Friday, March 17, 2006

God and Country - Part II

During the Terry Schiavo fiasco, when a small number of reckless politicians, ignorant or disdainful of the Constitutional doctrine of separation of powers, sought to derail judicial reiterations of the right to privacy and the right to die, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback was right there in the forefront, along with Sen. Rick Santorum (a blithering halfwit with the morals of a slug) and Rep. Tom DeLay (an unscrupulous, degenerate bigot who'd sell his mother for a golf junket), and, lurking in the wings, Brownback's buddy and Operation Rescue founder, Randall Terry. In a blog supplement to his mammoth Rolling Stone portrait of Brownback, Jeff Sharlet pointed up the inconsistencies -- double standards, really -- that characterize Brownback and Company's position on capital punishment, on the one hand, and such end-of-life issues as discontinuance of life-sustaining treatment on the other.

Brownback co-sponsored, with another of his Prayer Breakfast group senators, a bill called the Streamlined Procredures Act, which would short-circuit -- foreclose, actually -- the right of a person convicted of capital punishment to appeal from state courts to federal by way of writ of habeas corpus. (Curiously, Brownback is a "reformed evangelical," having switched from fundamentalist protestantism to Catholicism at some point, and, like a majority of American -- if not worldwide -- Catholics, conveniently ignores the Vatican's condemnation of the ultimate penalty.) As Sharlet points out, habeas corpus was appropriate for intervention in the Shiavo Affair to keep a basket case alive, but not for a convicted murderer, no matter how weak (or even trumped up) the evidence.

But Brownback's Number One Pet Peeve, hands down, is homosexuality and especially the attempts of gays and lesbians to attain "special rights." Special rights are nothing more than the same privileges and perks enjoyed by stright people, including marriage. If the Sam Brownbacks have their way (and they have to a great extent), gays could never marry; a gay or lesbian partner cannot keep vigil with their significant other in a hospital room; they cannot become beneficiaries of retirement plans, and so on and on ad infinitum. The only justification offered by such bigots is that the sacred American Family must be protected, which is what marriage is all about, isn't it? The Brownbacks of this world want to have their cake and eat it, too. Gays and lesbians are unstable and can't maintain longterm relationships, so it's best to deprive them of the main thing that tends to cement relationships, the commitment of religious vows. The instability argument, vis-a-vis denial of the right to marry, just won't wash. About 50% of all straight marriages end in divorce. So, just exactly who is unstable?

The right wing religious nuts' positions on homosexuality boil down to one thing and one thing only: bigotry. They claim that gays have an "agenda" that is designed to recruit youth and initiate young people into a perverted lifestyle. This ignores medical science just as creationism ignores biology. Granted, nurture plays at least some role in the process of becoming gay, but nature dictates a genetic predisposition. One cannot "make" another person gay. Neurobiology says otherwise. But, then, no one ever accused the Brownbacks of this world of being educated or intelligent. They would rather wallow in ignorance and superstition than subject their silly notions to the cold light of scientific experimentation and confirmation of theory by statistical analysis.

The Brownbacks include such Senator Sam associates as Robert Wasinger, his chief of staff, who led a college crusade to rid Harvard of gay and lesbian faculty members, writing in a student review -- sponsored by the right wing Heritage Foundation -- that he was anti-gay because he hated to see sperm cells "swimming in feces." Perhaps aware that Biblical condemnations of homosexuality have been questioned as mistranslations of Aramaic and outright distortions, Brownback claims that his negative position on the matter is dictated by "natural law." This concept, as it is used by Brownbacks, derives from an epistle of Paul. Paul was the greatest misongynist in history and a sexually crippled closet queen who interiorized the homophobic attitudes of his fellow Zealots and illegitimated the religion he founded by perverting the Truths of its prophet. Although you might think that the word, "natural," is intended in the sense meant when someone refers to a practice as "unnatural," Paul meant an innate ability to discern between right and wrong. (Aquinus took it up, too, but it was thoroughly, wittily, devastatingly examined by Robert Anton Wilson, in Natural Law, or Don't Put a Rubber on Your Willy.) Suffice to say, natural law is about as sensible a justification for being down on queers (you should pardon the expression) as a preference for tea makes Coca-Cola unpotable.

