Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday Rock Show

. . . Iron Maiden. This is a band that I think is better listened to than seen. Their over-the-top stage show, featuring a fifteen-foot-tall animatronic puppet named Eddie that emerges from the backstage curtain to menace concert-goers, combined with all the leather trappings, S&M gear, and ultra-macho posturing is a bit off-putting to this nearly-42 year old. Just sitting and listening to them, however, I am reminded how powerful they were. Heavily influenced by British prog, particularly Jethro Tull, and with one of the great screamers in Bruce Dickinson on vocals, the band could be boring at times ("Revelations" comes to mind), but at their best had a kind of frantic, thrashing energy that was cathartic. Here they are with one of those songs that some Christians find troubling, "Number of the Beast":

PS: I am leading a discussion with the Senior High Sunday School class tomorrow on contemporary music, using last week's featured song, "Pray" by Disturbed, and perhaps either "Vicarious" or "The Grudge" or even "Lateralus" by Tool. Wish me luck.

A Bit Of A Ramble-Rant On Christian Critics of Rock (A Lead-In To The Saturday Rock Show)

I am assuming that long-time readers of this blog will have figured out by now that I am a fan of all kinds of music. I am also assuming that long-time readers of this blog, having indulged my self-indulgent music posts twice a week, will also have figured out that I enjoy some music that some Christians think is inappropriate. Finally, I assume that these same readers will have figured out that I think these Christian critics are know-nothing simpletons who confuse their own musical tastes with the directions from The Almighty.

Back in the late-1980's I was leading a Youth Group study on the subject of contemporary music (a pretty sad affair in 1989, let me tell you; if you weren't around, or don't remember, be glad), and one member of my Youth Group started spouting off with the same, tired, and wrong, claims - AC-DC was a Satanic moniker; Black Sabbath were all devil worshipers; listening to rock music leads to drug use; and, my favorite, the Led Zepelin song "Stairway to Heaven" is backward masked with all sorts of Satanic messages. I dealt with it in a mature fashion - I laughed at her (I hope you get it that I am being self-mocking when I say that I was being mature . . .). I would much rather than I started to ask her some questions, such as - Have you actually listened to any the bands you criticize? What music do you listen to? Why? What makes some music appealing to you, and other music not appealing? In this way, I could possibly have led her to think more deeply about the question, without either passing judgment upon her, or being boring and pedantic, or both (a failing I have).

Having said that, I recognize that there are some bands out there - the so-called Black Metal or Death Metal bands, for the most part - that present themselves as actively involved in worshiping Satan, and write songs around such themes. Venom, Mercyful Fate, Slayer, and a whole host of bands, mostly from Scandinavia (I find it amusing that most of these bands combine a musical onslaught with a vocal style doubly unintelligible, by grunting in Norwegian) are part of a small subset of bands with a dedicated following. I doubt highly whether even the majority of even the most die-hard listeners are either active Satanists; most probably at worst flirt with general occult hobbies, and are in little danger other than losing their hearing. For what should probably be obvious reasons, I do not listen to these bands (which does not mean I am not aware of them; Slayer in particular has much to offer, if only they would step back from their feaux-Satanic lyrical trappings long enough for me to be able to listen to them with something like a clear conscience), nor would I ever offer a video of them here.

The existence of bands and individuals who have dabbled with occult themes, however, has led to the condemning of a whole host of musicians, and even musical styles, without warrant or even evidence. In various ways Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, and Iron Maiden have played up certain imagery and themes that some might consider offensive. I remember seeing an Ozzy concert on MTV when I was in high school, and talking about it with my English teacher. At the show, Ozzy walked out on stage carrying a cross, which he proceeded to throw on the floor. I have to admit I was a bit stunned by this bit of theatrics (a bit tame compared to Alice Cooper chopping off his own head, hanging himself, and electrocuting himself - all in the same show!), and my English teacher asked a question that I think it might be important to consider - "Why do it?" Why, indeed.


In general, the Christian critics of rock in general, and certain aspects of heavy metal in particular, use such stunts as this, and the employment of certain lyrical and visual imagery that can be considered "occult" in a general sense as a way of damning what is, for the most part, a very specialized musical form. I think, to be honest, they don't get what heavy metal is about, and rather than try to figure it out, they simply toss it all away, preferring to condemn what they do not understand. In particular, the list of grievances listed above that I had thrown in my face, familiar to anyone who is a fan of rock in general and aware of the mid-1980's contretemps in re the Parents Music Resource Center, can all be shown to be false. Yet, they persist precisely because these same critics fail to actually listen to the music in question, and send out their notices and are accepted as gospel truth.

