo would come along and collaborate with the Chinese government in the same way the Vichy government once collaborated with the Nazis, turning over democrats to Chinese authorities just as Vichy once turned over Resistance fighters to the Gestapo. Little did I suspect that you would voluntarily sign the Orwellian "Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the China Internet Industry." Little did I suspect that you would go along to get along, in the name of profits.
If you had the name of that lone hero who stood down an entire column of tanks after Tiananmen Square, would you hand it over to the Chinese authorities if it was the difference between obtaining or not obtaining a lucrative contract?
I will be passing this information along to everyone I know, urging them to boycott your company and all its services, here and around the world. I sincerely hope that our protest, however modest it may now seem, chokes the life out of you, before you choke the life out of Chinese democracy.
a nameless democrat
Monday, September 26, 2005
New Orleans showed us the face of poverty. It is a face we are ordinarily blind to. At long last a society that seems to know no shame was shamed, not by the suffering of a third world country but by our own. The proper way to describe such places in America is third world county. Afterward, polls were taken. (Polls must always be taken!) Something like 60% of white Americans said race had nothing to do with the slow response to Katrina. Something like 80% of black Americans said, The hell you say! Can two groups holding such diametrically opposed views possibly be citizens of the same country? In a sense, no. My own view is that if there had been 100,000 white folks stranded in New Orleans, the government would have built the world's largest hurricane-proof gated community in the same time it took them to get bottled water and buses to the Superdome and Convention Center. At the same time, the real crime of Katrina's victims wasn't being black but being poor.
Is our mutual misundertanding a result of ignorance or bad faith? Maybe both. We are ignorant because the poor eke out an existence far below our country's high-flying cultural radar. We are in bad faith because we don't really want to know about it. Understanding would mean coming to terms with the grinding poverty that is a fact of life for too many Americans and accepting the unpleasant truth that economic policies that benefit us hurt them.
I have a simple fix. Repeal the Bush tax cuts in their entirety and replace them with a kind of Earned Income Tax Credit Plus for the working poor. Most poor Americans work. I hate that, and I hate the phrase coined to describe them. The category "working poor" should not exist in a country as rich as ours, but it does and we have to eliminate it, because a family of four earning $14,000 a year isn't living in poverty. It's living in hell. The credit would work like this: every family that works but earns less than the poverty level will receive a credit from the IRS equal to the difference between their salary and the median salary, which was $30,000 the last time I checked. For example, a family of four that earned $14,000 would receive a $16,000 check from the federal government - about a fifth of the average cut millionaires received under the Bush plan - instantly rendering them middle-class. Call it the Poverty Penalty, or if you prefer, the Jesus Credit (see "The last shall be first"). The difference is that this tax penalty is imposed on the society that would leave its working families indigent, rather than on the workers themselves. A bold reversal of historical trends! It may mean fewer yachts for billionaires, but that is a price we can pay! The beauty part is, this tax credit will encourage the unemployed to take any job no matter how low the pay (hell, it encourages workers to invade the service industries, housekeeping, Wal-Mart, etc.) and it will sunset the second the last American worker is lifted out of poverty, either via the credit itself, or more likely through American companies choosing to pre-empt the Penalty by paying their workers a living wage.
One last suggestion. Every year we get a little closer to Brazil, as the distance between rich and poor grows, and as those who govern from on high - at a safe remove from the floodwaters - have less and less in common with the governed, who are in them up to their neck. If we want policy that does the most good for the most people, our public servants should live as most citizens do. In short, we must eliminate that distance that separates those who govern from the governed. The easiest way to do so is to peg the salary of Senators and House members to the minimum wage. When our leaders have to live on the same pay as the majority of our citizens, a miracle may occur. A new Golden Age of enlightened policy will sweep like floodwaters through the corridors of power, and this flood, unlike the one caused by Katrina, can only benefit the citizens of New Orleans (and other third world counties) as they struggle to keep their heads above water.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s essay, "Forgetting Reinhold Niebuhr", in the September 18 New York Times Book Review and Malcolm Gladwell's article "The Cellular Church" in the September 12, 2005 issue of The New Yorker (not available online) about Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback church and author of the bestselling The Purpose-Driven Life.
The articles are by men who, to paraphrase Niebuhr, take religion seriously if not literally. They are respectful and thought-provoking, and I urge you to read them.
One quote from Gladwell's article sticks in my mind. In The Purpose-Driven Life Warren claims that when Jesus was on the cross, his arms stretched to the breaking point by iron spikes driven through his hands, what he was really saying to us was, "I love you this much."
Excuse me while I puke. Noted theologian Sam Kinnison came much closer to the truth when he suggested that what Jesus was really saying was, "AHHHH! AHHHH! AHHHH!"
Warren's sentimentalized view of Christ's suffering borders on the blasphemous. He takes the most powerful symbol of the Christian faith and reduces its meaning to a hug. I don't expect somebody who got his preacher degree via a correspondence course to have the same theological heft as St. Augustine, but Warren's Lord of the Hug metaphor is so offensive and so fucking dumb it beggars the imagination.
But enough about Rick Warren. Let's talk about Jesus. I've been thinking a lot about something he said in Matthew 10:34.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father;
and a daughter against her mother;
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one's foes will be members of one's own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Jesus obviously never got Warren's memo about "low barriers to entry." I guess they started churches a little differently back in the day. One of the things that confounds and fascinates me about Jesus is that he did everything bassackwards from the point of view of building a popular movement. Take one example: divorce. Jesus tosses the law aside (though he earlier promised not to discard one iota) and says, Screw precedent. Divorce is history. Except for adultery, of course. No man wants a ho for a wife. (I'm paraphrasing.) Jesus makes this pronouncement to the citizens and later directly to the leaders of the ultimate patriarchy. Bobby Brown had his prerogative. One belonging to the men of Jesus' time was to discard a wife pretty much at will. Jesus says NO. Not exactly the best way to make friends and influence Newt Gingrich, as it were.