Finally, Brownbacks view the Revelations of John of Patmos as self-fulfilling prophecy -- easily the scarriest and most dangerous idea they maintain, much worse that their desire to see women go back to coat hanger abortions in dark alleys and gays put in concentration camps or simply executed, &c. To the Brownbacks (I was going to call them Brown Shirts, but that one has already been taken), Armageddon will be the final conflict of Muslims on the one hand and a Judeo-Christer coalition on the other. Hey, I always suspected a nuclear holocaust would ensue sooner or later, burning the planet into a cinder. I just don't think Brownbacks should hurry it up.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

God and Country - Part I

I may only be showing my age, and it is entirely possible that such things are no longer taught in American history or "civics" classes, but I seem to recall my grade school teachers informing us that the First Amendment's anti-establishment clause (no "official" religion) grew out of the Founding Fathers' fresh recollections of the persecution (even, in some cases, the forced conversion) of religious minorities. France may have been the Champeen pogromist, slaughtering Huegenots, Cathari, and witches during what the latter, after the favorite method of execution, called "the Burning Times."

In a mere 230 years since the forefathers brought forth a more perfect (read: free) union, a nation taking pride in its freedom from religion, we are witnessing an unprecedented clamor for theocracy, a movement marked by hypocritical lip service to the idea of religious freedom, but with unmistakable subtexts of Christian fundamentalism. Maybe fundamentalist Christers are by nature reactionary, and the more we assert our right to be agnostics or atheists, the more they push an agenda that is little more than a thinly disguised plot to make the USA the Jesus Freak equivalent of Iran. Fundamentalism is bad no matter who the prophet and what the gospel. A right wing evangelical with a "pro-family" agenda is no different than an obdurate Shi'a mullah who finds in Shari'a law an agenda for keeping great numbers of the world's population firmly ensconced in the 18th century.

When this sort of thing is allowed to flourish, unabated, it results in things like the mutaww'un, or "enforcers of obedience" of Wahhabism, who've been characterized as "a kind of private religious police, monitoring not only public but also private conformity to Islam." (The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, emphasis added.) With the establishment of a Christer theocracy in the USA, we may see the return to such early American practices as hitting people with rods when they doze off in church, and putting them in stocks on proof they worked on the Sabbath. Who are the front men for this nonsense? Would it surprise you to know that the Number One Bull Moose Looney just happens to be a United States senator?

Yep. He's Sen. Sam Brownback, GOP, Kansas. (Where else?) Senator Sam plans to run for chief exec, and he's got most of the Christer voting block -- the same evangelicals who helped put Dubya in the White House -- backing his efforts. If any one individual epitomizes the follies and evils of theocratic political philosophy, it's Brownback. A February 9th Rolling Stone portrait of the man had me screaming and puking at turns, as Brownback represents everything sick and evil in post-Vietnam America. The author of the "National Affairs" piece in Rolling Stone, Jeff Sharlet, a New York University professor, says that Brownback (1) held off on signing Newtie's contract on America "not because it was too radical but because it was too tame," (2) once told a group of businessmen "he wanted to be the next Jesse Helms -- 'Senator No.' who operated as a one-man demolition unit against godlessness," and (3) compared Roe v. Wade to the Dred Scott decision, although the former legalized abortion -- an expansion of freedom -- while the latter legitimated slavery, a curtailing of it.

Sharlet portrays Brownback and spouse as plain vanilla Americans, she in the kitchen while he is fiddling with the remote to block those channels on TV deemed "too sexual," including, at times, the nightly news. After all, it was Brownback who, in the wake of Janet Jackson's unfortunate tit-plop at Super Bowl halftime, introduced $325,000 fines for such shenanigans in his Broadcast Decency Reform Act! Senator Sam is a member of the Promise Keepers, portrayed by Sharlet as proselytizers not only for Christeranity but worldwide conversion. Theirs is "a vision of manly Christianity dedicated to the expansion of American power as a means of spreading the gospel," Sharlet writes. So this is what the Bush Bunch are up to in the Mideast! And just when one is starting to wonder how dangerous such twits can really be, Sharlet lays The Biggie on us. He claims that Brownback is a member of a secret group called The Fellowship, headed by a lunatic named Doug Coe.