It is one thing to say, "You know what, I don't like this music because it is loud/angry/profane/offensive" and say, "You know what, if you listen to Judas Priest/Ozzy Osbourne, you will commit suicide". The former is both honest and acceptable - I understand why people are turned off by the noise, the over-the-top-theatrics, and macho posturing of heavy metal. What I fail to understand is the latter kind of nonsense (both Ozzy and JP were dragged in to court by ambulance-chasing lawyers looking for money representing bereaved parents whose very disturbed children committed suicide; both artists expressed horror and sympathy at the tragedies only to have themselves accused of culpability in the events in question) because it confuses theatrics with reality. It is one thing for Ozzy as the stage figure to toss a cross on to the floor; it is another thing to extrapolate from that that he is the anti-Christ and is to be shunned at all costs.

All of this can be summed up this way: If you don't like heavy metal, fine. Please, however, do not try to convince other people that they are damned for all eternity by listening to . . .

What About The Marines?

I haven't commented at all on the recent events surrounding independent security contractor Blackwater - a good rundown on all the sordid details can be found in this piece by Steve Benen at Talking Points Memo - but I have had a persistent question as I followed this particular piece of black comedic farce: What happened to the Marine Corps?

One of the jobs Blackwater has contracted is security at the American Embassy in Baghdad. It was my impression that Embassy security, historically, was a task for the United States Marine Corps. Why is it that an Administration dedicated to the proposition that the military is sacrosanct (except for Democratic lawmakers who have distinguished military records, and generals who disagree with the President) contract out a vital function such as this to a bunch of unsupervised mercenaries?

I can understand, perhaps, in some kind of abstract way, the necessity of hiring a security consulting firm for some bit of research or other. Of course, with the Pentagon being the most bloated of federal bureaucracies, I wonder even at that, but still, in some abstract sense, I can accept this. Setting aside the whole question of a group of Blackwater employees wandering the streets of Baghdad killing civilians, and according to the Benen piece listed above running guns (can't get in the way of free enterprise, one supposes), I just wonder why in the world we are paying a private firm, at what is most likely much higher costs than would be incurred if we were to use the Marines to perform their traditional function, to do a job as dangerous, and official as embassy security.

With a bunch of mercenaries riding around, American mercenaries, killing indiscriminately, creating an even more volatile security situation for our troops already in a near-impossible situation, we have a recipe for even more disaster. Surely anyone with a modicum of intelligence and foresight could have seen this coming, and perhaps recommended that we not arm American civilians and tell them they have a job as important as protecting VIPs. Just one more example of how supremely stupid, dangerous, and ultimately counter-productive are the policies of the Bush Administration.

Outsourcing has reached a new level of idiocy.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A New Widget - Maybe Some New Traffic

If you look to the right, you might just see my new widget, BlogRush. I saw it first over at Adam Walker-Cleavland's blog, Pomomusings, and in five minutes, I got it up and running. Apparently, there are issues with Internet 6.0, but with Firefox (which I use, and is available for a free download) it is clear and easy.

Right now, I am averaging, on a good week, 1500 unique page views a week. BlogRush is supposed to be able to increase this, by the simple but elegant device of direct advertising on similar blogs. We shall see, shan't we?

Diplomatic Immunity From American Right-Wing Stupidity

I'm kind of with Josh Marshall on this - to quote Bugs Bunny, "What's all the hubbub, Bub?" The elected head of state of a foreign nation wants to lay a wreath at Ground Zero when he makes the trek to the opening of the UN General Assembly session in New York City. That the leader in question happens to be Iranian President Ahmed Amedinajad seems to have a whole bunch of people frothing at the mouth. The only reason for said frothing, from my own perspective, is ignorant hatred. Period.

If it weren't bad enough that there is all sorts of carrying on about this, Crooks and Liars adds this little tidbit of information:
The ever irresponsible Michelle Malkin is fanning the flames and trying to organize a “welcoming party.” And if she incites enough rage and recklessness to get someone killed, she will be equally outraged if anyone says it is her fault.