It also happens to be a strong argument for the importance of women in Jesus' ministry. Combined with Matthew 10:35 (he counts daughters as well as sons among his followers) you can make a solid argument for Jesus as the first feminst. His teaching certainly seems at odds with that of later Church fathers and may even explain the delight so many have taken in the "theology" of Dan Brown's bestselling religious potboiler.
When I read Matthew 10:34 I hear Jesus saying, "My teaching is hard. It's not for everyone. Well, it is for everyone, but everyone won't necessarily like it. Before me there was one way of living. After me, another. Follow me and your own relatives may turn against you, because people will fight tooth and nail not to change their lives." Hence the narrow gate. Today people prefer the supersized gate. Fortunately Jesus didn't conduct a door-to-door focus group before getting started. And while he managed to accumulate just 12 followers at the time of his death (one of whom betrayed him and another who basically said, "Jesus who?") look at the growth in the Jesus industry since! It shows that a durable movement does not, in fact, require low barriers to entry. Movements with the most committed followers tend to the opposite of the Warren model. The popularity of Saddleback does not point to a new Great Awakening. On the contrary, the contemporary churchgoer's preference for Warren's wide gate does not indicate a rebirth of faith but its slow decline.
I want to end on the sword. (No, I'm not suicidal. I mean the one Jesus spoke about.) Schlesinger quotes Niebuhr: "Americans are never safe 'against the temptation of claiming God too simply as the sanctifier of whatever we most fervently desire.'" For me, this is tied to the sword of Christ. I believe the sword is an image Christ used to warn his followers: Accepting me means cleaving yourself in two: there was you before the Word, and there is you after. I am a sword striking at the heart, striking deep inside.
But too many Christians give the verse a different interpretation. In a typically literal - militaristic - reading of scripture, they think the sword can be taken up to smite our enemies. It's the "Team Jesus Sword" sanctifying what we most fervently desire. We are people of the sword; you aren't. We are on Jesus' side; you aren't. What we do is right; what you do is wrong. We will be saved; you will be destroyed.
But can that possibly be the meaning of the man who said, "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other also." In other words: Whoever lifts a hand to defend himself has already committed murder in his heart. This is a difficult teaching to accept in a time of great insecurity. But hasn't the world always been as insecure as it is today? Hasn't the gate always been as narrow?
Monday, September 19, 2005
Intelligent design represents the kind of science once propounded by the Catholic Church (see Galileo). It's science for those afraid of science, afraid that certain facts might force yet another tactical retreat, like the one we all had to make when weather satellites revealed that raindrops were not, in fact, the tears of God.
My scientific training consists of three undergraduate astronomy courses, an anthropology course, and a genetics course. From these I learned there was a good possibility of life existing on other planets and their not contacting us was likely a sign of high intelligence, that our genes have 99% in common with apes but that 1% is the difference between "OOH, OOH, OOH!" and Shakespeare, and that it's highly unlikely my male ancestors had extremely large penises. Apart from that and what I read, I'm a layman. Big time. But as another layman, the late, great Bill Hicks used to say, I've got one word for those who accept the biblical account of creation: DINOSAURS! If all the earth's creatures were created at the same time in their present form, then why doesn't the Bible mention the dinosaurs?
To dinosaurs, I would add another word: carbon dating. OK, that's two words. Polls show nearly half of Americans believe the world was created sometime in the last 6-10,000 years. Most of us have rocks in our yard older than that (especially if you live in the Southwest) and carbon dating proves it. What do the anti-evolutionists believe? That all those finely tuned scientific instruments are part of a wily, reality-based plot? Or that God is using fossils AND rocks to fuck with us? Do they hear the voice of God saying, Who are you gonna believe: Me or your own eyes? Here's a hint: the eyes don't have it. Or else.
Deep down I think Intelligent Design is a movement of faithless, frightened Christians. If you need evolution to be a lie for God to be true, then your God is weak, and your faith is a house of cards. The existence of God will not be proved by denying verifiable facts, no matter how inconvenient. Just ask the Catholic Church. They got burned (or did the burning) to keep dogma's flag flying high above the facts, and it worked, for a few centuries. But in the end faith proved less immune to facts than the Church had hoped, and their influence in Europe collapsed. Before you mention Poland, see Ireland. The church as an intellectual and political force in Europe is dead. People still go to church, yes, but it doesn't influence policy. It barely influences policy here, and no one goes to church more than Americans. Case in point: if Jesus wielded any real political influence you might expect American tax policy to favor the poor, but he doesn't, and it doesn't. I digress. Centuries ago, the Catholic Church forced Galileo to recant, but you can't recant the laws of physics. The Catholic Church has come to terms with that and today accepts the theory of evolution as proven fact. When will evangelicals come around? I'm not holding my breath.
Christians and Conservatives (not always the same thing) have railed against moral relativism for years, yet now they race to prove Nietzsche, its avatar, correct. "There are no facts, only interpretations," the German horse-lover famously asserted. "Precisely!" the theocrats respond. Were they not the ones who insisted, You can have your own opinions but you can't have your own facts! That was then, I guess. This is now. Now you can have your own facts. And if there's a mountain of evidence against you? Don't offer an alternate set of facts. Force people to turn away from the facts we've got, on pain of being called a God hater. The world has turned upside down. Belief is proof. Faith is fact. The poets and post-structuralists must be rolling their graves. What have we wrought?
