Friday, March 31, 2006
fri rdm 10 - running in circles edition
Had to turn off NPR ... Know-nothing Tancredo was giving me a headache with his hateful nativist rhetoric. Luckily, I’ve got today’s tunes:
- "Sweet F.A.” - Sweet
- "Bought and Sold” - Neko Case
- "Keep it Up” - Boomtown Rats
- "Bluer Than Midnight” - The The
- "Tramp on Your Street” - Shaver
- "Call My Name” - Allison Moorer
- "The Motion of Love” - Gene Loves Jezebel (how the hell did THIS get in here?)
- "Come to Mama” - Koko Taylor
- "Heart of Gold” - Neil Young
- "It Ain’t Easy” - David Bowie
Speaking of racist nativist assholes, Molly Ivans has a few common sense rebuttals to offer:
This brings us to the great Republican divide on the issue. Conservatives, in general, are anti-immigrant for the same reasons they have always been anti-immigrant—a proud tradition in our nation of immigrants going back to the days of the Founders, when Ben Franklin thought we were going to be overrun by Germans. But Business likes illegal workers. The Chamber of Commerce lobbies for them. They’re lobbying now for a new bracero program. What a bonanza for Bidness.
Old-fashioned anti-immigrant prejudice always brings out some old-fashioned racists. This time around, they have started claiming that Mexicans can’t assimilate. A sillier idea I’ve never heard. Why don’t they come to Texas and meet up with Lars Gonzales, Erin Rodriguez and Bubba at the bowling alley. They can drink some Lone Star, listen to some conjunto and chill.
Racists seem obsessed by the idea that illegal workers—the hardest-working, poorest people in America—are somehow getting away with something, sneaking goodies that should be for Americans. You can always avoid this problem by having no social services. This is the refreshing Texas model, and it works a treat.
Have a good Friday, and I hope you manage to have a racist, nativist, asshole free weekend.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Stop Snitching?--The Duke Lacrosse Team Hears You Silent and Clear
Yesterday, I read the front page story on USA Today on the phenomenon known as “Stop Snitching", which of course, rather stridently urges witnesses to crime to keep their mouths shut. Let me be the first to say that I’m repulsed by this. I understand the disgust at police informants who give to police information (or what the police want to hear) while they can get away with whatever it is that they want, I have no sympathy for the fools that prey on folks in the community. Save your sob story.
Having said that, however, what’s new here, other than the T-shirt and matching cap? It’s not new to neither the mafia nor the police ...
...and it’s most certainly NOT a new concept to the Duke University Lacrosse Team.
And isn’t it funny that their likenesses aren’t splashed on the cover of a major newspaper?!
The details of this savagery are almost too much for me to type, so I include a link here for a timeline--particularly for those who may not yet be able to handle the details. I honestly feel physically repulsed just by reading them myself.
While I don’t believe the entire team was involved (and in an ironic twist, the lone Black team member is not a suspect), it is clear that a) more than a few of them know what happened and b) they are punks of the lowest order for hiding what they know.
Now usually, our culture usually loves a story like this. It’s like a good horror movie: we are repulsed by the evil perpetrator who preys on (usually) women who will slip on a tree branch and fall and who face certain gruesome death; then cheer on the good guys who will slay the evildoer and live happily ever after. This story here, however, is a good bit different. The suspects are white and presumably upper class (the race/class of folks whose morality we are not fixated on...you know, our “betters"). This “damsel in distress” (hey, I hate that term too, but stay with me) is notblonde but rather, African-American and was working as an exotic dancer (you know, the race/gender of folks whose morality we ARE fixated on...you know, who we are superior to). Finally, there were the racial epithets. Don’t ya just HATE those times when you can’t pretend that racism doesn’t exist! Damn!
Outside of ABC, which of course, owns ESPN and therefore finds this too big a story to ignore (who said corporate consolidation wasn’t a good thing?! ) this story hasn’t received the saturation coverage of other stories of this type. I wonder why…
So of course, here are all my dumb points and questions--and hell yeah, they are dumb because folks pretend to not know the answer to them, and we all do.
First--and this has always vexed me--what is this pernicious double standard of enjoying an exotic dancer’s work and then cursing her? Curse your own goddamned self. No means no--all the goddamned time. If you hate you, take your violence out on yourself, no one else.
Second--since the thugs in question are white, all of a sudden, everyone starts remembering the Constitution. Isn’t it just funny how when we sympathize with the criminals, everyone starts talking about their rights?Oh, they have rights. They are presumed innocent. Let’s not rush to judgement. And my favorite? Oh my gawd, it’s a mob mentality going on down there!, which of course is just too rich, given our lynch-crazy history. While it’s true that they do have legal protections, I don’t hear a mumbling word about not rushing to judgement with criminal suspects who happen to be African-American. We care so much about the rights of the Duke Lacrosse team because we don’t give a hot damn about the victim who was so viciously brutalized. And why is that?
But hey, these are just “boys”, just “college kids” and we should cut them a break? No. They are criminals and should be treated as such.
So. I want to see justice, and the first step down to this path is to stop acting like this story doesn’t exist. It does. Violence against women and racism isabhorrent and needs to be dealt with. Severely. Stop the BS.
