Saturday, December 01, 2007

Saturday Rock Show

A few years back, VH1 had one of its myriad "100 Best Of" shows, the 100 best hard rock bands of all time. I watched it twice. I thought some of the choices, and some of the placements were off; I also thought there was far too much screen time given to Henry Rollins (what a pompous, self-absorbed doofus). On the other hand, Bad Brains, Yes, King Crimson, and even Sonic Youth made the list, so I couldn't complain that much (OK, maybe about Sonic Youth . . .).

One band that made the list was Blue Oyster Cult. During the "interview" part, James Hetfield of Metallica made the comment that he had seen BOC at a bar somewhere and expressed surprise that they were still at it, and said he admired the fact that they continued to plug away, not caring that much about fame and fortune, just enjoying playing together. I admire that, even in bad bands - it isn't about being famous, but about the music.

BOC performed a few hard-rock novelty songs, "Godzilla" being the most famous. My favorite was "Joan Crawford (Has Risen From the Grave)" ("Christina. . . Mommy's home"). They usually dealt in sci-fi/fantasy themes, so a whole generation of boys who loved Tolkien, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein had a chance to listen to a rock band that put their dreams and enjoyments to music. This is one my favorite songs they have done, "Veteran of the Psychic Wars":

My favorite version of this song is on Extra-Terrestrial Live, which I have yet to find on CD. Any help in that department would be encouraging.

Walter Brueggemann's Script

Over here at Street Prophets, Pastor Dan uses A two-year old piece from Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann inThe Christian Century as a jumping off point for discussing immigration. That discussion is worth reading, but I wanted to discuss Brueggemann's original piece. I would urge you to click the link and read it (grab a Pepsi first, it's a tad longish), because I will be highlighting just a few things, and even though I disagree with some of it, Walter Brueggemann is far too good and wise and insightful to ignore.

Called "Counterscript: Living With the Elusive God", Brueggemann begins his article this way:
I HAVE BEEN thinking about the ways in which the Bible is a critical alternative to the enmeshments in which we find ourselves in the church and in society. I have not, of course, escaped these enmeshments myself, but in any case I offer a series of 19 theses about the Bible in the church.

1. Everybody has a script. People live their lives by a script that is sometimes explicit but often implicit. That script may be one of the great meta-narratives created by Karl Marx or Adam Smith or it may be an unrecognized tribal mantra like, "My dad always said ..." The practice of the script evokes a self, yields a sense of purpose and provides security.


3. The dominant script of both selves and communities in our society, for both liberals and conservatives, is the script of therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism that permeates every dimension of our common life.


4. This script--enacted through advertising, propaganda and ideology, especially in the several liturgies of television--promises to make us safe and happy. Therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism pervades our public life and promises us security and immunity from every threat. And if we shall be safe, then we shall be happy, for who could watch the ads for cars and beers and deodorants and give thought to such matters as the trade deficit or homelessness or the residue of anger and insanity left by the war or by destruction of the environment? This script, with its illusion of safety and happiness, invites life in a bubble that is absent of critical reflection.

5. That script has failed. I know this is not the conclusion that all would draw. It is, however, a lesson that is learned by the nations over and over again. It is clear to all but the right-wing radio talk people and the sponsoring neoconservatives that the reach of the American military in global ambition has served only to destabilize and to produce new and deep threats to our society. The charade of a national security state has left us completely vulnerable to the whim of the very enemies that our security posture has itself evoked. A by-product of such attempts at security, moreover, has served in astonishing ways to evoke acrimony in the body politic that makes our democratic decisionmaking processes nearly unworkable.

We are not safe, and we are not happy. The script is guaranteed to produce new depths of insecurity and new waves of unhappiness. And in response to new depths of insecurity and new waves of unhappiness, a greater resolve arises to close the deal according to the script, which produces ever new waves and new depths.

So far, so good. I couldn't agree more if I stood, screeched, and tossed money Brueggemann's way.

Then, he takes a turn I completely disagree with. This is a case of being a good diagnostician without necessarily being a good therapist, I think.
8. The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement is undertaken through the steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we testify will indeed make us safe and joyous. We have become so jaded in the church--most particularly in the liberal church--that we have forgotten what has been entrusted to us. We have forgotten that the script entrusted to us is really an alternative and not an echo. Liberals tend to get so engaged in the issues of the day, urgent and important as those issues are, that we forget that behind such issues is a meta-narrative that is not about our particular social passion but about the world beyond our control. The claim of that alternative script is that there is at work among us a Truth that makes us safe, that makes us free, that makes us joyous in a way that the comfort and ease of the consumer economy cannot even imagine. It would make a difference if the church were candid in its acknowledgment that that is the work to which it is called.(emphases added)

I do not believe that it is the task of the Church to replace one failed meta-narrative with another, equally-flawed meta-narrative. I do not believe for one moment that we should be engaged in saying that we have the real answers to the questions currently provided by our society's reliance upon therapy, consumerism, technology, and militarism. Rather, the Church should be insistent that the Truth is not something that makes us safe, but in fact puts us in real jeopardy. The Church should be telling people the bourgeois desire for security is itself and illusion, and the Church is not in the illusion business. We are not the bearers of alternative answers, but something far more insidious and dangerous - we are the bearers of the Good News that our questions, our desires, and every line upon which we hang our hopes of security, happiness, and peace are false.

Unlike Brueggemann, I am pomo enough to think that we need to be in the business of tossing out all these scripts and recognize what has been the case all along - it's all ad-lib. The flaw in this entire piece is the notion that the questions we ask are the questions to which Christian faith has answers. It doesn't. The questions are gibberish. The only answer to the question of security, happiness, and peace, is the bloodied body of Jesus hanging on the cross. Anyone who thinks that there is something emotionally comforting in the life of faith has not stood at the foot of the cross.