Yet, this is not your parent's relativism. The relativism of the right is brave and new. It turns out people can't believe anything they want. Not if their belief, their faith, is in the power of human reason, empirical evidence, the scientific method, the effulgent reality of the phenomenal world and the necessity of answering questions on its terms, which would mean accepting that rocks are old, creatures evolve, and George Bush is the WORST PRESIDENT EVER. OK, that last one I just threw in for fun. Such a faith does not exclude God (it didn't for Einstein) but don't tell any of that to the Intelligent Design crowd.
America may be brimming with her own modern-day Galileos, sleepwalking through their days, muttering to themselves, "Yet it turns," cowed not by the Church, but by market forces and a cowardly desire not to rock a boat in which one group seems to control all the ideological ballast.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Now I know that the networks have to fill the day with audiovisual spooge, and I know that the business of America is business (insofar as it lines the pockets of sundry Bush family friends and retainers) but isn't this the crux of the problem we're facing as a nation?
I don't care if it's Fox News, CNBC, Republican fat cats or inner-city Democrats with an entrepreneurial streak, the question to ask about Roberts isn't whether he'll be good for business, but whether he'll be good for America. Those won't always be the same thing, and we need leaders who understand the difference. There's no question Roberts is extremely intelligent. Watching the hearings for five minutes makes that clear. But world history is full of geniuses who were DEAD WRONG.
Maybe it's a desire for simplicity bordering on the simplistic, but shouldn't the test for our leaders as for our policies be this: What will do the most good for the most people? How hard is that to understand? How hard can it be to implement? For example: does it do more good for more people to repeal the Estate Tax, or to reduce payroll taxes for the middle class? Try it with an issue close to your heart. The answers you come up with may surprise you. Wait, scratch that. They won't surprise you. They'll only suprise your fearless leaders.
Friday, September 02, 2005
Across from me a woman was reading The New York Times. On its cover was a picture of the dead body of a woman floating face down in the floodwaters. You don't see that kind of cover very often. In fact, American papers have shown a shameful discretion in the face of the tragic death and destruction in Iraq. We rarely hear, and never see, the worst of it, but Iraq is far away. Most of the suffering afflicts Iraqis, not Americans. New Orleans is different. It's not them; it's us. Something terrible has happened to us, and maybe because one great city recognizes another, the people of New York had the same hush fall over them as in the days after 9/11.
The scariest day of my life wasn't 9/11 but two days later. I was on 23rd Street between Park and Broadway headed for the N train. It's a busy block. There are usually thousands of people about, taxis, buses. The noise level rises to a low roar. New Yorkers are oblivious to it, though tourists tend to find it unsettling. I come from one of the quietest towns in the world, but even I eventually acclimated and now, unless someone is screaming bloody murder, the decibel level doesn't bother me. That day was different. It was the first that many New Yorkers went back to work, and something about it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Something was wrong. About halfway down the block it hit me - nobody was talking. Nobody was saying a word. It wasn't quiet; it was SILENT. Even the taxis and buses were hushed. That was when the magnitude of what had happened really hit me. Something so terrible it literally shut New York up.
That's what it sounded like today.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
The apologetics Brooks practises in his editorial on the Iraqi constitution is so patently dishonest, and in such bad faith, that I had to write him a letter expressing my feelings. I was a little peeved when I wrote it. Please pardon my French. I'm sure you, dear reader, can make the same points in kinder, gentler language, and I encourage you to try.
Remember, tilting at idiots is a noble, if hopeless, calling. Good luck!
Just read your latest, "Divided They Stand" and was impressed by your effort to take the lemon that is the Iraqi constitution and turn it into lemonade. What can I say? You are a complete and utter tool. I thought of going with idiot, or asshole, both of which aptly describe you, as does fatuous, arrogant, Pollyannaish and blind, but in the end I decided that tool captured you best:
1) Tool (n.) American slang; Originally a reference to the male member and now synonymous with suckup, sycophant, gasbag, git, and dickhead.
2) Tool (n.) implement, something made use of. In the sense popularized by the 101st Fighting Keyboardists: useful idiot.
You, Brooks, are a tool. But what I want to know is why?
Did they beat you up one too many times in high school? How else does one come to suffer such a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome? How did you go so wrong, Brooks? How did you become the buttboy for the fratboy who would have most eagerly and brutally mocked you as a child? Watching you sell your soul to justify this bumbling brat, whose fuckups are measured in human lives, makes me want to puke.
By a stunning coincidence, your editorial is running on the same day as news of the latest Sadr-sponsored uprising. His militia killed Casey Sheehan. Do you feel it yet, Brooks? Do you feel what a tool you are? No, I didn't think so. That's the other unmistakable quality of a tool: he doesn't realize he's a tool.
You quoted Ruel Gerecht. Do you also share his feelings about the loss of women's rights in the new Iraqi constitution? He recently said, "I'm not too worried about that." Has it occurred to you that Mr. Gerecht would have uttered the very same words prior to the war if asked about the prospect of American casualties? No doubt there are a good many things Mr. Gerecht never worries about. That doesn't mean the people whose lives are actually affected don't worry (See Safia Taleb al-Souhail) nor does it mean the people whose lives are actually affected don't die (see Casey Sheehan).
David, you're almost funny when writing about the rich and self-satisfied. Like they say, Write what you know. But you don't know shit about Iraq. No piece of paper is going to paper over this Mesopotamian clusterfuck. Why don't you wake up, smell the burqa, and write something honest for a change?
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Sheehan lost a son in Iraq and has emerged as a harsh critic of the war.
Sheehan began a vigil outside Bush’s ranch, a demonstration that has been joined by more and more other anti-war protesters.
Why does the reporter call her a harsh critic? The harshest thing I ever witnessed at a vigil was some mild irritation caused by dripping candlewax.
Cindy Sheehan is a critic of the war, period. You might reasonably describe her as eloquent, or better yet effective, but harsh? Cindy is harshing Bush's mellow, no doubt, but that's hardly the same thing.