There are some fake controversies that I simply fail to understand. Of course, I don't think Amedinajad is crazy, and I don't think it unseemly for a head of state to wish to honor the dead at the site of the World Trade Center, nor do I think it seemly for the United States government to deny such a request. But, what do I know?

Talking The Typing Trade With ER

In comments on this post, ER writes:
Oh, please. This is debatable -- being gay isn't a "lifestyle" -- by definition.

I know the position I hold, but my position is debatable.

As an ink-stained wretch myself, I must remind all that every special interest bitches about every story in the news that does not merely repeat-parrot-do honor to their views on controversial subjects.

I just get tired of it. And, by now, anyone who expects any news story -- any! -- to provide more than a gloss of the issues is just ... I don't know what.

No personal offense intended, Geoffrey. But general-circulation newspapers synthesize views -- they do not now, nor ever have they ever reported The Truth!

For the record, I do not believe that journalists should report "The Truth". I do believe, however, that when a person or group makes a statement for the record that contains factual inaccuracies, part of the reporter's task it to inform readers that these are such. Perhaps not in the interview per se, but certainly in the body of the story. For example, when reporting a story on the Bush tax cuts of 2001-2002, in the face of innumerable claims by Republican supporters that the cuts were aimed at the middle class, reporters should not say "but Democrats claim otherwise". They should say, "the bill in question actually shifts the tax burden upon the middle class, giving the bulk of the cuts the the wealthy." Why? Because it is a fact. Not "truth", or even "TRUTH", but just a fact that is verifiable.

Further up, in comments here, he writes:
You wish. :-)

American newspaper readership is in decline because, as faulty as it is, it still takes too much trouble for most people, these days, to be bothered to r-e-a-d and t-h-i-n-k. Yer hope is misplaced, I'm afraid.

I also count the realization that modern journalism is out for profit, above all else, about equal to adults' realization that Geo. Washington actually did not chop down a cherry tree, lie about it, then, admit it. The detached, objective press was a myth and it is a myth.

The Pentagon Papers, Woodward and Bernstein, and the rest are remembered because they are historical aberrations! Not because they represent some earlier standard -- because if it ever existed, it was fleeting -- but it never really existed.

The first paragraph is the kind of elitist BS I think is killing newspapers in particular and, combined with the very real pursuit of the almighty dollar, journalism in general. Americans are not stupid, or afraid to think. There are, of course, people who are afraid of thought; there are people who are afraid of having their comfortable ideological bubbles pricked by the pins of actual facts. There are people who have never engaged with politics, and find the whole mess rather unseemly and distant from their lives. There are people who are so focused on their families and careers that they care very little for the world outside their own sphere of (very narrow, almost myopic) interest. This does not mean the American public, as a general rule, are either stupid or apathetic. The majority of Americans are well-educated, thoughtful, publicly engaged on one level or another, and have views that range from mildly firm to ideologically bedrock on any number of issues. Whenever journalists become "surprised" by one story or another (my favorite from the past ten years was the "surprise" of journalists at the wild success and popularity of the Mars rover stories from ten years ago or so; imagine the public being enchanted with the exploration of another planet!) I have to laugh because the "surprise" is based on the notion that the American people are stupid, and when they, en masse, demonstrate they are not stupid, there just seems to be no explanation for it.

Specifically related to the issue in the second linked post above, ER claims certain things are "debatable". Well, that may be true. In fact, however, the position taken by opponents of the Hononegah HS GSA is factually inaccurate in the terms in which it is presented by those opponent. It isn't "false", or "FALSE" (as opposed to "TRUE"). It is just - wrong. Period. Being gay or lesbian is simply not inherently more unhealthy than being straight. The expressed "concern" is a cover for bigotry, plain and simple. As everyone knows this to be the case, it might be nice if the journalist in question did the following:
- accurately quote the person who represented the opposition;
- proceed to make clear to readers that the concerns expressed by opponents of the GSA were factually inaccurate without placing any moral or ethical judgment upon the person who put forth these views
- proceed to quote the views of the student who supports GSA, as well as parents who support the GSA; as the GSA passed the School Board it might be thought "fair" to make sure people understood this isn't "parents versus students" in some kind of even fight, but the result of considered debate and back-and-forth between any number of individuals and groups
These steps would inform the public that opponents of the GSA are actually misinformed in their claims for opposing such a group, giving supporters more information for future encounters with them. As opponents and complainers about any number of issues tend to be the ones who shout and carry on the most and the loudest, it might give the quiet supporters information to address alleged "concerns" as they come up.