Oh yeah--and the next time I hear someone sniffing about reparations by saying, That was a long time ago--it has nothing to do with the present. I’ll remind them of the comment, “Thank your grandpa for my cotton shirt.” From thattelling throwaway line to that awful, savage act, this country’s slavery legacy is not so far in the past, now is it?
There a very good site called Justice 4 Two Sisters which is following the story. I would encourage everyone to link to them.
How "I Zimbra" Saved Me, and Made Me a Humanist
GADJI BERI BIMBA CLANDRIDI
LAULI LONNI CADORI GADJAM
A BIM BERI GLASSALA GLANDRIDE
E GLASSALA TUFFM I ZIMBRA
BIM BLASSA GALASSASA ZIMBRABIM
BLASSA GLALLASSASA ZIMBRABIM
A BIM BERI GLASSALA GRANDRID
E GLASSALA TUFFM I ZIMBRA
GADJI BERI BIMBA GLANDRIDI
LAULI LONNI CADORA GADJAM
A BIM BERI GLASSASA GLANDRID
E GLASSALA TUFFM I ZIMBRA
It is a little silly to narrow down the development of a worldview to one particular moment, to a particular song or place or kiss or sunset. It’s probably better to say that “I Zimbra”, performed live by Talking Heads at Poplar Creek, on the tour immortalized by Stop Making Sense, was a transcendent moment for me, an epiphany. If I were Saul standing on my seat, then “I Zimbra” was the lightning bolt that helped me make the final leap on a journey I’d already been on for much of my young life.
I’d been looking for transcendent moments from a very young age. My grandmother gave me my first Bible, one of those multivolume picture Bibles, when I was very young. Third grade, maybe. I loved the stories, the pictures. They really are great stories. I loved big stories, heroic stories, Bibles and comic books and Jesus Christ Superstar and Star Wars.
I was a contemplative kid in a lot of ways, had a habit of hiding somewhere with a book off by myself, pondering Big Questions when I should have been running around. My little GE black-and-silver-plastic 9 volt AM radio would be chittering away by my ear, the way music has shouted into my ears through a succession of wonderful magic devices over the years. I was looking around for connections.
Through those years, various relatives and friends would bring me to church, different churches, different denominations. My parents didn’t take us to church. We would all go together when we were visiting church-going relatives at holidays, or for funerals and weddings, but other than those occasions they didn’t go. My father felt that you needed the Golden Rule, and the rest of it you had to work out for yourself. I think he was right.
In any event, something in me was curious. People seemed so happy, at least the ones not gossiping, and I wanted in on the secret. When the service would get going, when those buzzing little fingers of connection would start to seize hold of me, I would sense what people would call the Holy Spirit, or the Lord, or whatever name they gave that frisson of connection. It would feel good, at first, then I’d draw back, unwilling to surrender my core, my self, to this new intrusion, no matter how seductive it felt. Feeling it focused through some man shouting, or whispering even, a bunch of words, felt wrong somehow. I couldn’t say why, but it did. This upset me, because so many people obtained meaning from this connection, this thrill, and I feared I was unwilling to accept it for myself.
This brings us back to the Talking Heads, one warm summer when I turned 20, a steamy night and a great crowd. I was having a blast with some friends. We were surrounded by hot, sweaty fans, people singing along to this strange band that was slowly filling the stage before us. The show had started with just David Byrne, the Big White Suit, a boombox, stool and guitar. With each number, more and more musicians filled the stage, until the whole complement was there and they launched into I Zimbra.
We were all dancing, all swaying, all chanting along with these wonderfully chewy lyrics so full of meaning yet not part of any language. The whole crowd, as one, together, a feeling of joy, of connection, of the warmth of humanity and music and rhythm and sex and Mother Nature’s warm breezes wicking away the salty water off of our sweaty faces. It was THAT FEELING, that same wonderful feeling that had felt wrong in all the churches where I’d previously felt it.
THE ... SAME ... FEELING.
It wasn’t the words, or the creeds, or the man up in front of us with the suit. IT WAS US. People, focusing their hopes and dreams and bodies and energies all in the same direction. The rhythm of the music had helped us to focus, as any member of a Drum Circle or Qawwalis group or Gospel choir could tell you, but the power, the energy, the feeling of hope and optimism came from US.
I Zimbra saved me from dry words and lifeless creeds. Power, life, redemption and love and forgiveness and meaning came from PEOPLE. WE create it. WE give life meaning. HUMANITY. Not one take on it, but ALL the different songs and illuminated texts and rituals and buildings built for gods or spirits are all just reflections on the energies we have in us. There’s nothing supernatural about it. Human beings create the world around you, the meanings they impart on that world. We remake ourselves and our very environments just by being human. For some reason this scares us, we seek to avoid it and move that power outside, embody it in some talisman or book or symbol or atmospheric phenomenon. Yet when we all get together we can channel enormous forces.
I think this is why the fundamentalists of all stripes are so afraid of popular culture and non-approved art and music and dancing and so very many other things. Everytime you stumble across the connection in some place, doing some thing, other than church is a threat to their power over you. It’s a threat that you may learn that YOU HAVE THE POWER.