Look at her! Calling this woman harsh is like calling Cheney lovable. The reporter intends to discredit Sheehan by painting her criticism as strident, irrational, and mean. That's not news, it's an editorial.
Concern over a single adjective may seem excessive, a matter of semantics, a minor detail, but God, we are told, is in the details, and none of us should tolerate the kind of lazy reporting that conflates partisan talking points with the facts.
Please take a moment to contact the Associated Press and urge them to urge their reporters to cut the crap and stick to the facts.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Whatever you think you know about Robert McNamara, you have never seen or heard him like this. He doesn't draw parallels between Vietnam and Iraq. He talks about Vietnam and the parallels come flying at you like a sortie of B-52 bombers over Hanoi. The parallels are not to the causes of the Iraq war, which one can plausibly, if incorrectly, argue bear no relation to Vietnam. No, the truly shocking parallels are between our current President and LBJ, between Rumsfeld and McNamara, between the misguided strategic thinking going on at the highest levels then and now, and, most tragically, between the errors of judgment and failures of moral imagination that led to unnecessary loss of life. It is a sobering film.
In the run-up to the Iraq war, the best and brightest inside the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department all became enamored of a film called Battle of Algiers, its subject the French war in Algeria. They hoped to learn something about the nature of the Arab enemy and the methods (including torture) employed by the French in their doomed effort to wipe out a relatively small group of "terrorists." The film offers many lessons. Sadly, it was the most important of these lessons that our leaders ignored: the French lost. It is too late to draw further lessons from Pontecorvo's masterpiece. Not so with The Fog of War. I doubt Bush has seen it, and while far from stupid, I suspect he would fail to grasp its implications.
Still, I am prepared to send him my copy, if even one person can promise me it won't get lost in the fog.
The controversy over and ensuing popularity of Toby Keith's pro-war song "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" was still being trumpeted as an important skirmish in the culture wars v.9/11 (though it was his heaping helping of cornpone "Beer for my Horses," that was burning up the country charts that summer). The ony conclusion a liberal could draw was that Toby Keith was an ignernt redneck whose love for his country and hatred of its enemies was blind. And he was damn proud of it. You don't like it? Fuck you and the horse you rode in on! The man had clearly flunked his cultural sensitivity training course at the community college.
Yet as much I disagreed with his lyrics, I couldn't help thinking, I LOVE THIS GUY! Don't get me wrong. Toby Keith is an execrable musician, but his attitude is pure punk. It's an attitude I saw throughout the country pantheon, from gods like Johnny Cash and George Jones right on down to unpolishable turds like Toby Keith.
This was odd because, growing up in Texas, I actively rejected country and everything it stood for. I did so because I was a Texan, and in Texas you were either a shit-kicker or you were not. If you think I'm being insulting, then you don't know that the most popular country music station in Houston was KIKK (pronounced "kick") FM. The only thing standing between KIKK and KKK, as far as I could see, was I. Country music meant the Future Farmers of America, Ropers, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, jingoism, racism and Charlie Daniels, that bearded, big-bellied, fiddle playing devil from the back of beyond. So I threw out Hank Williams and Patsy Cline with the bathwater.
It wasn't until I moved to New York and could listen to the music without the cultural saddle bags attached that I began to hear what I'd been missing. I quickly became a fan of those country musicians that all hipsters are encouraged to love: Hank and Patsy of course (who I always liked anyway, a hell of a lot more than Thomas Dolby or Bananarama) but also Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Cash. After my trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, I discovered Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and dozens of others. And thanks to long days spent behind the wheel listening to the radio, even my resistance to artists like George Strait, someone I remembered well from my anti-shit-kickin' days, began to fade. I fell in love with his hit "Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa," despite the fact that it includes the line, 'Tell me how those old oil wells smell in the wind.' Now that's just bad, but he sang the line with such conviction, such authentic, forthright, unironic, unabashed sincerity, I fell in love with it anyway, warts and all.
Maybe that's the secret. Country music ain't always pretty, musically or politically, but the musicians and the fans don't give a fuck (or as Michael Stipe put it in a non-country song: "They're real; they mean it."). Not giving a fuck, having the spine to sing what you believe whether or not it's popular (or even right) is pure punk. Toby Keith is a punk rocker. Steve Earle is a punk rocker. The Sex Pistols were punk rock, and Johnny Cash was punk. Hell, the fact that he's dead is punk. By contrast, today's self-styled punks - Green Day and Avril Lavigne, to name two - are like the meeting of a black eye-liner pencil and a marketing campaign on an operating table. Punk is dead, long live Country.
Now for some of y'all, the new punk is scary (shouldn't it be?) 'cos some of its I-don't-give-a-fuckness seems like ignorance, pure Red State guff. But most isn't. It's what we in Texas politely call "a little differnce of opinion," and as flaming liberals, aren't we supposed to tolerate those little differences of opinion better than anyone?
As I sit here, the country deep in my bones, I know those differences are indeed little. I know that they pale beside the majesty of the music itself, and that there's a reason even Toby Keith remembered to put a little Blue in his furious punk anthem.
Monday, August 15, 2005
Ah, the vacation... It may appear to be a separate issue, but I believe it is intimately related to the tragedy of Cindy Sheehan's loss and the broader tragedy of our impending failure in Iraq. To paraphrase James Carville: It's the vacation, stupid. Bush's refusal to meet with Cindy Sheehan is unseemly, but no more so than his refusal to attend the funerals of our servicemen and women killed in Iraq, lest in attending one he find himself compelled to attend them all. Attending death, in the sense of acknowledging its true meaning and full weight, is what Bush fears most. To do so would force him to consider the dead in the same way the families do, not as symbols useful for propping up his deranged vision, but as a long and painful series of facts. Human facts. We all know how the President feels about facts. He's been on vacation from them since the beginning. This trip to Crawford is only the most recent physical enactment of an ongoing mental event. Facts don't fit this President's worldview. They must be ignored, kept at a safe distance. And they have been. George Bush is a shallow man, and like most shallow men, he knows better than to set foot in the deep end. So he avoids a confrontation with Cindy Sheehan at all costs, because behind her he sees the ghost of her dead son. George Bush isn't avoiding Cindy. He's avoiding Casey. He is avoiding them all. George Bush sees dead people.