Yet, it is also Good News the Church preaches. Part of the "goodness" is the illusion-shattering demand that we surrender our desire for security, happiness, and peace. These are the dreams of children, and we aren't children. Like St. Paul, we should give up our childish ways, and remember that we Christians have surrendered our lives to Christ - the only thing we have left to give is our death, and that's something we would face anyway. We can face that final moment, however, with the satisfaction that we have not succumbed to the temptations of nonsensical answers to false questions.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Christmas Nostalgia

Last week, my sister took me to task for this post, and I defended my views by claiming that I would not succumb to nostalgia. On the other hand, moments of nostalgia, especially for Christmas are certainly not bad. I have great memories of Christmases past, and I would like to share a few of them here, plus the moment when I realized that Christmas in our house would never be the same, and how sad that made me.

These are all reflections on Christmases past. Since becoming an adult, my thoughts about the holiday are quite different, and my memories less tinged with the rosiness but special in a different way. I think that is true for most of us.

My parents' house has a big bay window in the living room, and our tree always went there; sometimes it was so big and full the top would brush the eight foot ceiling, and the branches would be well out in to the room, with the base sitting past the edge of the bay. Packages would circle 'round back and out to the middle of the the living room floor. When we were all still younger, we would march down the back staircase (we had two), and my father would plant himself in the doorway, not allowing us to peek until we had breakfast and entered the room together.

One year, when my oldest sister was in college, and I was, probably, in third or fourth grade, I woke up at the crack of darkness, to fetch my stocking. I immediately went in to my sister's room, to wake her up to show her what I had. I am quite sure her head was still fuzzy from whatever gaiety she had been a part of the night before, but I have always remembered how she sat in bed, indulging her loathsome little brother's joy, smiling and laughing with me. Yes, Sis, this is you we're talking about.

My favorite Christmases happened when I was in fifth and sixth grades. Plenty of snow, everyone home for the holidays - no moments to tarnish the memories. Except, alas, for Christmas, 1976, when I was in sixth grade. My sister, Sis, was to be married the next month. On Christmas Eve, after candlelight, we would gather in the living room, where my father would read Luke 2 to us from the King James Bible that had been a gift to him from our bastard great grandmother. After this reading, we would sing a couple Christmas carols. Then, the young ones (by this time, that meant me), would be trotted off to bed, while the rest relaxed, and that year, my mother and Sis baked pies. I remember, as clear as if it happened yesterday, right after my mother told me it was time for bed, her also telling my sister she wanted her help in the kitchen to do some baking. My sister agreed, and as she was looking off to the kitchen, it hit me like a windshield hitting a fly - this was the last Christmas we would be together. Sis was to be married and, presumably, would be spending the following Yuletides with her new family.

That was a sad, indeed, almost heartbreaking, moment. I think it colored my memories and thoughts of Christmases for years to come (I know it did for at least two). We had been whole, together, and now, we would be apart. This was the first realization for my young mind that change happens. It was also my first wrestling with the emotional impact of change. I don't think I have had a Christmas as big or important or as special as that last Christmas when all five of us, and our parents, sat around the living room that year.

Incidentally, I always liked the fact that our Stable scene was not in the main living room, but in the front living room, a room that doesn't even have a ceiling lamp. It was just like the Bible stories - the most important event wasn't in a place of honor, but nearly forgotten, in a small corner of a much busier world.

I also liked my mother's attempt at being crafty - a mirror with glued together cotton balls around it featuring a few iron or lead die-cast figures skating. That sits, I think, on the sewing-machine table in the back of their kitchen each year.

Do you have any significantly nostalgic moments from your childhood Christmases? I think the rule here should be - from your childhood, when emotions and impressions are far more important than thoughts and actual events.

More Debate Thoughts

By now, everyone and their grandmother knows that the right is all puffed up like a porcupine fish over the supposedly "planted question". Now, most media outlets, at least those that have any journalistic integrity at all, have already made clear that the guy has no relationship with the Clinton campaign at all. Indeed, by focusing on the phony controversy (these right-wingers are so bloated with outrage, they remind me of photos of dead horses from the Civil War, about ready to burst, spilling their guts everywhere) the press continues to give some kind of legitimacy to this nonsense.

Yet, Sen. Clinton has admitted to planting questions in the past, so in a sense, she and her campaign staff do bear responsibility for the viability of this crap.

Yet, CNN has also planted questions.

Grover Norquist, hardly a "regular Joe", managed to get his question before the Republican candidates. Norquist, for those who might not know, is the howling mad anti-tax "guru" who has been around since the Reagan Administration, claiming the income tax is unconstitutional (despite a Constitutional Amendment giving Congress authority . . . to impose an income tax; I wonder if these people actually read the Constitution, or the Bible for that matter).

All of this shows that these "debates" aren't debates at all. I'm not sure what one would call them. CNN already made clear they vetted the questions, so putting the "YouTube" moniker on them is pretty silly - people could have emailed these video questions.

To me, the biggest story is how screeching insane every one of the candidates appeared (except Ron Paul). It was almost a contest to see who could be more angry, more blood-thirsty, more hate-filled toward brown folk. By the way, the audience didn't boo McCain as some have claimed, during an exchange with Ron Paul over the latter's desire to withdraw from Iraq. They booed Paul for saying that America has no business being the global nanny state. The folks in the audience may hate McCain (for what reason I still don't understand because he is just as loony as the rest of them) but they love this occupation, and they want America to continue fulfilling Ann Coulter's instructions, post-9/11.

No one is talking about that. I have yet to read a story, a post, even a blurb anywhere that reads, "The CNN/YouTube debate featuring the Republican contenders for their party's nomination for President revealed that every Republican candidate except Ron Paul is emotionally, psychologically, and politically unfit to be elected County Coroner." That's the real story.

All of 'em are just barking.

On a final note - what rule, exactly, was broken by having a gay former admiral ask a legitimate question? Where were the questions on the contraction in the credit and housing markets? Where were the questions on the shakiness of the retail sector? On agricultural price supports and the recent jump in milk prices? What about the safety of our troops in the field in light of revelations the military is keeping soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen in the field who are physically and psychologically unfit to fulfill their duties? These are questions of importance, and substance. Having a 23-minute long orgy of Mexican-hating only serves to show how unbalanced these people are; the most unbalanced, Tom Tancredo, managed to mention this little fun fact, but it is still largely unnoticed.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Didn't Watch The Debate

Again, no TV means my family had quality time last night, rather than the brawl on CNN last night. What clips I have seen and transcripts I have read, however, make the whole thing appear really bad for the Republicans. So, of course, that's good for the Republicans and bad for the Democrats. Yet, I can't help agreeing with Thers and atrios. At least a national audience got a chance to see how demented "the base" is, and how low the candidates will stoop to pander to the knuckle-dragger vote.