Now, this is no great insight that no one has had before, but it is an insight we all have to have for ourselves. We might find it in the elegant equations of physics or between the thighs of a lover, but the power is ours, the connections are ours. In fact, the very words of the various prophets, gods and saviors haved used across multiple cultures have made the same observation, time and again. I think this is one reason why the actual beatitudes are so seldom quoted. I think this is why religions so often focus on rules and rituals instead of the actual meanings. The collection plates would go unfilled, their cozy bank accounts unfattened, their adoring flocks no longer at beck and call.
One hot summer night, a short lifetime of searching and a weird geeky art-punk band all came together for me. Now I can find it in the songs of so many, in paintings and books and in sunrises. It’s within our power to start taking care of each other. All we have to do is accept the responsibility, and the joy, that comes from making that decision.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Abramoff Gets 5 Years and 10 Months: Now the Big Canary Will Sing Louder Than Pavarotti
Disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a business partner were sentenced Wednesday to five years and 10 months in federal prison, the minimum they faced for fraud related to their 2000 purchase of the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet.
Abramoff and Adam Kidan both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud, but they won’t have to report to prison immediately. The judge postponed their reporting date for at least 90 days so the two can continue cooperating in a Washington corruption investigation and a Florida probe into the killing of former SunCruz owner Konstantinos Boulis. Both deny roles in the killing. Abramoff pleaded guilty in connection with the corruption probe but has yet to be sentenced.
This is just the first of many sentences for Abramoff. He’s going to be singing even louder now as he can sense that this 6 year sentence is going to look like a long weekend if he doesn’t make headway in his plea bargain. In order to exit prison under 80 years of age he’s going to have to offer up some really big fish.
See Jack sing. See Jack scream.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
A Beautiful Post at Body & Soul
Jeanne at Body & Soul has written a beautiful post about where we stand today in America, about the great promise that today’s Democrats have failed to fulfill:
When I was a little kid, in the fifties, I thought Roosevelt was still president, because he was the only one my mother ever talked about. My first understanding of controversy in politics came in fifth grade, when we had to choose a president to write a report on. I chose Roosevelt, of course, but I was certain everyone else would too, and that I’d have to come up with a second choice. I didn’t. I remember going home and calling my mother at work to tell her how lucky I was. Out of the whole class, I was the one who got to do Roosevelt, and everyone else had to settle for the second-rate presidents.
My mother gently pointed out that maybe I got Roosevelt because no one else wanted him.
How was that possible? Everyone knew Roosevelt was the best. Lincoln was pretty good, too. But Roosevelt was the best.
Not everybody liked Roosevelt, she said. He tried to help people like us. People who already had everything didn’t want that.
She writes movingly of her mother, of what the Democratic Party once claimed to stand for, and how that unfinished project haunts us still. She continues:
I suddenly realized I’m still voting for Roosevelt, even though he died before I was born, and even when I can find very little of him in the candidates I’m offered. The man earned two generations of loyalty on a not entirely filled promise. It won’t continue. My 21-year-old son has voted Green at least a couple of times. (He hasn’t told me all his votes. I don’t think he wants to break my heart). Two generations of loyalty is about all even the greatest president can earn.
Democrats have to start earning it again.
I hope she doesn’t mind me excerpting so much of it, but adding a bunch of words will only get in the way.
I had a surprising experience with this yesterday, with the way people can swing wildly between their worse and better angels. I drove a very conservative elderly neighbor to the hospital, and sat with him for quite a while in the waiting room. He told me something I never knew about him before: He spent almost his entire childhood in an orphanage. He left it and went straight into the navy.
That’s a hard way to begin life, I said. My father escaped a tiny, dirt poor town in Tennessee by going into the navy. It’s the only way out for a lot of people, isn’t it?
While we were talking, Fox News was running on a tv bolted to the wall. It was too noisy to hear anything, but we saw pictures of crowds waving Mexican and American flags. A man sitting across from us grumbled at the television—something about people breaking the law and now demanding rights.
My neighbor, who I have heard make innumberable negative comments about unions, illegal immigrants, and liberals, looked up at the tv. Oh damn. I was about to ask how his granddaughter was doing, quick, before the subject could turn to politics, when he said, quietly, almost the way my mother spoke the uncomfortable truth about people who didn’t like Roosevelt, “I can’t blame them. They just want to work.”
“People take whatever way out they can find,” I said.
And he agreed. People do that. People like him.
House of Cards
My favorite take on the big ‘non-change’ today came from Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News:
Today’s announcement that Budget Director Josh Bolten will replace White House Chief of Staff Andy Card is typical George Bush: it replaces one trusted member of his inner circle with another. It’s hardly the shakeup or new blood that some Republicans have sought as the Bush White House seeks to shake its second term blues.
Some staff changes make a big difference. When President Clinton replaced his old friend Mack McLarty with Budget Chief (and former Congressman) Leon Panetta, he upgraded the political astuteness of his White House. By contrast, when Treasury Secretary Don Regan and White House Chief of Staff James Baker swapped jobs in the Reagan White House, Mr. Regan’s lack of political savvy was bound to cause trouble—and it did.
Changing chiefs of staff, especially when the new one is someone who’s been there all along, seems hardly the answer to that.