Whether or not anyone else sees Casey's ghost, we all sense a failure of moral imagination in the President's refusal to meet with her, and this sense is magnified because, in theory, he has nothing better to do right now, nothing but time on his hands. Why can't he walk, jog or mountain bike down the driveway and talk to this poor woman? So what if he talked to her before? She's changed her mind about the war and about him. That makes her what? Like a lot of other Americans? She gave her son. She gave the President a piece of her heart. She's earned the right to give him a piece of her mind.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
I sometimes think George Bush is a closet Taoist, so patient is he. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, that is if Dickie and Turdblossom say it's OK for me to take that step. If not, nevermind. I don't want to get on the wrong side of Karl Rove, know what I'm saying? Whatever bold new initiative W may propose, you can be sure the deadline will coincide with the college graduation of your great great grandniece.
I've been stewing about it since he came out in favor of the hydrogen fuel cell engine, which is a little like coming out in favor of penicillin during a polio epidemic. NO SHIT, SHERLOCK! The question isn't if we should replace the internal combustion engine, but when. If you went back in time and told Karl Benz, who developed the first practical automobile powered by the internal combustion engine - in 1885 - that we'd still be using the same technology over a century later, he'd scheisse his lederhosen. What apocalypse, he would ask, interrupted the march of progress and science? What epic disaster stopped the industrial revolution in its tracks? What gang of idiots left future generations dependent on a technology that was intended only as a single step on the journey toward better, cleaner modes of transport? The oil companies? Ach, I should have known.
With the leadership we currently enjoy, Herr Benz will be rolling in his grave for another generation at least. Let us harken to George Bush's clarion call to action:
With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.
A child born today? Is he giving the best minds in America EIGHTEEN YEARS to build a new car engine? Jaysus Christ, George. It ain't rocket science! This is rocket science:
Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it - we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.
Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation.
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain. Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others,too.
Read the whole thing. You'll weep recalling we once had Presidents of this caliber. Kennedy gave that speech at Rice University, in my hometown of Houston (yup, Texas, folks) at a time when NASA was planting glorified oil drums atop ICBMs and sending America's craziest and bravest into low earth orbit. Walking on the moon must have seemed as improbable at that time as the prospect of a family picnic on Mars seems today. As improbable as the Rice Owls beating the Texas Longhorns, in case you didn't get the joke. (My guess is Lyndon wrote that line.) But did Kennedy say, "Look y'all, it's hard work. We'll get around to it when your children's children are collecting their privatized Social Security checks." No. He declared the time is now. And Americans rose to the challenge, as we always do. Where do we find a similar vision today? Certainly not in the White House. John F. Kennedy made a promise to the future, one kept not in the the eight years allotted, but in seven. George Bush demands over twice that time to come up with a modified lawnmower. See the differnce?
I sometimes imagine a race of murderously judgmental aliens roaming the galaxy trying whole worlds. They finally reach earth and must decide whether our planet deserves to be spared. Our court-appointed defense attorney, young, idealistic, has reams of evidence in our favor: Homer, Dante, the poetry of Rilke, the music of Bach and the Beatles, Van Gogh, Matisse, Brancusi, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, the cinema of Bresson, Kurosawa... "They invented Music, Art, Love, God! Please, just listen to this Bill Monroe album! Could we have invented Bluegrass? No! Not in a million years. They must be spared!" the young idealist pleads.
Then the prosecutor steps to the bar, clears his throat. "They still use the internal combustion engine."
"Say what? When did they invent it?" the judge would like to know.
"1876, by their calendar."
"What year is it now?"
"Case closed," says the judge, as he reaches for the big RED BUTTON...
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Can anyone doubt music is the greatest of the arts? If I could sing I would never have gone to film school. Hearing a new sound, a great line, makes me feel eighteen again, and after a certain age (hint: 30) that is a very nice feeling. So:
1. Keep discovering new music. It continually awakens feelings you didn't know, or may have forgotten, you had.
2. Keep reading poetry. It reminds you that few valuable insights have anything to do with money.
3. Keep making love. It's great for your skin, and your soul.
4. Keep changing your mind. It means you learned something new and acted on it. If you're beyond learning and taking action, you might as well be dead. Or a pundit.
5. Keep trying to change the world. If you think it's too late, see 4.
6. Keep moving. Literally. A little kinetic activity now and again goes a long way - dancing, riding in the Tour de France, getting up to change the channel. It all helps.
7. Stop celebrating your birthday. If you can't remember how old you are, you never have to worry about acting your age. Acting your age past 30 is a death sentence.
8. Travel. Even if it's just down the road, new sights keep the mind and heart alive.
9. Be kind. It shocks people, which is funny when you think about it. It also feels good.
11. Keep adding to this list.
Monday, August 01, 2005
Up until now, we are being told, the hearts and minds message was lacking. Unfocused. Or simply, like Phase IV of the Iraq War, marked "TBD." Messaging was the real problem! But now we're on it. We're gonna say the right things.
These ones really work, guys.
THE WONDER TWINS
Form of...an idiot. Shape of...abject failure.