Of course, the Democrats haven't behaved much better, but the Republicans managed to make the Democrats look sane, informed, and reasonable (except for Ron Paul, who, while a kook on some issues, is at least relatively consistent and principled). More Republican debates before the convention, please. I might actually watch one if they're all as fun as this.

How Big Was The Ark?

With a generous kowtow and chant of "We're not worthy" a la Wayne's World to ER for the link, we have this review of the Creation Museum. It has the best opening line I have read in quite a while:
Imagine, if you will, a load of horseshit.

The review, while obviously critical, is not necessarily unsympathetic. The reviewer admires the layout - the $27,000,000 was well spent - but, in the end, it is nothing more than a monument to horse apples.

One twist in the creationist narrative I had noticed is that, now, Dinosaurs, including the carnivores made carnivores by the Fall, were included in the ark. I had always thought the creationist line was they all died in the Flood. Since Genesis says "all animals in their kinds", apparently that means T-Rex and diplodocus, velociraptor and its prey, were all cheek-by-jowl with the sheep, giraffes, lions, and the rest of the traditional menagerie.

I look forward to a museum dedicated to the physical (notice I don't say "scientific"; a person can only go so far in these things) evidence for the Hindu creation story, generously supported by the growing South Asian community. Actually, since the Hindus believe not so much in creation, but the cyclical nature of the Universe's creation and destruction, it should probably be more about "creation this time".

More On The Joe Klein Business

In comments here, Democracy Lover asks an honest question, which deserves an honest response:
While I admire Greenwald's courage in calling Time and JokeLine on their blatant publication of partisan propaganda as journalism, and his tenacity in holding their feet to the fire, do we really believe that AOL Time-Warner will stop parroting Republican BS and start doing their jobs?

Obviously, the short answer is "No". This isn't about changing the behavior of major news outlets. The various "narrative frameworks" and their methodological presuppositions (to get all hifalutin') are far too entrenched for that. This is part of a process of pushing back against various elite journalists who are paraded around as serious, informed thinkers of Deep Thoughts. These elite pundits continually perform as if, because of their access to "sources" (more on that below) and some kind of weird, occult process by which they have better understanding than your Average Citizen, they were fonts of wisdom, sagacity (I think that's redundant), and scrupulously fair commentary.

In this case, however, we have a pundit who lauds himself continually (humility, apparently, is not a journalistic/pundit virtue, although they demand it of those whom they cover) showing himself in public to be ignorant, stubbornly refusing to admit error, and finally admitting he is just too damn lazy to do his job. In the process, as Greenwald shows in his latest installment of the continuing saga, one of Klein's sources managed to out himself. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) writing in NRO today, claimed himself as one of Klein's sources. I have no problem with using such a source to get the partisan skinny on a situation; yet, as is the case here, it is Klein's misreporting, admitted lazy, slovenly attitude towards the facts, and adamant refusal to admit he is wrong that is the issue.

This pushback against the nonsense will not change the world overnight. It probably won't change the world at all. In all likelihood, it won't even change the way Joe Klein writes his columns. What it does is give bloggers and others, not just the confidence but the props to continue to push back. Pundits and bloggers are entitled to opinions (being as ubiquitous as a certain orifice, to which Klein bears a striking resemblance). They are not entitled to ignore facts because they interfere with certain assumptions (Democrats are weak on national security; they coddle terrorists, etc.). If the facts are contrary to the narrative, we need to toss that narrative out.

In the Greenwald column already linked, it is nice to see that the Tribune has more integrity than Time. The former has come flat out and said that Klein was wrong. The latter . . . not so much. Even the updated correction that Greenwald notes contains the "he said/he said" nonsense that is irrelevant precisely because this isn't a matter open to interpretation. A correction that refuses to drop the underlying premise is not a correction, but continued obfuscation.

I have no doubt that Klein will continue to type away whatever crap is fed him by Hoekstra and other sources. At least now we know where some of it is coming from. We also have something we can hang around his neck each and every time he puts his mug on television, or goes on-line or in print and carries on about how unprofessional and uninformed bloggers are. This is a process, and a marker in the process. It may take time - maybe decades - before garbage like this goes away. It probably will not go away for good. At least, however, we have the satisfaction of pushing back, and the information is available for those who may have future questions about pundit credibility.

As to the second part of your comment, I think that is overblown. There are plenty of good journalists out there, doing good work, that goes unnoticed precisely because it really is good. While there is no doubt that there is a corporate bias at that level, good reporting does get done, more often than not. The criticism I have has always been with a tiny slice of our elite pundits and the truly fatuous, shallow commentary they continually put out there, pretending they are philosopher-kings to which we demos should bow in humble adoration.


If Klein's ego weren't so tied up in being wiser and smarter than us dumb, foul-mouthed bloggers, and he admitted his original mistake and said, "Sorry", this whole thing would have been over a week ago. He can't do it, however, and so on and on it goes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Public Responsibility, Private Vice

I was interested in the "survey" of "religious thinkers" at the on-line On Faith forum at Washington Post/Newsweek online:
From Clinton to Craig, from Swaggart to Paulk, America seems obsessed with sex scandals. Is sex outside of marriage a sin? Is it a public matter? Is it forgivable?

Those consulted range from a Jesuit scholar through Arun Ghandi to Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, President of Chicago Theological Seminary, and a former New Testament professor at my seminary alma mater (she was gone before I attended, but I have always been proud she was affiliated, for a short time, with Wesley). What I find interesting is that no one challenged the first part of the question. Are Americans obsessed with sex scandals? Or is the the press who is obsessed with sex scandals?