Add to that Bush’s big problem is Iraq and this change has zero to do with that. The Neo-cons are just playing musical chairs and now Andy has lost his seat. Don’t cry, some right-winger group will now pay him a fortune for access to the inner circle. He’ll cry all the way to the bank.
Bush's Rush to War
The NY Times finally addresses the British Memo on their front page and shows that Bush was determined to go to war:
In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush’s public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war. But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair’s top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.
“Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,” David Manning, Mr. Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.
Military strategy came first, diplomacy was merely a smoke screen. This administration is about anti-diplomacy and we are paying the price.
Bush lied when he told Helen Thomas last week that no President wants war. We know by this memo that this one did and Bush should be impeached for his actions.
Monday, March 27, 2006
The serpent’s in your garden
And Hannibal at your gate
Glory, greed, and gluttony
The war of sins play on
Master, martyr, emperor
So sate you on your young
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Great White Hope
Brian Schweitzer is considered by many to be the face of a possibly brighter future for the Democratic Party. Sadly, though, he demonstrated some of the very characteristics of BOTH parties in an interview on This Week that fill me with despair for the future. After talking about global warming, alternative fuels (ever notice how many of the “new” Dems have only one or two issues they like to talk about?) he was asked about Democratic Party chances in Montana. This is where he lost me, where he revealed that he’s just another pandering white politician who doesn’t get how badly off track this country is. He said (this is a paraphrase, as This Week doesn’t post transcripts):
Just why are they “different”, Governor? They don’t work hard for what they need and want in this life? The don’t have “American values”? They don’t live in the “heartland”, after all, let alone the “Rocky Mountain West”, home of hard-working cowboys and earnest housewives. Is that it, GOVERNOR?!?”
This is the future of the Democratic Party, yet another pandering rich white man appealing to cozy bromides and the certainty of a slowly dying culture that it is somehow “exceptional”? If this is the future, the Democrats demonstrate once again that they ... just ... don’t ... GET ... it.
I grew up in the midwest, and I lived in the Rocky Mountain west and in the northeast, including New York City. Let me tell you the differences I see.
All of the cultural differences, all of the language barriers and misunderstandings I observed when I lived in NYC were often challenging, but underneath it all was a lot of commonality. In order to live in one of the cities on the coast, in order to do business, people learn to get along. This is not to say that there isn’t some of the same problems with prejudice and conflict. However, having grown up in suburban Chicago, it was really stunning to live in a place where people mixed much more openly. To see men walking down the street holding hands, to see Italians and latinos and blacks all working together in restaurants. It’s no paradise, that’s for damned sure, and there are neighborhoods where one group or another isn’t welcome. Despite all that, though, there is a common understanding that everyone is just trying to get by, to build a better life for themselves and their family.
In the midwest and Rockies, what I experienced was people trying hard to make sure people conformed. There is an insistance that there is one way to be, one way to act, and a lot of pressure to fit that mold. So yes, Governor, the people on the coasts maybe are different. Perhaps in order to survive in more dynamic areas, more dynamic cities with more diverse populations, people have to make their peace with a certain unpredictability in life. There is an almost pathological need in the “heartland” for conformity, predictability, COMFORT. Is that the difference, Governor? Is continuing to refuse to face that America is undergoing rapid change, that the “face” of America is getting slowly darker, and the music of daily life becoming more diverse, is that the future that leads us away from the dangerous and hateful policies of the Republican Party? Is adopting their stilted language of America going to help us build a better future? Yes, making white guys driving their SUVs feel better about being part of the “heartland” is probably good for a few votes, but it won’t help the Democrats build a winning coalition.
Take a look at that picture, the crowds that filled the streets in LA, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Chicago and so many other places in response to the racist fear-mongering coming out of the Congress thanks to the Republicans. Remember those pictures from the Gulf Coast, and not just the black faces from New Orleans, but also the forgotten poor whites in Mississippi. the Vietnamese fisherman who lost their boats and the workgangs of hispanic day laborers being paid pennies on the dollar. Look at the pictures you’ve seen of faces on the reservations, or the mining towns in the Virginia mountains. Working people, of all creeds and cultures and races, ALL being left behind by a government and a majority culture that panders to corporate greed. Whether the technologists that seek to maintain control of the Clintons’ Democratic party, or the religious zealots and racists of the Republicans, both seek to maintain a conformity to a way of living that is killing us, and our planet. A populist party, a party that helps all those different Americans find common ground, a party that brings forward a “live and let live” philosophy, where we find shared values, THAT could be the creedo of a revived Demcratic Party.
However, continuing to push the dangerous idea that people on the coasts are “different” doesn’t help us forge new coalitions. It won’t help us break down the boundaries that we’ve erected between us all by ribbons of highways and sprawling wasteful suburbs and fortress-like corporate campuses and cold hard glass-and-steel SUVs. So, Governor Schweitzer, I’m not impressed by your down-home faux populism, because it’s plain that you’re interested in just a small part of the American population. It’s plain that you’ll say some of the right things, but overall you just don’t get it, that the only way we’ll save this country from itself is to find what we share, not where we are.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
500 Thousand March in LA, Many More Across the U.S.
Millions marched around the country for immigration rights, and not the chicken feed Bush wants to dole out to the people clearing his brush and picking his grapes. Here we see:
Immigration rights advocates more than 500,000 strong marched in downtown Los Angeles, demanding that Congress abandon attempts to make illegal immigration a felony and to build more walls along the border.