"They [strive] ultimately, for what Coe calls 'Jesus plus nothing,' a government led by Christ's will alone. In the future...everything -- sex and taxes, war and the price of oil -- will be decided upon not by democracy or the church or even Scripture. The Bible itself is for the masses; in the Fellowship, Christ reveals a higher set of commands to the annointed few. It's a good old boy's club blessed by God...." (Emphasis added.) I've highlighted some select clauses in this part of Sharlet's report in hopes you'll note that this scenario is already being followed by Rev. Robber's Son and Rev. Faultwell. When disaster strikes, it's God's punishment on America for our sinful ways. Never mind that such thinking commits the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, best illustrated by reference to the aboriginal tribe whose chief kicked the bucket during a total solar eclipse. Lest the Gods look down unfavorably on them, they made sure that later chiefs were whacked whether sick or well.

Wait, there's more. But I will reserve it for Part II. (Although I dearly love Mr. Google's Blogger, longish pieces become cumbersome, difficult to edit, and hard to keep stable. It's probably easier to break a long blog into parts.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Stark Frist of Removal

One certainly hopes Sen. Bill Fist doesn't really think he can take over where Dubya left off in 2008! (Yeah, yeah, I know, it's Frist with an "r," but I've gotten into the habit of playing around with the surnames of boobs, nits, crooks, and swindlers, as witness my fondness for "the Rev. Jerry Faultwell," "the Rev. Pat Robber's Son," and so forth.) Sen. Fist bussed in hordes of Republicans so he could win a straw poll in Memphis, beating off a challenge by John McCain, considered by some an early front runner and the man to beat in the GOP primaries in '08.

Silly John McCain. Didn't he learn his lesson in the 2000 race, when he allowed Rove-inspired rabbit punches to humiliate him in debates with Bush? Haven't the more astute pundits hinted that McCain's mainstream middle-of-the-road pronouncements cannot get him ahead in Republican primaries because the party itself has been hijacked by far right wing nut cases who think that the First Amendent means nothing and it's high time we established a theocracy of blithering idiot snake oil salesmen pounding Bibles and denouncing everything from abortion to gay rights.

No, McCain would best be advised to take the Perot route and start a third party with a platform appealing to sensible folk. I really cannot see McCain stumping at places like Bob Jones University (as Shrub did in '00). Many of McCain's positions on various issues place him in a position of anathema to bussed-in bigots from the rabid religious right -- abortion, for example. At least two other participants in the Memphis poll stand a better chance in the long run: sappy, half-witted Sen. George Allen, and Sen. Sam Brownbeck of Kansas, a liberal's worst nightmare, the epitome of the nuclear-familied Christer breeder geek eager to junk the Constitution, initiate forced conversions, and round up anyone who believes differently than he does, putting them in concentration camps. (See the wonderfull -- if harrowing -- Rolling Stone portrait of Brownbeck if you question my suppositions. Penned with surprising objectivity by Jeff Sharlet, it nevertheless manages to skewer "God's Senator," surely the religious right's man with a theocratic plan and a very likely nominee if the party fails to see the light of reason.)

Fist has some moderate views as well, but his straw poll front-run begs the question of whether the GOP thinks it can keep its House majority in '06 and win in '08 by maintaining the status quo, by conducting business as usual. The lessons of K-Street, DeLay, Abramoff, &c. have already been lost, and the Republican Party seems condemned to repeat their own sordid history. Fist, too, is part of the Culture of Corruption that Sen. Nancy Pelosi spoke of. Fist's own cultural contribution concerns his insider trading of family-owned for-profit hospital stocks that were supposed to be in blind trusts, so that no communication could be had by beneficiary to trustee. Then why, when HCA stocks were set to take a tumble due to lowered earnings announcements in June, 2005, did Fist order his trustee to sell off all his HCA shares -- two weeks before a 15% drop in value. Seems to me that this is just the sort of thing for which Martha Stewart narrowly avoided conviction (although, of course, she was sent to prison -- for obstruction of justice).