In the past year we have had a series of them, most involving Republicans or their supporters, and all but two involving the acting out of same-sex desire by those who have made careers out of denouncing such behavior. The two exceptions were the pedophilia of Mark Foley and Sen. David Vitter of Lousiana and his trysts with prostitutes. To my mind, none of these are "scandals", nor are they primarily about sex. Rather, they are instances of persons caught being human beings, full of foibles and weaknesses - and acting in ways contrary to repeated statements concerning what they consider proper moral conduct. It isn't the betrayal of trust, public or private; it is the obviously hypocritical nature of their acts that attracts. These are moments of schadenfreude that should force us to think about what passes for moral demands among a sector of the public. Instead, we keep hearing about "sex". The "sex" involved, for the most part, is uninteresting. The revelations of same-sex desire, hidden under a mountain of words and actions that would seem to make it not just a crime but a moral disaster reveal how small the "sex" really is.

All of this, to me, shows the issue isn't sex at all. It is the farce that is so much of our public discussion of morality. It isn't just that so many of the voices of "traditional moral values" are a bunch of closet queens who might have benefited from coming out and living their lives with integrity. It isn't just the private pain of marriage vows betrayed and families broken. It is the fact that the pretense of morality is still considered a necessary part of our public discussion, rather than incidental to it.

People, whether publicly well known or not, engage in all sorts of things that are questionable at times (yes, I am including myself in this, and no, I won't tell you what that is). By insisting that we include private behavior in our judgments of the moral worthiness of public figures, we invite the kinds of revelations we have had over the past year precisely because these become, by the nature of the process, part of what determines the moral fitness of individuals for positions of public trust.

Personally, I think issues of personal vice are neither here nor there when determining how fit one is for public office. Most of those who have held positions of power and authority, in most societies, most of the time, have been scalawags and rakes. Some have been out and out psychopaths. Yet some of these same scalawags, rakes, and psychopaths have been among the most effective leaders in history. There is simply no correlation between public virtue and vice and its private sibling.

A good political theology would not include private vice among the categories for consideration. Whether a politician can keep his or her pants (or dress) zippered is not important. This is where I disagree with Thistlethwaite, whose feminist perspective informs her response; the truth is, the abuse of power at the personal level, while indeed an evil, should not inform our public discourse, because it ends up echoing the silly, and wrong, notion that an individual who betrays his or her private trust will also betray his or her public trusts. That is emphatically not the case. Bill Clinton, FDR, and others may have been cads, but that doesn't reflect in their political lives. Indeed, Thistlethwaite's discussion of Clinton's indiscretion is indiscernible from a right-wingers precisely because she buys the idea that private vice is the same as public vice.

We should begin with the proposition that we are considering public figures for a public role. We are not considering people for sainthood, or even for icon of our national morality. Does the person have a view of public life and policy that is in the best interests of the whole polis? That is the question. Does this person enjoy occasional extra-marital coitus, on the other hand, may be of interest to the Church Ladies among us, but is neither here nor there. The idea that "the private is public" is the logical conclusion to "the personal is political", neither of which are sound principles, whether one is Christian, feminist, or other.

Lighting One Candle

The one thing I really don't like about winter is the short daylight hours. It is just after 4:00 pm Central Time as I write this, and it is already drawing down dark, with heavy cloud cover not helping at all. I struggle with seasonal affective disorder every year, and while I haven't really gone the whole way to deep depression in years, working 3rd shift does not help matters much.

I was thinking about this yesterday afternoon - despite it being dark, 5:00 is still afternoon, not evening - as the outside lights on various houses in our neighborhood went on, and I got to thinking about how much I really detest the gaudiness of all those lights. It is wasteful of electricity, and of the energy necessary to produce electricity. It is gauche. It is part and parcel of the kind of herd mentality of so much of our society - "Everyone else is doing it! It's fun! Don't be such a Grinch!" - the I am reflexively drawn to detest it.

I much prefer one or two small lights inside to a hundreds draped on every eave and cornice of our house outside. While for others, the light should be subtle, almost too dim to see. Like the birth of the Christ child, it should be next to invisible to all except those to whom it has been declared, and even then difficult to find. It should not be a statement of our wealth and position - "Look how much money we can waste!" - but an affirmation of our spiritual poverty.

We live in dark times, indeed. They are getting darker. I worry about the viability of my current employment as the economy worsens. I worry about the viability of our position as the economy worsens. I worry about the kind of world in which my children will come of age. These worries are real, and I do spend a great deal of time wondering how we would manage should the worst happen (and it is always better to keep that in mind, especially with the folks currently in power; they are adept at making the exactly wrong decision every time). Yet, I also know that despair should not win, regardless of the signs and portents. Despair is the council of those who have it all figured out, who know the future. Except, of course, the future is always unknown.

Hope is the small light, easily missed under the pressure of the impending darkness. It is fragile, really. It is the tiny baby, born in a barn, laid in a cow's feeding trough, screaming out his first breath until his mother holds him to her breast. Yet, it is also not the illusion of some ephemeral good that will always be trampled down by the forces of darkness of this world. It is the very real presence and acknowledgment that, not having been written yet, the future is still a blank page, and is open to all sorts of possibilities, some of which are not even imagined. Hope is neither confidence nor optimism that "things always work out for the best". Hope is the acceptance of the grim realities of where we are, but the refusal to insist that just because we are currently lost does not mean we will never find our way out again.

In our present darkness, rather than blind our neighborhood with flashing lights and a yard full of blow-up Santas and reindeer, perhaps we should light one light, to remind us that, instead of the fanciful bulwarks society insists are the only real weapons against the ever-present night, the thin reed of hope is brighter than all the strings of icicles we hang. We should invite others, who goggle at the displays of "holiday cheer" all around, to seek out the light, just as shepherds were told to seek out a baby in a manger so long ago.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gang Tackling Joe Klein - Why It's Important (UPDATED; UPDATE II)

When I was a kid, we used to have this game called "Tackle the Man With the Ball". When pick-up football got boring, or there weren't enough of us around to form teams, we would settle for focusing on the really fun part - thus the name of the game. One kid would get the ball, and run around until tackled. Occasionally, as boisterous boys do, there would be a bit of a pile-on, which we called a gang tackle. The object of the gang tackle would occasionally cry foul, but since the game itself had few rules other than avoiding falling down, then tossing the ball until someone picked it up, it isn't like such behavior was out of bounds or unfair. It was, in fact, part of the charm of the game. Even the poor sap who lay on the bottom of a pile of five or six other boys usually had the satisfaction of being on the giving end of such a gang tackle at some point, so it all came out in the wash before our mothers called us home for supper.