The massive demonstration, by far the biggest of several around the nation in recent days, came as President Bush prodded Republican congressional leaders to give some illegal immigrants a chance to work legally in the U.S. under certain conditions.
Wearing white shirts to symbolize peace, marchers chanted “Mexico!” “USA!” and “Si se puede,” an old Mexican-American civil rights shout that means “Yes, we can.” They waved the flags of the U.S., Mexico and other countries, and some wore them as capes.
Si se puede indeed! If we can only get the registered voters to join in and eliminate not only all talk of a Berlin Wall along the US border but also eliminate the Republican majority in Congress and the Senate this November. Democrats, here’s one more issue to convince Hispanics and all struggling minorities that you are the party for them.
Buck Ownes, one of the finest guitarists in the history of Country music, died in his sleep at 76.
His career was one of the most phenomenal in country music, with a string of more than 20 No. 1 records, most released from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.
They were recorded with a honky-tonk twang that came to be known throughout California as the “Bakersfield Sound,” named for the town 100 miles north of Los Angeles that Owens called home.
“I think the reason he was so well known and respected by a younger generation of country musicians was because he was an innovator and rebel,” said Shaw, who played keyboards in Owens’ band, the Buckaroos. “He did it out of the Nashville establishment. He had a raw edge."
One of the great champions of the Bakersfield sound, Bucks music was full of good cheer and energy. At a time when Nashville was moving toward big glossy production, Buck and his fellows mixed in a little rock, a little of the barroom energy of a Friday night, and got people out of their seats to dance.
He passed away after a performance for fans at his Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, where he’s be entertaining fans for several years. I wish I’d gotten a chance to see him over the years, though I have to admit that “Hee Haw” was a guilty pleasure of mine.
"I’d like to be remembered as a guy that came along and did his music, did his best and showed up on time, clean and ready to do the job, wrote a few songs and had a hell of a time,” he said in 1992.
An indefatigable performer, Owens played a red, white and blue guitar with fireball fervor. He and the Buckaroos wore flashy rhinestone suits in an era when flash was as important to country music as fiddles.
Among his biggest hits were “Together Again” (also recorded by Emmylous Harris), “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “My Heart Skips a Beat” and “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line.”
And he was the answer to this music trivia question: What country star had a hit record that was later done by the Beatles?
“Those guys were phenomenal,” Owens once said.
Ringo Starr recorded “Act Naturally” twice, singing lead on the Beatles’ 1965 version and recording it as a duet with Owens in 1989.
In addition to music, Owens had a highly visible TV career as co-host of “Hee Haw” from 1969 to 1986. With guitarist Roy Clark, he led viewers through a potpourri of country music and hayseed humor.
“It’s an honest show,” Owens told The Associated Press in 1995. “There’s no social message—no crusade. It’s fun and simple.”
Owens himself could be rebellious, choosing among other things to label what he did “American music” rather than country.
“I took a little heat,” he once said. “People asked me, ‘Isn’t country music good enough for you?’ “
He also criticized the syrupy arrangements of some country singers, saying “assembly-line, robot music turns me off."
Kick up your heels Buck, wherever you are now. You brought a lot of joy, and set a lot of toes a’tappin, over a great career. Thanks. You’ll be missed.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Fundamentalist, conservative religion threatens to destroy this nation, this great experiment of the Enlightenment. Sadly, though, it’s hard to speak out against the imprecations of the fascist theocrats who have seized power through the Republican party. Religion, you see, is on an elevated plane. One must speak carefully about it, lest one offend everyone who considers themselves religious. Tender skinned, those who’ve been “saved”, those who have an eternity in Heaven to look forward to when they leave this mortal plane, this great gift from which they seek such eager escape. While they’re here, though, obeisance must be paid. The religious right, of course, hides behind this social taboo, all the while attacking anybody who doesn’t conform to their beliefs. “Good” christians act as a protective shield, slapping down anybody who tries to attack these dangerous radicals where their strength lies ... in their dogma. After all, they say, we must “respect” other’s relgious beliefs.
Well, some of us must disagree with this naive and dangerous demand. In fact, we find that no less a respected man than Bill Moyers finds that this is A Time For Heresy:
Now when a young boy in the tribe was ready to become a man, a ritual took place. Wearing masks, the elders would kidnap him and take him into the woods, tie him down, and with a flint knife slice the underside of his penis. It was painful, but the medicine man said this is how you became a man.
It meant shedding one’s innocence. At the end of the ritual one of the masked men dipped the bullroarer in the boy’s blood and thrust it in his face, simultaneously removing his mask so the boy could see it’s not a god at all – it’s just one of the old guys. And the medicine man would whisper, “We make the noises.”
Ah, yes – it’s not the gods after all. It’s just the old guys – Uncle George, Uncle Dick, Uncle Don. The “noise” in the woods is the work of the old guys playing gods, wanting you to live in fear and trembling so that you will look to them to protect you against the wrath to come. It takes courage to put their truth-claims to the test of reality, to call their bluff.