The point is simply this. Sneaky little twits like the flaccid Sen. Lindsey Graham are saying that of all the participants in the Memphis straw poll, McCain alone can expand the party's base to embrace Democrats and independents. "[The straw poll voters] are looking at electibility. Republicans are smart enough to know that the trends right now are not favorable for us." This is as disingenuous as it is miscalculating. McCain has no appeal to the neo-conservative element of the GOP, the people who make such hoopla over that nebulous sillyness called American family values -- and especially the people Rove pulled into the polling places to cast ballots for Dumb-Ass Dubya: the religious right. Now that both the S.E.C. and United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York are looking into Fist's follies, it's almost certain that he will be so besmurched in coming months -- if not pilloried to prison -- he will lose any chance of beating even the despised Hillary in '08. Besides, he takes stands on some issues at odds with the Christer bigots as well, e.g. stem cell research.

It's going to be interesting to say the least! Five will get you ten that Fist will not set foot in the Oval Office as chief executive.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Guess Who's NOT Coming to Dinner

It took me a day or two to get over the slight of seeing a cloying, manipulative, "safe" film like Trash -- oops, I mean Crash -- win the Best Picture Oscar a few nights back (03-05-06). There, I had been thinking, I was fairly certain, that this particular Academy Award belonged to the gay-themed Brokeback Mountain. I should have guessed the outcome when the voting members handed out the Best Screenplay award to Crash, many of my objections to it having their basis in the movie being an annoying concatenation of unlikely, unbelievable plot twists, "coincidences" that called attention to their own improbability. But of equal concern to me was the "dated," almost anachronistic subject matter. I mean, Crash would have been daring and even radical in, say, 1967. That's when the studios gave us Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a cloying, manipulative, "safe" picture (which, incidentally, did not get the Best Picture Oscar, either). No wonder the hype for Crash emphasized that it was "years in the making." It might have been groundbreaking 20-30 years ago.

Although it initially suffers a tad from the sort of wishful thinking and wouldn't-it-be-pretty-if... tone of optimism that mars some "gay lib" rhetoric today (an equal amount of it being marred by shrill, "bruised fruit" rhetoric), the following in some respects sums up my feelings about Oscar's slighting of the story of Ennis and Jack ("Homo on the Range," as one wag dubbed it). That is to say, the posting (I was not informed if it came from a blog, an email, whatever) sums up my feelings about why the skittish Academy members ignored the mountain for the hills of racist Los Angeles. I suspect this will come as a bit of a surprise to right wing pundits and fundamentalist religious bigots, but Hollywood remains a bastion of homophobia. In any case, this missive was written by someone named Lamar Damon, and it came to me from a friend of a friend under the subject line, "Could Not Have Said it Better Myself." Neither could I. Here it 'tis:

"Sometimes you win by losing, and nothing has proved what a powerful, taboo-breaking, necessary film 'Brokeback Mountain' was more than its loss Sunday night to 'Crash' in the Oscar best picture category.

"Despite all the magazine covers it graced, despite all the red-state theaters it made good money in, despite (or maybe because of) all the jokes late-night talk show hosts made about it, you could not take the pulse of the industry without realizing that this film made a number of people distinctly uncomfortable.

"More than any other of the nominated films, 'Brokeback Mountain' was the one people told me they really didn't feel like seeing, didn't really get, didn't understand the fuss over. Did I really like it, they wanted to know. Yes, I really did.

"In the privacy of the voting booth, as many political candidates who've led in polls only to lose elections have found out, people are free to act out the unspoken fears and unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another soul, or, likely, acknowledge to themselves. And at least this year, that acting out doomed 'Brokeback Mountain.'

"For Hollywood, as a whole laundry list of people announced from the podium Sunday night and a lengthy montage of clips tried to emphasize, is a liberal place, a place that prides itself on its progressive agenda. If this were a year when voters had no other palatable options, they might have taken adeep breath and voted for 'Brokeback.' This year, however, 'Crash' was poised to be the spoiler.

"I do not for one minute question the sincerity and integrity of the people who made 'Crash,' and I do not question their commitment to wanting a more equal society. But I do question the film they've made. It may be true, as producer Cathy Schulman said in accepting the Oscar for best picture, that this was 'one of the most breathtaking and stunning maverick years in American history,' but 'Crash' is not an example of that.

"I don't care how much trouble 'Crash' had getting financing or getting people on board, the reality of this film, the reason it won the best picture Oscar, is that it is, at its core, a standard Hollywood movie, as manipulative and unrealistic as the day is long. And something more.