Something of the same kind has been happening on the left side of our fair internets. Since Friday, the left wing of the tubes has been abuzz with activity aimed at one particular individual - Time magazine columnist Joe Klein. A summary is easy enough. Joe Klein printed a column in which he misstated the intention of a bill, the RESTORE Act, before Congress. Not only did he misstate the intention of the bill, he also misrepresented the process, including the non-interference of the Speaker of the House. In a column, Glenn Greenwald noted Klein's errors, referencing the relevant sections of the bill in question, to show that, in essence, Klein had no idea what he was talking about.

In a non-response response, Klein said that he got his information not from the bill, but from "sources", who in fact turned out to be Republican committee staffers. He had not consulted with Democratic committee staffers at all or the relevant bill. Greenwald, who has written copiously on this particular topic - the question of the abuse of and ignoring of FISA by the Bush Administration - and knows the relevant legislation quite well, refused to accept Klein's statement that he "might" have made an error. As Glenn pointed out, the relevant section of the bill is hardly technical, and says the exact opposite of what Klein claimed in the column in question.

Klein made the mistake of keeping the issue public by continuing to apologize, saying in fact he did consult Democratic staffers, but maybe they weren't clear, or he didn't understand them, or something. Greenwald simply noted this, and the fact that Klein refused to acknowledge the fundamental point - he was writing about an extremely important piece of legislation before Congress, without having read it, familiarized himself with the important part of it, and accepted a false, partisan interpretation as Gospel truth in order to bash Democrats in the House.

By yesterday, it had reached farcical levels, at least on Klein's part. He wrote what is perhaps the most striking sentence I have read by a major Washington-based journalist who claims to have an understanding not just of political process, but policy as well:
I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right.

In other words, "I don't know what the hell I'm talking about."


Greenwald, like a terrier with a rag, or perhaps a rottweiler with a throat, is not letting this go, and is pushing hard to get answers not just as to how such a fact-free bit of non-journalism made it in to print, but to force an acknowledgment on the part of Klein that he was wrong across the board. Others, including Jane Hamsher, have been doing the same thing.

On the one hand, like the poor kid who ended up on the bottom of the "pig pile" as we used to call it when we played "Tackle the Man With the Ball", I am quite sure poor Klein feels all put upon. Yet, the gang tackle here is not picking on a hapless innocent, and the larger context is mightily important. We have one of the leading Washington journalists, who happens to write for one of the largest-circulation news magazines in the country, admitting, without claiming any responsibility, that he not only has not read the legislation upon which he is opining, but that he does not think he has the expertise to do so. Yet, when called on it, he simply refuses to admit any egregious error, and the magazine for whom he writes defends the original piece, and the author thereof. The entire episode is a microcosm of the corrosive nature of political journalism in our time (no pun intended). Klein himself is a laughable individual, posing on TV as some sagacious, informed, erudite fellow, when in fact he has time and again been shown to be nothing more than a stenographer for those in power, passing off his own biases as Gospel truth, and ridiculing his critics as ignorant boobs who know nothing of the reality of journalism.

This isn't really about Joe Klein. It is about an entire system of mindless, shoddy journalism that substitutes a focus on the inner machinations of who's ahead and who's behind for a serious understanding of the issues that we face. It is about the lack of any accountability at all for years of this kind of garbage being tossed our way, and the constant off-putting readers get when we demand some kind of accountability for the mess we find ourselves in. While it might be nice if Klein and perhaps his editor found themselves filing for unemployment, this isn't about Klein - he is a symptom of a much larger illness, sclerosis of political journalism; the pathways by which we get our information are clogged with garbage, to the point now where we are not even being given correct information, and when this is pointed out, it is we who are at fault, not the purveyors of falsehoods.

I do not feel particularly bad for Klein; this has been a long time coming, and his sins and errors are multiple. Those who are piling on right now are doing so because of years of pent-up frustration with an entire network and system of shoddy, fake journalism, and zero accountability. This isn't about Joe Klein, no matter how hard, I am sure, he will attempt to make it. This is about making sure our free press actually does some reporting, and has reporters who understand the issues upon which they write and occasionally opine. It is also about accountability. In the end Klein, his editors, and even the magazine itself, is responsible not to fellow journalists, or to stockholders in Time-Warner, but to the people. It's really that simple.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald reports Time editor Rick Stengel's non-correction correction to Klein's original column:
In the original version of this story, Joe Klein wrote that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets. Republicans believe the bill can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don't.

What more can be said about this entire episode? This is a wonderful reiteration of the original flaw, made to sound as if it is the height of journalistic mea culpas and accountability. All it does it perpetuate the original error, of course, making the entire editorial staff of Time as culpable as Klein in this sordid episode.

It's really both sad and foul.

UPDATE II: For clarity's sake, the entire episode centers on Klein's assertion that the RESTORE Act extends to foreign communications between terror suspects the protection of a FISA warrant, which Klein said was "beyond dumb". The relevant portion of the bill, which can be found here at Glenn's blog, but also at Daily Kos, and Think Progress, reads as follows:


Sec. 105A. (a) Foreign to Foreign Communications-

(1) IN GENERAL - Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a court order is not required for electronic surveillance directed at the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not known to be United States persons and are reasonably believed to be located outside the United States for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information, without respect to whether the communication passes through the United States or the surveillance device is located within the United States.(emphasis added)

In other words, the bill is clear and explicit in saying the exact opposite of the claims made by Klein. Klein's later confession that he doesn't understand the bill is made all the more farcical by the clarity of the bill's language.