We need such courage today. This is a time for heresy. American democracy is threatened by perversions of money, power, and religion. Money has bought our elections right out from under us. Power has turned government “of, by, and for the people” into the patron of privilege. And Christianity and Islam have been hijacked by fundamentalists who have made religion the language of power, the excuse for violence, and the alibi for empire. We must answer the principalities and powers that would force on America a stifling conformity. Either we make the heretical choices that will inspire us to renew our commitment to America’s deepest values and ideals, or the day will come when we will no longer recognize the country we love.
We cannot fight this dangerous social movement without attacking the battery that powers it, and the battery that powers it is its dogmas. Sadly, though, as this twisted fundamentalism has appropriated the words and images used by other believers, it is nearly impossible to confront them without running the risk that doing so may give offense to others. It is imperative, though, that we not let this stop us. In fact, we can look at religious leaders in the past to see that the words and images are ephemeral. It is deed and actions that must motivate us, that we must use to demonstrate our allegiance to whatever it is we hold sacred. Moyers again:
So, my friends at Wake Forest, there is work to do. These charlatans and demagogues know that by controlling a society’s most emotionally-laden symbols, they can control America, too. They must be challenged. Davidson Loehr reminds us that holding preachers and politicians to a higher standard than they want to serve has marked the entire history of both religion and politics. It is the conflict between the religion of the priests – ancient and modern – and the religion of the prophets.
It is the vast difference between the religion about Jesus and the religion of Jesus.
Yes, the religion of Jesus. It was in the name of Jesus that a Methodist ship caulker named Edward Rogers crusaded across New England for an eight-hour work day. It was in the name of Jesus that Francis William rose up against the sweatshop. It was in the name of Jesus that Dorothy Day marched alongside auto workers in Michigan, brewery workers in New York, and marble cutters in Vermont. It was in the name of Jesus that E.B. McKinney and Owen Whitfield stood against a Mississippi oligarchy that held sharecroppers in servitude. It was in the name of Jesus that the young priest John Ryan – ten years before the New Deal – crusaded for child labor laws, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and decent housing for the poor. And it was in the name of Jesus that Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis to march with sanitation workers who were asking only for a living wage.
This is the difference. OF versus ABOUT, acts rather than creeds ... this is the difference between those who have used their faith or beliefs as a call to do good, to spread freedom, to bring succor to those in need, and those who use their creeds to bludgeon and to punish others. Many of those in the Democratic Party, frightened by the continued successes of the Republicans, fall into the trap of aping their tactics.
We must mock the religious right. Deride the religious right. Drag the absurdities of their ridiculous theologies into the light, show the contradictions and the damage caused by these backwards superstitions. TRUE faith, after all, cares nothing of the mocking of us athiests, or the catcalls coming from the believers in other faiths ... it is only those of weak faith who can’t take comfort in their beliefs. It is important that we attack the religious right at the source of their strength, because their brainwashing and lies and cons damage those who can least afford it. Whether it is poor whites being fed misogynistic bullshit or poor blacks being fed homophobic bile, these sick and twisted versions of Christianity allow the Republicans to redirect people as political foot soldiers, all while they set about dismantling the underpinnings of our society in the service of making the obscenely wealthy even richer, as Joe Bageant spells out in is inimitable style:
My brother’s church is what is known as an “independent Baptist church.” Independent enough of your world and mine that he says things like, “I helped cast out my first demon yesterday, Joey. I wish you could have been there.” Actually, I do too. Independent fundamentalist churches are wild and woolly places theologically, whose characteristics and belief systems can accommodate just about anything “Preacher Bob” or “Pastor Donnie” or whoever can come up with from misreading the Good Book. The “clergy” arise from within the church ranks and are usually poorly educated. (Hell they went to public school in America, didn’t they?) This has always been true of American fundamentalism since the backwoods stump church days, and it continues to provide the nation with charismatic literalists whose reading and abstracting ability is minimal to zilch. Combine that with 30 years of Christian school growth, and you can begin to understand how we got in such deep shit today...why so many states find themselves revamping their educational systems so that the fables of Adam and Eve may replace Darwin and we can all be reassured that David slew Goliath despite the complete lack of evidence of either’s existence.
Yet, look across the congregations of these churches and you see these aren’t bad people. They are neither a minority nor a cult in this nation, given their millions, and are simply what the ordinary Americans are today---working class people whose interior lives were clobbered by the Twentieth Century. Unaware of it as they are, theirs is part of a global revival of fundamentalism, which emerged when triumphant materialism arrived in the wake of the enlightenment. Poor dear enlightenment! So brief! Then smashed by two world wars, Verdun, Dresden, Auschwitz, the gulags, nuclear weapons, impending ecological disaster… Not that anyone in this church ever heard of the enlightenment. Two generations of them were raised in Christian schools amid the unyielding hostility and fear of the Cold War and declining real wages and education. Is it any wonder they are so attracted to the Apocalypse both materially and literally? From home as they know it on this planet, you look out the window what you see is the approaching end of the fucking world.