Every time I hear a journalist tell a non-journalist that we do not understand what it is they really do, I have to smile, because we know quite well what it is they do. They take information concerning events and occurrences and organize and present to the public a semi-coherent representation of these events (school board meetings, a Presidential speech) and occurrences (a traffic accident, a homicide) for the public. Somewhere along the way, the notion that in so doing, journalists have a responsibility to the public to present accurate (as opposed to truthful) information got lost. This is another reason why I do not like the idea of Truth; it is a distraction, a nonsequitur used to distract people from the central point of the debate about the ever-sinking quality of American journalism (a note to ER - give a listen to the BBC, or read the Jerusalem Post, or the English language edition of Le Monde or Le Figaro for an example of what I am talking about).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Please, Not OJ Again

The night of the low-speed pursuit of OJ Simpson through the highways around Los Angeles was the night before my wife and I moved to her first appointment. We spent all day - fourteen hours - loading our possessions in to a rented moving van and her mother's car and our car. Our neighbor came to us and told us to watch what was going on. I found it quite surreal, to be honest - a car, moving slowly, followed by a whole phalanx of police vehicles, none of which made a move to intercept or stop the Bronco.

To this day, I count my disenchantment with the mainstream media not with the abysmal performance during the 2000 election, or the impeachment nonsense. I think the whole thing really began with OJ. Somehow, this single event, a murder of little significance other than to the immediate families of the victims, became the show trial for America at the end of the century. Simpson was not the first nor will he be the last celebrity caught up in accusations of violence. There was literally no reason, no rational explanation, for the insistence that this event was somehow seminal in America. Coming along with the rise of the House Republicans and the advent of Newt Gingrich, I cannot help but link them in my mind; both of these were tragedies for America. In the case of the Simpson murder trial, it was neither the trial itself nor the underlying crime that were national tragedies. Rather, it was the almost screeching obsession of the media with this otherwise trivial event (as trivial as the murder of two human beings by another human being can ever be) that made me question, first, my own sanity (I think this is nonsense, but no one seems to agree with me), then the sanity of the media (These people are just plain nuts; CNN has lost its collective mind, giving us ALL OJ ALL THE TIME). When they failed us during impeachment, during 2000, during the run-up to the war, during the '02 and '04 elections, I was not surprised; they had lost their ability to be the effective watchdogs of the commonweal when an otherwise unsensational murder became the focus of some kind of national psycho-drama.

Now, it seems, we have to go through it again. Or not. Unlike 13 years ago, we do not have cable or satellite, and I get my news from on-line sources, steering clear from the utter nonsense the mainstream feeds us. Perhaps I am cut off in some way from the life of the country by living this way, but I tend to think of it as saving my sanity.

It's Like The Election Never Happened

In the past twenty-four hours or so, we have seen the Republicans filibuster two rather lame, conservative amendments (one of which was to restore the writ of habeas corpus to the Constitution) and vote successfully to condemn the MoveOn add against Gen. Petraeus. Didn't the Democrats take back the Senate last year? Don't we keep hearing all sorts of inspiring talk from Sen. Reid, the majority leader, about how the Democrats are going to no longer bend over and take it from the President and his political sock puppets in the Senate?

I think what did it is Nancy Pelosi taking impeachment off the table. Once the Democrats announced they would not pursue the perfectly legitimate and constitutional duty to investigate and, if necessary, indict the President on crimes and misdemeanors, I do believe the Republicans figured they could do whatever they wanted.

Put it back on the table, Nancy. Make it the table. Make it the entire room. Wallpaper your office with the word "Impeach the President".

Teaching Tolerance

I don't normally highlight local issues here, precisely because they are, well, local. There is a story, however, that touches on broader social, cultural, and political issues that I would like to highlight, and offer up for comment.

Last summer, a teacher at Hononegah High School, in Rockton, IL, came to the school board with a proposal for a Gay-Straight Student Alliance club. The mission of the club, according to published reports, was to create a safe space for sexual minority students and their friends. The board initially rejected the club, but reconsidered after researching the legal framework within which such an extra-curricular activity would function. According to a report in the Rockford Register-Star by reporter Rob Baxter, the Hononegah School Board approved the formation of the club at a meeting yesterday, by a vote of 5-2.