What's more, editor Rick Stengel's claim that this is all a "he said, he said" controversy, open to interpretation, is clearly false in light of the clarity of the language. Since the relevant portion of the bill is publicly available, one wonders only at the audacity of the claim that this is a question open to interpretation, rather than the direct manipulation of a journalist by partisans.

Why Does Dinesh D'Souza Continue Typing?

Over at Sadly, No, contributor Travis G. has a post in which he takes on Dinesh D'Souza's latest efforts to say something intelligent (no link; I don't link to right wing sites, but the piece is linked through Sadly, No, so you can find your way to the original there). In the first place, this is unfair to D'Souza because Travis, like the rest of the folks at S,N are smart, funny, and scathing, whereas D'Souza has a track record of obfuscation, stupidity, and no trace whatsoever of any humor at all. For one brief, shining moment in the age of High Republicanism, D'Souza made his mark, and continues to live off the residuals of a book now long forgotten, for good reason. Yet, one must give him credit for forging ahead despite many obstacles, not the least of which is the blatant inability to string together facts in a coherent manner; sometimes, he doesn't even get his facts straight, of course, for which he was well known a generation ago at Dartmouth, where, as editor of the school paper, he was known as "Distort D'Newsa".

The subject on which D'souza writes today is a subject near and dear to my heart - the conflict between science and religion. What is most interesting about the piece is that, technically, nothing D'Souza writes is factually inaccurate. The problem, however, is that his "facts" are incomplete; the point he is trying to make - the conflict between science and religion is the creation of militant atheists who have been discredited - has little to do with the partial facts he lists; and Travis' summation of D'Souza's "point", because it is logical, shows how utterly bereft D'Souza is.

Here is an example of the kind of "fact" that D'Souza uses to make his point:
According to the atheist narrative, the medieval Christians all believed that the earth was flat until the brilliant scientists showed up in the modern era to prove that it was round. In reality, educated people in the Middle Ages knew that the earth was round. In fact, the ancient Greeks in the fifth century B.C. knew the earth was a globe. They didn’t need modern science to point out the obvious.

First, the "flat earth" business was a popular notion, not an elite one. Since the bulk of the European population rarely traveled more than a few miles from their homes, and many spent their entire lives hemmed in either by mountains, or the great, open vistas of the north-central European plain from Britanny across Flanders, Wallachia, northern Germany and Poland and into the emptiness of Russia - few really thought to much about "the world" anyway. Those who did relied upon medieval maps in which Eden was the center of a flat map, with three "continents" - Asia, Africa, and Europa - hemmed in by the Tigris/Euphrates Rivers, the Mediterranean Sea, and the "Ocean" (the Atlantic). Sometimes, if a traveler had returned from India, say, or northern Europe, there would be tales of strange lands, including the ubiquitous Kingdom of Prester John, which was included on some European maps in to the 19th century.

Anyway, even though Ionian natural philosophers did work out a rough calculation of the size of the globe of the earth, this was lost in the general loss of Greek and Roman and Syrian and Coptic knowledge during the long run of the Dark Ages; when it was discovered, the knowledge had been independently rediscovered, and was an interesting tidbit more than a help in time of intellectual need.

So, in other words, D'Souza makes it seem that it was common knowledge the earth was round, when in fact he does not take in to account the Dark Age loss of intellectual information, or the presence, for close to a millennium, of church-based cartography, in which the center of the world was either Eden or Jerusalem. It's a nice bit of sleight-of-hand, but a moments' thought pretty much shows it is meaningless.

Another "point" D'Souza makes concerns the debate between Darwin popularizer THomas Henry Huxley and Bishop Samuel "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce:
We read in various books about the great debate between Darwin’s defender Thomas Henry Huxley and poor Bishop Wilberforce. As the story goes, Wilberforce inquired of Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his father or mother’s side, and Huxley winningly responded that he would rather be descended from an ape than from an ignorant bishop who was misled people about the findings of science. A dramatic denouement, to be sure, but the only problem is that it never happened. There is no record of it in the proceedings of the society that held the debate, and Darwin’s friend Joseph Hooker who informed him about the debate said that Huxley made no rejoinder to Wilberforce’s arguments.

The last sentence may be true - it may be possible that Hooker either did not consider Huxley's response to Wilberforce's rhetorical question that important - but it misses the point that some such exchange did in fact take place. Through a helpful link Travis provides, we find that Huxley recalls his response, and while neither as dramatic nor as devastating as popularizers would have us believe, it does capture the essence of the popular version:
If then, said I, the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence & yet who employs these faculties & that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.

The summary of the debate, with or without the "dramatic denouement", follows:
All accounts agree that Huxley trounced Wilberforce in the debate, defending evolution as the best explanation yet advanced for species diversity.

This latter is the larger point that D'Souza does not deign to reference; Wilberforce, while a great churchman and a stalwart liberal and friend of the graet statesman of 19th century British politics, William Gladstone, was made a laughingstock by his performance at the debate.

While there is abundant evidence the so-called conflict between science and religion is overblown, there is no doubt there are conflicts between certain groups of anti-modernist fundamentalists and some scientific theories, and the scientific method (see the creation/ID versus evolution flaps that have erupted over the years for details). D'Souza won't mention this because it fails to defend whatever point he is attempting to make. The argument he ends up making is summed up by Travis as follows:
In summation, atheists published a book about 100 years ago that caused the Catholic church to find Galileo guilty during the Inquistion of breaking his promise not to tell people about something they already knew, because scientists are hotshots who think they know it all and also live in a nicer house than you.

Education is a terrible thing to waste on a closed mind.

The Faith Line - Eboo Patel on Pluralists versus Totalitarians

This article by Eboo Patel at the "On Faith" forum at the Washington Post on-line hits the nail on the head:
Tim LaHaye’s endorsement of Mike Huckabee for President took the form of a battle cry.

“America and our Judeo-Christian heritage are under attack by a force that is more destructive than any America has faced (since Hitler) … Defeating the radical jihadists will require renewed resolve and spiritual rearmament by the evangelical pastors in America.”

Is Mr. LaHaye’s notion of America’s ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’ expansive enough to include the tens of millions of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Bahai’s, secular humanists and others who live here?