I'm no different from George Peppard's cigar-chomping "Hannibal" Smith of A-Team fame: I love it when a plan comes together. So I was excited to hear the President put his most trusted counselor in charge of the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy - no, not Karl Rove, you can already smell the burnt on him, he's toast- Karen Hughes, mother of John! If she's smart, she'll hire Weiden + Kennedy, the ad agency that turned Nike into such a successful worldwide brand with just a swoosh and a slogan. I'm sure they can do the same for Brand America, once George agrees to shut his pie-hole and outsource all his speeches to Tony Blair.
Deep down, though, I don't reckon Karen Hughes, for all her Texas charm (well, I see it - she reminds me of my elementary school teachers), will make a damn bit of difference, because George isn't going to outsource his speeches. More importantly, he isn't going to outsource his thinking. If you want to know what chance this man has of bringing the world together, just look at how well he's done at home. Look at all the uniting going on right here. No divider, he. (Must resist irony, must say it straight.) Here it is straight: a President whose theory of leadership is to divide and conquer doesn't stand a snowball's chance in Texas of winning this thing we're in, no matter what he chooses to call it. (GOTME?)
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Now for today's sermon...
America has passed through several Great Awakenings in the course of her history. Individuals usually have one or two of their own. Mine came in the seventh grade, when my science teacher explained the theory of the Big Bang (that's right you flat earthers, you deniers of carbon dating, stop fighting evolution, it's cosmology you should really be afraid of). I was making my First Communion at the time and full of big questions like: "But who created God?" The answers I received in my CCE classes were unsatisfactory. The Big Bang, on the other hand, blew my mind wide open. It grabbed hold of me and shook me awake. It explained so much randomness and evil. It also left a gaping hole where God had been. If I didn't need God to create the world, then what did I need him for? I tried to hold on to Him, deciding that maybe God was responsible for other things. Maybe He wasn't the architect of the universe, maybe he was the janitor. I tried to find a place for Him in my evolving conception of life, but He became smaller and smaller. Even if he only created Man, well, Man is a mess. How can a perfect Being create Man in his image, and Man be such an unmitigated disaster? The priests tell us it's because God gave Man free will. But if He knew we'd only use our free will to take a ten thousand year shit all over His creation, why would he give it to us in the first place? God is omniscient, after all. He's known from the beginning how it was all going to go down.
Besides, if it is so important that we freely choose good, why are there jails? We don't allow criminals to go on using their free will after they prove unworthy of it. Why would God allow us this criminal freedom? Ah, to test us! But I despise this vision of God. The SAT God. Just testing you, folks! Bullshit. Who can accept a God who sits in heaven fucking with his creation, you know, just for the fun of it. It can't be very satisfying for the Lord of the Universe. When I look around I see a handful of people, at best, worthy to enter heaven: Socrates, Lao Tzu, Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Henry Miller, Mother Theresa (yes, I read Hitchens' book, but come on!). I'm sure your short list would be different, and that's fine, but it would be short. Many are called, few are chosen. I can just hear Jesus now: "Dad, what can I say? You were right and I was wrong. I kept giving you shit about the Flood, kept begging for one more chance to redeem those nasty fuckers. I really believed it would work, but it's been two thousand years since I let them nail me to that stinking cross, and look at them. Have they learned anything? Fuck 'em. They don't deserve to live. I say Kill 'em all, let You sort 'em out!" Well, that's what I'd be saying if I was Jesus. I hope it's not blasphemous to admit I sometimes put myself in Jesus' place. Isn't that what we're supposed to do? From The Imitation of Christ to WWJD? Christians have been urged to get into Jesus' head, his heart, his life. So even now I try, and on those rare occasions when I succeed, I see one pissed-off dude.
These are the thoughts of a religious atheist. I gave up my faith, but it refused to give up on me. I keep thinking about God. Trying to understand what He was trying to do, what He hoped for this world, and how I can work to fulfill His wishes. So what if He doesn't exist. He is still the image of perfection. I'd rather aspire to His will than to fame or fortune. (Sure, I could go on Fear Factor and eat stewed maggots with the best of them, but it would leave me feeling so empty.) It took me many years to admit I didn't believe in God anymore. I thought if I admitted I didn't believe in Him, He would strike me down. (There's a good Catholic for you!) Yet I never became strident in my newfound Godless Communism. I never ridiculed faith, nor those lucky enough to have it, as I always saw my own loss of faith as a tragedy, not as some joyful release from cant. Think about it. Take one look at this fucked up world and tell me it makes you happier to think there is no one to tally our deeds, to reward the just and punish the wicked. Without faith, however irrational, I sometimes think the world would annihilate itself in a matter of weeks. Belief is the hand staying our appetite for destruction. We know the impulse to rape, pillage and destroy, but something holds us back (at least from going all the way down that path). That something is fear of God. His existence is irrelevant. We all doubt it, but all secretly suspect. He's up there! He sees me! I better put that cookie back in the jar! Everyone secretly fears they'll be held to account for their actions. It makes you grateful for fear.
In some ways I'm more involved with the Lord today than when I believed in Him. I am attracted to God, even more to His Son. I hover on the edge of faith. Growing up in Houston I used to watch preachers and healers on late night TV: Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn. They were good, no doubt about it. They had something. I often listened to their low rent cousins on the radio. It was gripping. God just grips you, even when you don't believe in Him. I will never pass up a chance to listen to someone's testimony. In college, street preachers and latter-day prophets often stopped by campus to proclaim the Good News. I made it a point never to miss one. I never minded their presence in my secular world. Sometimes I was so moved I would cry. Then I'd go back to my dorm, drink liquor, take drugs, fuck my girlfriend without a condom and know that if there was a hell, I was surely going to it. Oh well.