This was not without a certain level of controversy, obviously.
Elaine Meyer, who presented a petition containing the names of 600 people against the formation of the club, said she and her peers will continue to hound the board to make sure what is presented in the club is appropriate.

“The parents and adults that signed the petition will continue to have concerns about what types of material will be presented about the gay and lesbian lifestyle and the health concerns that come along with it,” said Meyer. “We are very concerned an accurate portrayal of the lifestyle be presented so students who do elect to attend these meetings can make an educated decision on what has been documented to be a very dangerous lifestyle.”

Those supporting the club have argued all along that the club’s mission is not to lure students into the gay lifestyle but rather provide a safe haven for those who feel threatened or would like to talk about issues facing gay students. Others have argued the club is for straight students too, hence its name.

The nice balance given here, between the views of one person opposed and one person supporting such a club, is in the finest traditions of know-nothing journalism. The views of the opponent are simply factually inaccurate, and it might be thought a responsible journalist would have pointed that out, but of course, pointing out inaccuracies is no longer considered part of journalism; we have mindless stenographers, rather than people who think.

Be that as it may, I am quite sure that those parents and others who have "expressed concern" (hateful bigots afraid that all those gays and lesbians are going to entice their wonderfully straight children in to the decadent "lifestyle" of homosexuality) will cause no end of trouble. I am most impressed with the whole "monitoring" thing - all it will take is some student to bring home a rumor from school to start all sorts of public outrage against the club, whose mission, it seems to me, is a wonderful example of what schools should be doing.

Anyone familiar with the patterns and histories of local controversies should know the drill here. These things have certain ritualistic components that are practically written in stone. The biggest problem I have is that those voicing opposition are not called to account for their ignorance and bigotry; being gay isn't a "lifestyle" (I honestly do not know what that word means, not just here, but in any context), and the club isn't about "exploring the lifestyle" but about mutual support and understanding among students who feel a need for such support. The goal of the club is not helped by the constant mewling of parents who oppose it; such intolerance has a way of filtering down to the school and expressing itself in unhealthy ways. More to the point, while the woman claims six hundred names, I did not read where the reporter saw the petition, or any verification of that claim was offered, and I strongly suspect it is nonsensical. Even so, as the law is on the side of the school board, such a petition is irrelevant; the support for minorities is not a democratic issue, but one of fundamental justice. Hononegah High School is to be commended for teaching not just tolerance but acceptance of those different, and for offering the opportunity to create space for those whose lives are vastly different than others.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Considered Response to The Senate's Refusal to End Debate and Vote on The Habeaus Restoration Act (WARNING -STRONG LANGUAGE)

So, the Republicans managed, once again, to prevent a vote on a bill to restore to the Constitution the bedrock principle of Anglo-American law. It also seems that Jim Webb's modest proposal to stave off the total collapse of our military by allowing our troops to rotate home more quickly, and for longer periods, might fall prey to competing bills, including one offered by fellow Virignian John Warner.

Over at Crooks and Liars, we have the wonderful site of a conservative tearing apart a general (Abizaid) who had the temerity to say that, as a matter of military policy, the United States could live with a nuclear Iran. It appears that Abizaid is learning the hard way that the only military personnel the Republicans, and right-wingers like, are those who are either dead, or willing to spout their version of reality. Ask John Kerry, or John Murtha, or Max Cleland what happens when people with impressive military records refuse to cow before the wisdom of all those who never served in the military.

These people have neither shame nor dignity nor an ounce of love for the country. In their honor, I offer the following song (again, if nasty words and angry rants aren't your thing, you might want to just pass this one on by). To be honest, I'm mad as hell right now.

ADDENDUM for CAMERON and NEON PRIME TIME: Both of you gentlemen have taken me to task in the past, and I have learned from you, concerning the use of foul language. I have tried to keep my mouth clean since then, as I felt convicted by your insistence that I could do better by keeping it clean. In my own defense, I can only say that I am simply outraged by the actions of certain persons in politics and journalism, and this is more of a venting process than a substantive statement of my position. As I have said before, and will say now, and will say in the future, "hate" is too strong a word for me; I do not "hate". The use of "hate" in this song, and the repeated invocations of the f-bomb are, for me, right now, a good way for me to say by not saying myself that I am really, really angry. I want to apologize, right here and now, for any offense taken by this song. I do not "hate" George Bush, or Rich Lowry, or John McCain, or John Warner. I am tired of the lying, of the attempt to publicly destroy the reputations of those who disagree on matters of public policy. I am tired of those in the blogs who cheer on the silencing of dissent through such smear campaigns, and endorse the shredding of the constitution in the name of some phony war on terror. I am tired of being told I hate the troops by those who are breaking the military, either through the policies they enact, or the support of these policies. Allow me my catharsis without taking it too much to heart. Even the best Christians slip in to sin, and I would never consider myself even a good Christian, so please have some patience with me.