In response, they long ago collected themselves in what amount to mental and theological compounds, built thousands of Christian institutions and schools and trained two generations for a theocratic state. Fundamentalist thinker Gary North announced decades ago, “We will train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”
Well, they’ve done it.
They’ve done it, only they’re not done yet. It’s not just gay marriage, or abortion. They want to invade our bedrooms, including that of married couples. Sex, after all, is filthy. Human life enjoyed, pleasures indulged, are sinful, and it will be the business of the state, THEIR state, to make us conform with their dogmas, their prejudices, their own hatred of their own essential humanity. Militarism, however, is fine for these Christian soldiers. How can we not confront them, and how can those Christians who claim to reject them not see that it is the dogma that must be attacked, that we must do so BECAUSE they have taken words and symbols that mean things to people and twisted them?
One of the great things that came out of the Reformation was the eventual emergence of the idea that it was a person’s own conscience that was the center of religious belief, not the words, not the images, not the dogmas and vestments and long lists of rules. Moyers again:
Many Baptists are fundamentalists; they believe in the absolute inerrancy of the Bible and the divine right of preachers to tell you what it means. They also believe in the separation of church and state only if they cannot control both. The only way to cooperate with fundamentalists, it has been said, is to obey them. James Dunn and Bill Leonard are not that kind of Baptist. They trace their spiritual heritage to forbearers who were considered heretics for standing up to ecclesiastical and state power on matters of conscience. One of them was Thomas Helwys, who, when Roman Catholics were being persecuted by the British crown, dared to defend the Catholics. Helwys went to jail, and died there, for telling the king of England, King James – yes, of the King James Bible – that “Our Lord the King has no more power over their [Catholic] conscience than ours, and that is none at all.”
Baptists helped to turn that conviction into America’s great contribution to political science and practical politics – the independence of church and state. Baptists in colonial America flocked to Washington’s army to fight in the Revolutionary War because they wanted to be free from sanctioned religion. When the war was won they refused to support a new Constitution unless it contained a Bill of Rights that guaranteed freedom of religion and freedom from religion. No religion was to become the official religion; you couldn’t be taxed to pay for my exercise of faith. This was heresy because, while many of the first settlers in America had fled Europe to escape religious persecution at the hands of the majority, once here they made their faith the established religion that denied freedom to others. Early Baptists considered this to be tyranny. Said John Leland: “All people ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that each can best reconcile to their own consciences.”
After all, isn’t that basic, most American of ideas in line with this admonition of the Son of Man, you know, the one the right claims to worship? Didn’t He say:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6: 5-8
Under Water, Literally
If by any chance science isn’t a bad word to you, then check this out:
DOZENS of the world’s cities, including London and New York, could be flooded by the end of the century, according to research which suggests that global warming will increase sea levels more rapidly than was previously thought. The first study to combine computer models of rising temperatures with records of the ancient climate has indicated that sea levels could rise by up to 20ft (6m) by 2100, placing millions of people at risk.
The threat comes from melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, which scientists behind the research now believe are on track to release vast volumes of water significantly more quickly than older models have predicted. Their analysis of events between 129,000 and 116,000 years ago, when the Arctic last warmed to temperatures forecast for 2100, shows that there could be large rises in sea level.
While the Greenland ice sheet is expected to start melting as summer temperatures in the Arctic rise by 3C degrees to 5C (5.4F-9F), most models suggest that the ice sheets of Antarctica will remain more stable. The historical data, however, show that the last time that Greenland became this warm, the sea level rise generated by meltwater destabilised the Antarctic ice, leading to a much higher increase than can be explained by Arctic ice alone.
That means that the models of sea-level rise used to predict an increase of up to 3ft by 2100 may have significantly underestimated its ultimate extent, which could be as great as 20ft.
Such a rise would threaten cities such as London, New York, Bombay and Tokyo. Large parts of the Netherlands, Bangladesh and Florida would be inundated, and even smaller rises would flood extreme low-lying areas, such as several Pacific islands and New Orleans.
It may be too late to reverse this but to be safe we must act as if it isn’t. Something tells me if we do have any time left to stop or delay this, that time is now. Our elections and our debate must reflect that immediately.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Texas Descends Even Further into Fascism
Here is a scary story right out of the Pre-emptive Strikes file and creepy “Minority Report” police tactics. Only the Red State that gave us the majority of the Bush Administration could keep up the charge toward 1984. In Texas you can now be arrested just for drinking in a bar, what’s next- being arrested for public lewdness for having an erection while watching a stripper? Check this out:
Texas has begun sending undercover agents into bars to arrest drinkers for being drunk, a spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said on Wednesday.
The first sting operation was conducted recently in a Dallas suburb where agents infiltrated 36 bars and arrested 30 people for public intoxication, said the commission’s Carolyn Beck.
Being in a bar does not exempt one from the state laws against public drunkenness, Beck said. The goal, she said, was to detain drunks before they leave a bar and go do something dangerous like drive a car. “We feel that the only way we’re going to get at the drunk driving problem and the problem of people hurting each other while drunk is by crackdowns like this,” she said.
She said the sting operations would continue throughout the state.
So how do you feel about your tax dollars being spent for things like this? So much for prevention through education.