I take the faithful seriously. I take the extremely faithful extremely seriously. I myself still love Jesus, even though I don't believe He was the Son of God (there is no God, so how can He be?). The hypocrisy of those who do believe in Him - who talk the talk but can't seem to walk the walk - infuriates me more than it does God (if He existed). Sometimes I want to SCREAM: What part of "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven" don't you understand? What part of "Blessed are the peacemakers" don't you understand? Their Sanitized, Reaganized, Ayn Randified, Fully Incorporated, Limited Liability G.I. Joe Jesus makes me want to puke. My sole consolation is that, should they turn out to be right - if there is a God watching over us and His justice awaits - then none of their deeds has escaped his omniscient eye. No need to start a homegrown Baader-Meinhof gang. Henry Kissinger is already toast! So is George Bush. I just wish I could see his face when he finally faces St. Peter and is asked about the Iraq War.
What about all the innocent civilians who were killed because you started this war? The women, the children, the men who were tortured to death though innocent?
Um...but I was saving even more from a monster! Saddam Hussein! He killed hundreds of thousands during his reign. He was a devil!
Didn't your father supply him with the weapons he used to murder those innocents? Didn't your own Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, once go to Baghdad and shake his hand, after he gassed the Kurds?
He'd only gassed Iranians at that point. D'oh!
Besides, we're not talking about what Saddam Hussein did. We're talking about what you did.
But I meant well.
Yes, I know. You'll find your intentions over there, on that road...
(Saint Peter indicates the ROAD TO HELL.)
Now get going!
Say hello to Saddam for me!
Of course, I doubt Christians of this stripe really and truly believe in God. If they did they would already know He is watching and weighing every deed and they wouldn't be behaving the way they do.
There's a great Lenny Bruce line about the city I now call home: "In New York, even if you're Catholic, you're Jewish." Maybe I find that joke so funny because I was raised in the first faith he mentions and decided to marry a nice girl from the latter, so in my case it has become literally true. Maybe it's because I've always felt the two faiths have so much in common (above all their staggering preoccupation with guilt). I know Lenny wasn't making a statement about theological affinities. He was suggesting the overwhelming influence of Jewish culture on this amazing city. But the Church I was raised in also has its domain of overwhelming influence. It's called the world.
You can guess from the way I turned out, I never really got along with the Church. When it wasn't boring it seemed downright crazy. I've begun reading in Apologetics, that misguided attempt of religion to explain itself rationally. Catholic apologetics begins with the Church's belief that the Eucharist is the actual body of Christ, and that the wine is his actual blood. Aside from the humorlessness of this literal interpretation of Christ's words in John 6:51 - I mean, if Jesus really wanted the disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood, they could have done it right then and there, with Peter taking the left forearm and Judas the right foot - there is the more disturbing fact that every time a Catholic takes communion he is cannibalizing the Son of God. For Christ's sake! And don't get me started on Original Sin - if God knows all from all eternity, then he knew Eve would not be able to resist the temptation to eat the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge. For that matter he knew the serpent would tempt her. So why did he create the serpent and why did he plunk that fucking tree down RIGHT THERE! It don't make sense. The story just doesn't hold holy water.
Yeah, well, there are a lot of problems with the concept of God. Too many. That's why I gave Him up for Lent. But He refuses to give me up. So here I am. Here's my version of the joke: "In the Church, even if you're an atheist, you're Catholic." What more can I say? I am, and I am.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Back in philosophy class, we used to call this a false disjunct. Which would you rather have - higher taxes, or your freedom (the freedom that comes from keeping every bloody penny you earn, accumulating a mountain of untaxed wealth, using it to build a McMansion surrounded by razor wire, a minefield, and a twenty foot high electric fence, paying a high school dropout - or more likely, an unemployed veteran of the Iraq war - minimum wage to guard the perimeter while you cower inside, cradling your flat screen HDTV and hoping against hope that when the time comes he'll muster the courage, on your behalf, to open fire on the ravening hordes of homeless children fucked over by a bankrupt government...WAIT! There is no government, because there are no more taxes to pay for all those frivolous things governments do, like educate those children for "free," or protect us from Osama Bin Laden)...well, which do you want? BECAUSE THOSE ARE YOUR ONLY FUCKING CHOICES, AMERICA! GOT IT?
Just kidding. That was a false disjunct, or in the vulgate, bullshit. Real Americans see through bullshit pretty easily. Which is why BP casts fake real Americans in their ads. Instead of seeing through bullshit, fake real Americans say things like: "Give up my car? That's like asking me to give up chocolate!" (The fake real American in the offending BP spot looks like the kind of woman for whom giving up a Whitman's Sampler now and again would indeed constitute a hellish sacrifice.) But let's leave her eating disorder out of it for a minute and parse what's really going on here.
What's really going on is very simple. BP is lying. BP is lying because it's a big fat greedy bastard of an oil company with a lousy environmental record - one of the worst - and it wants to distract us from that black and viscous fact by showing that fake real Americans think cleaning up the environment is so dang crazy it's like taking chocolate from a fat lady. How else view policy changes that would result in Americans using less BP product? (Then again, eating lots of chocolate won't result in THE END OF LIFE AS WE KNOW IT. Unless you're this guy.)
It's the same bait and switch Trent Lott pulled the last time Congress was thinking of hiking fuel economy standards. You may remember him standing on the floor of the Senate next to a very large photograph of a very small car that he famously derided as a "purple people eater." It was a masterful bit of fearmongering: You raise gas mileage, you die!
Except that it isn't true. Death is not the only alternative to a more fuel efficient car. Just as walking is not the only alternative to a cleaner environment. Of course, if BP can convince you otherwise, you are likely to be far more indulgent of its environmental incontinence. Look, America, we have no choice. We've got to pump more and more oil, and you've got to consume it, and when you pump oil, well, spill happens.
Please contact BP and tell them to cut the bullshit. But be polite. Don't call it bullshit. Call it a false disjunct.