The Right To Be Obnoxious, Especially To Our Elected Officials

If, as he says (h/t, tbogg), Will Bunch doesn't believe that the young man tasered at the John Kerry event at the University of Florida should have been tasered, what difference does it make that he has a history of inflammatory comments designed to draw attention to himself? To be honest, were it Rush Limbaugh who was so treated at a John Kerry event, I wouldn't hesitate to defend his right to be as obnoxious as possible without fear of physical danger.

So the guy has a desire to be famous (that makes him about as common as a cold in our contemporary cultural situation). So the guy needs to tighten his prose a tad (not unlike certain bloggers who shall remain nameless . . .). So he has a history of writing things designed specifically to get a rise out of people. He still has the right to address a question to an elected official, and when that question is not answered to his satisfaction, demand an answer.

Unless, of course, we live in some authoritarian country now where the First Amendment doesn't apply.

Oh, right. We do now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rambling Meta Post - What's Jesus Got To Do With It

I suppose this is one of those boring "meta" posts that annoy people, but I think it's necessary, so there you are.

Of late, I have been engaged in various discussions about how to read the Bible, who is and is not a false teacher, and other such religious and theological topics. All the while I have been keeping track of the abysmal state of current affairs. I often wonder if people see any relationship between the two. Sometimes, I wonder that myself. In the case of various religious controversies, the issues often cut across party and political lines. In the case of political discussions, I find myself amongst company that has little time or use for my religious beliefs (of course, I really don't care about that). Yet, I think it is necessary to attempt to draw the lines between them, if for no other reason than clarification.

If you scroll down the right-hand side, just below my name, you will see a quote from Isaiah Berlin. It is from an essay included in a volume entitled The Crooked Timber of Humanity. I have written before of the effect of Berlin upon my own social and political thought, but I should probably sum it up this way - I am utterly opposed to anyone, any political ideology, any party, any policy, that seeks to alter the social structure on the backs of actual human beings. This does not mean that I worry equally about the rich and powerful as well as the poor. On the contrary, those who have the multiple resources to fend for themselves have no real reason other than an affront to their sense of social and political entitlement to fear certain political matters, such as the question of universal health care. I take the side of those who are now, and have perpetually been (not just in America, but pretty much anywhere in any society) the victims of power. I do this partly out of a commitment to fundamental fairness and justice, and partly because I believe that Jesus, too, was committed to the lives of the victims of social injustice.

The link, therefore, is rooted in my own (but not just my own; see James Cone, Gustavo Gutierrez, Rosemary Radford Reuther, and other liberation theologians) belief that God in the life of Jesus most definitely takes the side of the victim of social injustice; through the ministry of Jesus, they were called to define themselves not as no people, but as God's people (a la the words of the LORD to Moses and the Hebrews in Exodus). When human beings no longer accept the definition of who they are foisted upon them by those who seek through such definitions to control them, the struggle for life has already begun. On the other hand, as long as certain elements of the Christian community continue to insist that Christian social and political commitments are limited to abortion and bashing gays, we really aren't moving very far. Personally, I would much prefer to leave those two issues alone (except, obviously, when silence equals consent in injustice visited upon women and sexual minorities). I also think that religious progressives should not worry overmuch about the spiritual status of those with whom we might form coalitions; it is more important to work for justice with others whose private beliefs are vastly different than to seek to bridge unbridgeable gaps with others whose faith commitments lead them to support violence, war, and oppression.

I don't know if any of this makes sense or not. I think that one draws lines in one's life, and we can pursue various "chicken and egg" questions forever - was one committed to a certain vision of social and political justice prior to, or consequent upon, one's faith commitments? - without any satisfactory conclusion. I much prefer settling the issue with honesty about my own motives, what lies behind them, and what I seek to do in my own life.