Like Mr. LaHaye, I believe the central challenge of the twenty-first century will be the question of the faith line. But in my view the faith line does not divide Muslims from Christians, or Jews from Hindus, or believers from nonbelievers.

I think the faith line divides pluralists from totalitarians.(emphasis added)

And who are these two groups?
Pluralists are people who want to build societies where people from different backgrounds live in equal dignity and mutual loyalty. Totalitarians are people who want only their group to dominate and everyone else to suffocate.

That is the divide. That is the challenge we face - do we embrace a new, even more sinister totalitarianism than any devised by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, or Hitler, or do we accept the differences among us as just that, seeing in others not a threat, but a challenge to learn and grow.

Do we stand ready to fight in a Clash of Civilizations? Or do we seek to learn from others something we may not have known otherwise?

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Music Heavy Day Just Got Heavier

So, I've linked to a local music news and review site recommended by a colleague of mine. Dr. Music is heavy on 70's and 80's hard rock, with a dose of heavy metal thrown in - he has some nice things to say about Slayer and Mercyful Fayte, which I would share if I weren't uncomfortable with the bands', and their fans', blatant Satanism - and even has nice things to say about a band that had slipped my mind completely (not that they were in my mind all that much to begin with) - Angel, who are the subject of the Review of the Week. This review even includes a video clip of the band, replete with open shirts, capes, and Greg Giufria vamping with a keyboard during the opening synth-sound effects of the song.

I am glad that I have linked to the site, and I have read many of the reviews in the archive with a mixture of satisfied agreement (he disses Appetite for Destruction quite well; he admits he just can't be a fan of R.E.M., as I cannot either) and a smiling surprise or two. As someone who looks back not-very-fondly at the music of his youth, and pines for all the really good stuff he missed for one reason or another, I am not very nostalgic for Back in Black or anything by Bad Company. It is nice, however, to find someone who not only is so nostalgic, but puts in the time and effort to put that nostalgia on the internet for all to see.

Check out the Galleries, which are worth it just to see what has happened to one hair band, Y&T, after time and over-indulgence have taken their toll. Oh, and the W.A.S.P. pictures are fun, too.

Drop him a line, and let him know who sent you. If this music isn't your thing, that's OK - he's got music news, trivia, and other bits and pieces that cover the gamut.

A Mea Culpa

In order to make up for posting Loverboy, I want to play something as different as can be. I got two Border's Gift Cards for my birthday, and among my purchases was the new Ray LaMontagne disc, Until the Sun Goes Black. It is as beautiful and powerful as his first, but the first song, "Be Here Now' is so different from the stripped down, acoustic work that it is almost stunning. Yet, it is also, like pretty much everything the man does, achingly beautiful. In a sane world, LaMontagne would be a superstar, and no one would know who Justin Timberlake is.

In case you're interested, here are the lyrics, written by the man himself:
Don't let your mind get weary and confused..
your will be still; don't try.
Don't let your heart get heavy, child;
inside you there's a strength that lies.

Don't let your soul get lonely, child..
it's only time; it will go by.
Don't look for love in faces, places —
it's in you; that's where you'll find kindness.

Be here.. be here now.. be here now..
be.. be here now.. be here now...

Don't lose your faith in me,
and I will try not to lose faith in you.
Don't put your trust in walls,
'cause walls will only crush you when they fall. here now... be here now. here here now.

Music Monday

It's confession time. When I was in high school, I pretty much listened to, and bought, whatever flew in my ear and settled there. It would be in college that I actually started thinking that some music appealed to me more than other kinds of music. When I started thinking about music, I started to think while I listened, and the winnowing process began. At 42, I am at the point now where I am far more interested in hearing something I have never heard before than I am in listening to what was on my turntable (you remember those, don't you?) in 1982.

For clarity's sake, I will offer three examples today of music I not only listened to, but actually purchased. It is embarrassing to admit this, but here goes.

In the summer of 1981, I purchased April Wine's Nature of the Beast because I thought the cover was cool. Seriously. I listened to it so much that summer and the next that I actually wore out some of the grooves.

I used to say that my biggest regret was buying Loverboy's first LP. I am happy to say I never repeated the mistake, but their song "Working for the Weekend" was a staple of the almost-weekly high school dances I attended. I'm not sure which is worse - the cowbell or Mike Reno's headband.

It was a near thing, the contest to present my biggest musical faux pas, until I realized that the winner had to be my purchase of and continued listening to, Journey's Escape. What can I say except, "I'm sorry" and "I'm listening to Soft Machine as I type this".

Like Hot Needles Being Poked In My Eyes

Sometimes the level of our public discourse seems to have touched bottom. I feel satisfied that at least there is no way it can sink any lower. Then, I come across a piece like this by Jon Keller at The Washington Post and I realize the depths of stupid have yet to be fully plumbed.
It's surprising that more hasn't been made of the link between voter dissatisfaction with their 2008 choices and the preponderance of boomers on both parties' ballots.

In the first place, this lede is buried in the third paragraph of the op-ed. In the second place, the "surprise" here may be that no one thought to ask as meaningless and abjectly dumb a question as this. Yet, in exploring the depths of our cultural animosity (which doesn't seem to have hampered the careers of either Clintons, or of our current President), Keller re-opens the wounds of another, almost equally stupid non-issue:
Consider Obama's response when a reporter in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, asked him last month why he stopped wearing an American flag pin on his lapel. He'd had one right after Sept. 11, 2001, he said, but as the country lurched toward an invasion of Iraq, he began to see the pin as "a substitute" for "true patriotism." Instead of sullying his suit coat with what apparently now was a reprehensible symbol of reckless militarism, Obama said he was "going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism."

Unsurprisingly, the right wing pounced, framing Pingate as yet another example of knee-jerk left-wing contempt for the national symbol. Even ABC's George Stephanopoulos noted that "it probably appeals to some in the Democratic base who are very much antiwar, but it could limit his gains further on down the road."