Friday, July 15, 2005
It seemed clear to me the Chairman had his tart little tongue planted firmly in his populist cheek, but the joke went right over the heads of our party Olympians. Which isn't surprising - most of them long ago evicted their sense of humor to make room for preening self-importance. This was exemplified by the performance of Joe Biden. Damn Joe, what kind of Democratic party is it if we can't even hate rich people anymore? The whole thing makes me want to scream. WHAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHEEEEYAAAAH! Damn. That felt good. (I finally understand where you were coming from, Howard.)
It's telling that the current leadership will instantly marshal all the passion and eloquence at its command to decry one of their own, but not to defend the party's honor. What sane woman wants to date a man who refuses to defend himself when attacked by some asshole in a bar? What sane man wants to date a woman who constantly bitches about her friends? Yet this is how we behave. Is it any wonder we keep striking out with voters? They see how we treat our own and they are disgusted. Instead of taking on the asshole in the bar, we think we can get the girl by becoming Asshole Lite. Or we think we can improve our individual fortunes at the expense of our friends. My mom knew better. She used to tell me and my brother, "If you can't think of anything nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all." It's homespun wisdom the Democratic party would do well to follow. As I don't expect it to do so, let me couch my advice in terms more likely to touch the power hungry heart.
Dear Senator Biden et al.,
You are not helping. You are not helping yourself, and you
are not helping your party.
NOW SHUT THE FUCK UP!
A final note on ideology. "Centrist" Democrats claim that Howard Dean can never lead the party back to power because he is too extreme. He is accused of waging "class warfare," by which the chickenshit - er, centrist - wing means he should stop reminding everyone that a worker who puts in 40 hours a week ought to damn well make enough to live on. (Radical stuff!) I would remind these centrists of another "extremist" who continued to stand up for what he believed in after initially leading his party to massive electoral defeat. His name was Barry Goldwater.
Today we have a name for the Goldwater progeny: President, Senate Majority Leader, and Speaker of the House.
Monday, July 11, 2005
The list I'm talking about was compiled by the nattering nabobs of negativity over at Human Events magazine, where a committee of unreconstructed reactionaries recently selected the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. There were some real surprises:
4) The Kinsey Report. Kinsey's research merely confirmed what we all already suspected: our parents are (or at least were) freaks. His crime, according to the brain trust at Human Events, was "to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy." Is that what talking honestly about sex does? I personally think MTV does a much better job of normalizing promiscuity and deviancy, though I admit to lingering doubts about their scientific credentials.
7) The Feminine Mystique. Headline: Betty Friedan Nearly Upsets Karl Marx as Das Kapital Ekes Out 6th Place on Stupidest List Ever! Human Events apparently holds Friedan single-handedly responsible for tricking impressionable females into believing they might find more satisfaction in the workplace than the kitchen. Plus, she banged a communist. Why all the outrage? Communists are hot! (I base this entirely on Garbo's performance in Ninotchka.) More shocking is that Friedan opens a six-pack of whup-ass on Nietzsche, whose Beyond Good and Evil is relegated to 9th place. How can anyone take seriously a group that thinks women are scarier than Germans!
I don't know much about Human Events beyond their low opinion of human events these past 200 years (typical conservatives!) but I am generally of the opinion people should do whatever the hell they want, be it watching NASCAR, machine-gunning ripe fruit, engaging in consensual "sayex" with their cousins, or making lists - Don't Tread on Me You Can Do Whatever The Fuck You Want, that's my motto - but there is something rotten about the Human Events list...something that reeks of...what is that stink? Oh yeah! National Socialism. The Nazis too compiled lists of harmful books. Then they burned them. Remember what Heine said about book burning: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen." He was right, of course. Compiling lists of dangerous books is a prelude to eliminating them. Given that a book is nothing more than a collection of ideas, and ideas call the human mind home, such a list is a prelude to eliminating human beings, lest they precipitate more untoward human events. I'm not saying some of these books (Mein Kampf, for example) haven't proved harmful. No, wait, that's exactly what I'm saying: BOOKS DON'T KILL PEOPLE; PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE. If you want their bad ideas to die like a dog in the street, send them into the street, where they can be exposed to that glorious disinfectant, sunshine.
I do go on. Forgive me. This is my first entry and I was rushed. (As Goethe said, "If I had more time, I would write a shorter letter.") In the past my response to such instances of stupid shit has been to try and ignore it, fail, and then stew about it, becoming a little more aggrieved at the state of the world while doing exactly nothing about it. No more. This time my indignation actually produced a tangible result: a letter. I've never written a letter to the editor before, but the idiotarians at Human Events awakened the slumbering beast within. I started this blog to tell you about it, to encourage you to awake and scream. No more free passes for stupid shit! Fighting back is good for your mental health. Besides, it can be fun. I've reprinted my letter below in the hope that it will encourage you to compose one of your own and send it to the editors at Human Events. Be sure to copy me if you do. I'll try to post a few of the cheekier efforts right here.
Subject: 'Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries'
Thank you for providing me with a good laugh and the reassurance that, as Dick Cheney might say, your movement is in its death throes.
Harry Crocker? Fred Smith? Prof. Brad Birzer of Hillsdale College? (Isn't that where Humbert Humbert taught English to fawning bobbysoxers in Lolita?) Your panel of has-beens and intellectual bottom feeders isn't qualified to judge a Gong Show episode, much less discuss political theory or the history of Western Philosophy. We both know most of them have never read the books on this list. (Do you expect me to believe Phyllis Schlafly is actually literate?) And seeing the promoter of the Swift Boat Liars given a forum in which to decry one of the great minds the Western philosophical tradition - I mean Nietzsche, not Ralph Nader - is enough to make a stone cry.
Good luck to you on your next list, in which Ann Coulter will select the 'Ten Most Harmful Dialogues of Plato' and demand of Socrates' ghost, "Why do you hate Athens?"