Our Gate Keepers Are Idiots

I suppose this is related to the previous post, on the excessive violence being employed to silence those who have the temerity to question those in power, or voice unpopular questions. Glenn Greenwald's latest not-to-be-missed column over at outlines how really dumb is so much of our public discourse on politics. It isn't just Glenn, though, because Digby also manages to give multiple examples of fatuousness on the part not just of politicians but the supposedly bright and serious pundit class. While I am highlighting such idiocy, I suppose I should include TRex at Fire Dog Lake who sums up much of my feeling:
Every now and then, I hit a wall. There comes a point in every political blogger’s life, I think, when you’ve soaked up as much Bush idiocy, rank incompetence, duplicity, deceit, and downright dumb-assery as you can reasonably stand. I am saturated with Teh Stoopid.

When the limits of acceptable discourse are set by people who don't have the brains God gave a gopher, is it any wonder that the police are beating up people who express opinions either "outside the mainstream" or demand answers to questions? When David Broder still has something approaching credibility within Washington pundit circles after his laughably stupid insistence the George Bush was poised for a comeback, or his love-in for Lindsay Graham (who, by the way, is the first to publicly come out against the Dodd-Leahy Habeaus Restoration Act), you just know the entire system of political commentary, at least on a semi-official level, is broken.

Silencing Insolent Dissent, Regardless of Party

A few days ago, I wrote about the leader of the Hip-Hop Caucus getting his leg broken by Capitol Police while he was stopped in his attempt to attend the House Committee hearing with Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker. I put the blame squarely on Pres. Bush. A couple commenters pointed out to me what I already knew - the Capitol Police are controlled by the Speaker's Office, therefore if anyone should be blamed, it should be Nancy Pelosi.

Today, at an event at the University of Florida featuring Sen. John Kerry, a young man was tasered by police. In eight days, we have had two serious incidents involving police in different jurisdiction employing violent tactics wholly unrelated either to the alleged offense or the arrested individual's supposed refusal to co-operate. Despite Marshall Art's views expressed in the comment section to the first linked post above, no one is under any legal compunction to obey any order from a police officer - which is why deadly force rules are so stringent. When an individual is standing in line to attend a Congressional hearing, or asking a question of a politician who refuses to answer it, it seems to me that being tackled by five police officers resulting in a broken leg, or being tasered are just a bit excessive.

I do believe laying this at the feet of George Bush is also excessive. I think that we are in a period where our officials of either party are growing intolerant of dissent; the forces of the state, therefore, are called in to silence those who have the temerity to demand answers to questions that make those officials uncomfortable (in Kerry's defense, he has demanded the release of the young man and that all charges be dropped). This is a very scary time; these are the reactions of an authoritarian regime, not a Republic in which all people enjoy the freedom not just of speech, but to petition their representatives for a redress of grievances, and the freedom of assembly. The unleashed police, no longer tethered by the strong cord of the Constitution to consideration of the rights and privileges of citizens (a generation of court rulings whittling away our Constitutional rights seems to be working . . .), are reacting in the best traditions of thugs everywhere, from the Iranian SAVAK to the former Soviet Union.

Of course, none of this is exactly new. In the late 1960's, Hoover's FBI executed an illegal warrant on the home of several Black Panther's killing one outright. No one was charged with a crime. In South Dakota, the FBI set up Leonard Peltier on charges of murdering a pair of undercover agents, and even after all the evidence showed he could not have committed the crime, he still languishes in jail. A former student of my father's, who spent fifteen years as a New York State Police Detective, while applying to the Central Intelligence Agency, admitted on his application that he had lied under oath, planted evidence, and committed other outrages against criminal defendants over the course of his career. He is now in prison, and multiple innocent individuals have been freed. These outrages are the tip of a huge iceberg of the abuse of citizens on the part of various police agencies. With the fear and loathing of the citizens now evident by the political class, these have now spread to silencing dissent.

It is Giuliani time in the whole country, it seems. At least for the police.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Music Monday

The first jazz I bought was Miles Davis (not such a big surprise there). The second was Dizzy Gillespie.

Here he is, featuring Milt Jackson, on "Once in a While":

Here he is with Bird, doing "Hot House":

Finally, how can you not love a guy willing to do The Muppet Show?

Some Thoughts ER Sparked

In reference to the Disturbed video I posted Saturday, ER commented that he appreciated my little self-indulgent commentary, because, among other things, he claims he is old. As he is one year older than me, I would tend to dispute that claim in the interests of self-preservation. Yet, I got thinking about a conversation the missus and I had a few years back when I purchased the Disturbed CD from which "Pray" came, along with another CD I have, A Murder of Crows by Dead Soul Tribe.