A policeman can now come into a bar and arrest you even if you are minding your business and not even carrying car keys! Are you willing to let “law enforcement personnel” make these kind of random judgement calls? Big Brother indeed. Can you imagine what they can do with this type of behavior racially? This is the state where Tulia and Jasper happened just in the last few years.
Where does this infringement of civil liberties end?
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Thanatos Nation: God is a Bullet
It is hard not to make the connection, to look away from the militarism that increasingly smothers our culture and the ascendancy of far-right wing religious movements who advocate harsh judgement and an unforgiving assertion of Old Testament punishment. Slowly, more and more people, even those on the right, are starting to see this trend too, people like Kevin Phillips:
"Conservative true believers will scoff: the United States is sue generis, they say, a unique and chosen nation,” writes Phillips. “What did or did not happen to Rome, imperial Spain, the Dutch Republic, and Britain is irrelevant. The catch here, alas, is that these nations also thought they were unique and that God was on their side. The revelation that He was apparently not added a further debilitating note to the later stages of each national decline."
Under George W. Bush, this messianic view of our nation was coupled with belligerence and bald-face, arrogant assertions of raw, naked military muscle.
There had been hopes in some quarters that there would be a “peace dividend” when the Cold War finally ended. Unfortunately, the Republican Party, slightly more entwined with the defense industries than the Democrats (though not by much), were increasingly making common cause with the far right religious movements in Evangelicalism and Catholicism, feeding off of anti-communist rhetoric and stoking the fires of civil culture war. Chalmers Johnson, in an interview with Tom Engelhardt:
The Soviet Union imploded. I thought: What an incredible vindication for the United States. Now it’s over, and the time has come for a real victory dividend, a genuine peace dividend. The question was: Would the U.S. behave as it had in the past when big wars came to an end? We disarmed so rapidly after World War II. Granted, in 1947 we started to rearm very rapidly, but by then our military was farcical. In 1989, what startled me almost more than the Wall coming down was this: As the entire justification for the Military-Industrial Complex, for the Pentagon apparatus, for the fleets around the world, for all our bases came to an end, the United States instantly - pure knee-jerk reaction - began to seek an alternative enemy. Our leaders simply could not contemplate dismantling the apparatus of the Cold War.
That was, I thought, shocking. I was no less shocked that the American public seemed indifferent. And what things they did do were disastrous. George Bush, the father, was President. He instantaneously declared that he was no longer interested in Afghanistan. It’s over. What a huge cost we’ve paid for that, for creating the largest clandestine operation we ever had and then just walking away, so that any Afghan we recruited in the 1980s in the fight against the Soviet Union instantaneously came to see us as the enemy - and started paying us back. The biggest blowback of the lot was, of course, 9/11, but there were plenty of them before then.
And now it’s all connected. Our new enemy just happen to be adherents of a religion that Christianity fought in the past. It was just a slip of the tongue that President Bush described our Global War on Terror as a “crusade”. The General put in charge of pursuing Osama bin Laden just happened to be a evangelical wingnut.
This culture, our political leaders, our church leaders, our media ... there can be little or no talk of diplomacy, of second chances, of real communication or admissions of error. Anyone who suggests such things is accused of a lack of patriotism, a lack of faith (increasingly flipsides of the same bloody coin), of many things up to and including treason. There is less and less talk of taking care of our poor, of spending our money wisely ... especially since there will be no future after the Second Coming, and since the US is doing God’s work:
Dobbs: Former Republican Party strategist Kevin Phillips joins us here tonight. His new book is called “American Theocracy.” It is a provocative indictment of the administration’s foreign and economic policy, and examines, among other things, how the religious right is driving this administration’s policy. Kevin, it is going good to have you with us.
Phillips: Ah. 1969 is when it was published. It started before the election. But what’s happened to the Republican coalition in the last 10 years especially is it’s been moved more and more towards religious yardsticks. People who go to church. People who favor religion defining government. People who have just a whole set of concerns that go beyond economics.
One of the reasons I think we have kind of screwed up economic politician in some ways is that a lot of Americans have stopped worrying about the economy because they’re waiting for the second coming.
Dobbs: And you mean this quite literally?
Phillips: I mean it quite literally.
Chris Hedges, author of WAR IS A FORCE THAT GIVES US MEANING, said in an interview on PBS’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly:
I had a great ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, James Luther Adams. When I was a student, he was in his seventies. He told us that when we were his age, we’d all be fighting the Christian fascists, which we thought was rather silly then, but probably not so silly now.
Fundamentalism lends itself completely to war, because it has a dichotomy between “us” and “them.” There is a notion that the only way to salvation is through whatever religion we happen to be, and in the fervor of that kind of fundamentalism, we refuse to acknowledge that salvation is possible through any other route. In a time of national distress, people always look for those who promise what appear to be black-and-white answers, or clear-cut solutions to the confusion around them.
One of the most important things to remember about war is that it entails a loss of control. Suddenly, you can’t control your environment. You search for those forces that you think can help you regain control, and fundamentalists promise the direct and divine intervention of God—whatever god that happens to be—on behalf of his chosen people—whatever chosen people that happens to be.
This is a culture war, and reason and decency are losing. There is no Prince of Peace, but only a warrior God, bloody on the Cross.