"For 'Crash's' biggest asset is its ability to give people a carload of those standard Hollywood satisfactions but make them think they are seeing something groundbreaking and daring. It is, in some ways, a feel-good film about racism, a film you could see and feel like a better person, a film that could make you believe that you had done your moral duty and examined your soul when in fact you were just getting your buttons pushed and your preconceptions reconfirmed.

"So for people who were discomfited by 'Brokeback Mountain' but wanted to be able to look themselves in the mirror and feel like they were good, productive liberals, 'Crash' provided the perfect safe harbor. They could vote for it in good conscience, vote for it and feel they had made a progressive move, vote for it and not feel that there was any stain on their liberal credentials for shunning what 'Brokeback' had to offer. And that's exactly what they did.

"'Brokeback,' it is worth noting, was in some ways the tamest of the discomforting films available to Oscar voters in various categories. Steven Spielberg's 'Munich'; the Palestinian Territories' 'Paradise Now,' one ofthe best foreign language nominees; and the documentary nominee 'Darwin's Nightmare' offered scenarios that truly shook up people's normal ways of seeing the world. None of them won a thing.

"Hollywood, of course, is under no obligation to be a progressive force inthe world. It is in the business of entertainment, in the business of making the most dollars it can. Yes, on Oscar night, it likes to pat itself on the back for the good it does in the world, but as Sunday night's ceremony proved, it is easier to congratulate yourself for a job well done in the past than actually do that job in the present."

As Ennis or Jack might say...'Nuff said.

Fred's Freudian Slip

I sometimes find myself watching one of Fox News' "buried" pundit programs ("buried" because stuck in one of the forgotten, unwatched slots: 5 p.m. Saturdays. The name of the show is The Beltway Boys. It features Fred Barnes. I might say that it features Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke, but Mort's presence is neglible, he is so cowed by the far right wing views of Barnes. (In fact, in case you've failed to notice -- and the documentary movie, Outfoxed certainly noticed -- Fox systematically hires unattractive, nerdy, unlikeable, or ineffectual persons to be the fall guys and stooges for its mainstream crypto-fascist commentators. Hannity and Combes has its Combes, and The Beltway Boys has its Kondracke, just to name a couple. (Of course there are major exceptions: Bill O'Reilly will brook no regularly appearing liberal dissent, no matter how mealy-mouthed, on his dictatorial, monomaniacal program, probably because no one wants to sign on knowing they will have to play the stooge, their every pronouncement subjecting themselves to being characterized as a "pinhead" -- itself an abhorrent, insensitive epithet, since actual pinheads are victims of congenital defects; in a word, a type of mongoloid.)

If I bother to examine my motives for even watching The Beltway Boys, I find it appeals to my sadistic streak; that is, I enjoy watching Kondracke -- the dummy liberal -- squirm. I like to see how far Kondracke will go to carefully, painfully, almost pathologically, avoid any direct disagreement with Barnes. This past Saturday (03-13-06), Barnes made a bizarre comment that either completely slipped Kondracke's notice, or else the latter simply let it slide, possibly (again confirmed by Outfoxed) fearing the network's retaliation. (At Fox News, you tow the line or you move on. Certainly gives falsity to their claim of fairness and impartiality!) Barnes treated the TV audience to a photo of George Bush embracing a foreign dignitary by placing his palms on the man's cheeks. Never mind that in most of the world's countries, this would go unnoticed. In fact, men in most countries feel no shame but rather closeness of friendship when touching each other -- even hugging and kissing, on the cheek at least. (For all their notorious macho, it is only apocryphal that the Mexicans invented the abrazo to prevent the other guy from drawing his six shooter.) Why should they not be as forward as women toward each other? They're secure in their self image. They know who and what they are.

Barnes took issue with the photo, blurting, "What's he DOING there? If he tried that with me, I'd knock him out!" Kondracke let it go. Strange, since he has, in the past, voiced quite tolerant attitudes toward gays. If it had been a true debate (as rare as hen's teeth on Fox), he might have pointed out that Barnes's outburst showed nothing so much as how insecure Barnes is about his own sexuality. Freud had a word for it: "projection." It's the imparting to others traits one dislikes in oneself. The incident suggests that Barnes might have repressed homosexual traits and that he acts macho-straight to ward off his (mostly imaginary) suggestions he might be a homo himself.