In reference to "Pray", and another song, "Liberate", I enthusiastically encouraged my wife - hardly a fan of contemporary heavy metal - to check out the lyrics to both songs. She did so, and listened to both as well. Her only real comment was, "I like what he has to say, but why does he have to be so angry?" I didn't have an answer at the time (surprise, surprise), but I have thought about it more and more over the years, and I think the answer is, "Because anger is sometimes the only appropriate response to the world." Like my post yesterday, frustration with the confusion and contradiction, the horror and absurdity of life sometimes leads to simple tantrums. Such venting exercises are a necessary part of life for anyone who is sensitive enough to the plight of others. Addressing them to God in the form of prayer also helps to make sure one is not being self-indulgent, but actually seeking to move beyond simple ranting towards a solution. As ER noted yesterday, Jeremiah and Habakkuk both managed to get their rants included in the Bible, so there is some precedent for it.

In regards to the song "Flies" by Dead Soul Tribe (also "I'm not Waving"), she asked me, after perusing the lyrics (in both cases, pretty dismal), "Do you really think the world is like this?" I had to think for a moment, but I responded, "Yeah, I do, mostly." I think it is important not to rest within one's own experience of life, but to include the views of others whose experience is not only vastly different, but a challenge. As a white male, despite various personal problems brought on by my own limitations, I have led, and continue to lead, a pretty privileged existence. I recognize that, and so I do not for one moment think that mine is either a typical or unfortunate life; on the contrary, I think mine is an exceptionally good one, including the blessing and grace of a wife whose presence is a dessert far beyond anything I have earned in my life (I think my sister, should she pass by, would agree with that view). Whether of a different class, or race, or gender, or nationality, I think it is important to listen to voices other than those with which I am familiar, to hear their own Job-like, or Jeremiah-like, or even Mohammed-like, visions of life, and to be aware that, as my father had to tell me far too often, "You don't know every god damn thing."

So, the anger appeals to me because sometimes I get angry at the world, at life, and at God. Sometimes I think that life is just not worth all the struggle, so I appreciate those who ruminate on the fact that it all seems to be swamping them. Sometimes I think that the world is a place wear the good is too often destroyed because of the relentlessness of evil. My hope lies, of course, not in anything we do or have, but in the power of God to never surrender to death or evil. There is nothing wrong with ranting about the evil and death that seem overwhelming at times, though. It is the first step in climbing out from under the cloud that seems to hang over the world.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Prayer In The Form Of A Rant (Or Vice Versa)

Somewhere, right now, as I type these words, a child dies, shitting out her insides from preventable diarrhea because a pharmaceutical company refuses to surrender its license guaranteeing it millions of dollars of profits. Somewhere, right now, a young woman weeps, because she is dying inside. Tricked, trapped, traded as a piece of meat, reduced to selling her body to feed the greed of men, she has lost herself and cannot find it anymore. Somewhere, right now, as I type these words, a sniper focuses his sight upon a soldier far from home, scared, tired, not quite sure why he is there, only focussed on this job, right now, because thought might make even this job, right now, look pointless. The sniper pulls the trigger.

Somewhere, right now, a parent is leaving his children. Somewhere, right now, the powerful sit and plan how to retain power, seeing no end other than their own glory. Somewhere, right now, because of those powerful men and women, the powerless die silent, unheralded deaths, faceless and nameless statistics in the war of words that politicians prefer to the reality of shattered bodies, the screams of the dying, and the whistle and screech of bombs and bullets.

Somewhere, right now, a baby is being born, its proud parents weeping with joy as the doctor lays the still-blue body on its mother's stomach, hands the scissors to the new father to cut the umbilical cord. Somewhere, right now, a mother is teaching her daughter how to sew a button, or how to bake a cake, or how to balance a checkbook, or how to drive a car. Somewhere, a father is teaching a son how to throw a football, how to cheer for the best team ever, how to pound a nail straight. Somewhere, right now, a family is sitting down to Sunday dinner, the meal in dishes in front of them, steam rising, and they all give thanks in unison for the gift spread before them, for the love of one another, and for the hope that the food will strengthen and nourish their bodies for Divine Service.

O Lord, help to understand how all of this makes any kind of sense.


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