Why would Obama damage himself this way just to make a debatable rhetorical point more suitable for a Georgetown cocktail party than a post-9/11 political campaign? After all, he has seemed more alert than most to simmering anti-boomer sentiment, cultivating an image as a generational change-agent skillfully enough to persuade pundit Andrew Sullivan to write in the Atlantic that "he could take America -- finally -- past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation."

The whole flag-pin controversy was the invention of the right-wing nonsense machine, and yet Keller brings it up as if it "proves" something. By bringing it up, he only proves that he is as much a tool of that machine as any member of the Washington press-corps.
Obama wants voters to believe that he's the antidote to the right-leaning Beltway groupthink that got us into Iraq. But he eagerly indulged in left-leaning posturing on a topic he had to know was a political land mine.

"Left leaning posturing"? A "topic" that "was a political land mine"? None of this makes any sense whatsoever. Nor does Keller's equally stupid attempt to criticize Mit Romney's statement that his children were serving their country by working for his candidacy.
[Romney] expects the electorate to see his close-knit family as an allegory for his presumably inspired leadership. But he had no decent answer to a question as obvious as why his sons weren't serving in the war he so loudly backs.

Keller's entire piece is awash in this kind of really stupid claptrap. He attempts to make lemonade out of the lemons of his column, by linking the "gaffes" of Romney and Obama to what he calls "boomer narcissism", along the way misidentifying narcissism with self-regard. His list of the partial legacy of boomer failings includes a paragraph replete with howlers of almost Biblical proportions:
Over the years, the elevation of self at the expense of consensus, compromise and community has given us a string of unwanted gifts: the squandered second term of Bill Clinton; the voter-repelling posturing and sighing of Al Gore; and the Jesus-made-me-do-it follies of the Bush years.

Bill Clinton left office more popular than at any time during his Presidency; had the Constitution allowed it, he would have walked past the finish line to a third term. The only "wasting" during his second term was the money and emotional energy and patience of the citizenry by a Republican machine hell-bent on destroying his Presidency. Its failure should have taught them humility, but Keller apparently is part of the tribe that believes that a blow job is worse than an illegal war and the shredding of the Constitution in the name of national security.

As for Al Gore's sighs . . . wow. Just . . . wow.

Keller ends his piece not with a bang, but with a simper:
After 16 years of a Me Generation White House, could it be that voters, desperate for leadership that's less personal and more presidential, are likely to turn to what they see as more reliable retro models, shipping the flashy boomer merchandise back to the store? After all, when a country traumatized by terrorism and war is confronted with superficial candidates who tout their pristine lapels and casualty-free households as selling points, the torch clearly has been passed. And it turns out it's a lava lamp.

It is writing like this that makes me wish I couldn't read.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Biblical Affirmation Of Human Sexuality

On a post a few weeks ago in which the comments went far and wide - part of the joy and pain of the internet - a commenter wrote:
I need from you Scriptural support that sex is a "wonderful gift from God". I can't recall anything that would suggest such a thing. I've explained in detail at my blog that sex is a specific biological function, that it contains a pleasurable element that guarantees that it gets done for the survival of our species. It is man who has elevated sex to some lofty position due to man's desire for self-gratification.

It has been a while, but I have finally deigned to respond to this query. Wedged between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah sits The Song of Songs. In eight chapters, a poetic dialogue, with a non-Greek chorus, a man and a woman state their love for one another in frank, carnal, sexual terms. Reveling in the simple joys of each others physical forms, the poem is a celebration of sexual love at its most basic. The power of the poem's climax, in chapter 8, is such that verses 6 and 7 were the verses I chose to use at my wedding:
Wear me as a seal over your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion cruel as the grave;
it blazes up like a burning fire,
fiercer than any flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
no flood can sweep it away;
if someone were to offer for love
all the wealth in his house,
it would be laughed to scorn.

Until the Protestant Reformation, no other Biblical book was as commented upon, as lavishly praised, or studied as much as the Song of Songs. While it was often interpreted as an allegory for the Divine desire for a relationship with human beings, and the intensity of the sexual longing being a symbol for just how deep is God's desire to be in relationship with us, I was admonished once not to dismiss the earthiness of the book's language so easily.
How beautiful you are, my dearest, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves behind your veil,
your hair like a flock of goats streaming down Mount Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of ewes newly shorn,
freshly come up from the dipping;
all of them have twins, and none has lost a lamp.
Your lipe are like a scarlet thread,
and your outh is lovely;
your parted lipe behind your veil
are like a pomegranate cut open.
Your neck is like David's tower,
which is builtwith encircling course;
a thousand bucklers hang upon it,
and all are warrior's shields.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twin fawns of a gazelle
grazing among the lilies.
While the day is cool
and the shadows are dispersing,
I shall take myself to the mountains of myrrh
and to the hill of frankincense.
You are beautiful, my dearest,
beautiful without a flaw.
(Song of Songs 4:1-7, REB)

The earthiness is not just in the metaphors the lover uses to describe his beloved (pomegranates, sheep, gazelles) but most especially in the end where he speaks euphemistically of "the mountains of myrrh"; he is speaking here of her mons and the beauty thereof, in terms of intoxicating perfume.

While it isn't the Kama Sutra, or The Art of Love (better titled The Art of Seduction), it is among the more passionate, and even explicit at times, love poems ever written. It takes away that power to treat it as a metaphor.

Its inclusion in the Biblical canon is often put down to the possibility that it was part of wedding liturgies. Yet, one has to wonder, considering the erotic nature of the poem, what kind of wedding would include a description of her husband's thighs by his bride as "pillars of marble", and the "aspect" (his penis) "like Lebanon, noble as cedars". I certainly don't want my girls talking about their grooms that way on their wedding days!

No, I believe it is included for the simple reason that this is a celebration of part of God's creation, indeed the part that God called "very good" at the end of day 6 - human beings. Human beings, among our many traits, are sexual creatures, who revel in the physical pleasures our bodies accord. Since there is no history to guide us, nor any textual evidence linking the poem to weddings or marriage, I believe that we should accept them for what they are - a powerful, erotic celebration of human sexuality as a divine gift.

I hope that answers some questions.

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