Saturday, March 15, 2008

Leaving No Prisoners

Talk about taking it to them. Damn. Just, well, damn.

Click the link, and discover some serious smackdown on all those right-wingers getting their panties in a wad over some remarks by Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

PS: Not for the faint of heart or easily offended.

Saturday Rock Show

The staging, vamping, posing, black leather, head banging - it's all good cheesy fun. But I defy you to say this doesn't just rock out. Judas Priest, from a 1982 concert in Memphis, TN, with "The Hellion/Electric Eye":

By the way, I still think Rob Halford had (maybe he still has, I haven't heard him lately) one of the best set of pipes, not just in heavy metal, but in rock in general.

What Kind Of Refuge?

Pastor Rich has been using Charles Wesley's hymns as devotional guides throughout Lent, and I have been enjoying reading them, seeing details I may miss as I try to get the tunes right on Sunday mornings, but this hymn - "Jesus, Lover Of My Soul" - strikes a discordant note with me. First, the text of the hymn, which is #479 in The United Methodist Hymnal:
Jesus, lover of my soul,
let me to thy bosom fly,
while the nearer waters roll,
while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
till the storm of life is past;
safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none,
hangs my helpless soul on thee;
leave, ah! leave me not alone,
still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed,
all my help from thee I bring;
cover my defenseless head
with the shadow of thy wing.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want,
more than all in thee I find;
raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
false and full of sin I am;
thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with thee is found,
grace to cover all my sin;
let the healing streams abound,
make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
freely let me take of thee;
spring thou up within my heart;
rise to all eternity.

What I am troubled by is the imagery in the first verse-and-a-half; the rest of the hymn is awesome, actually. Lifted from the story in the Synoptics of Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee, it is a crie de ceour not just for the Divine presence, but for Divine relief from the dangers of life, and a faithful understanding that such relief will be granted.

Except, the story in the Gospels doesn't work that way. Yes, Jesus does calm the storm, but first, he scolds the disciples for their lack of faith. It isn't so much that Jesus calms the storm. Rather, the point of the story is the lack of faith of the disciples in the midst of the storm. Things get rough, and they start whining about how they're going to die. Since seminary, I have read this particular story as one not of the magical Jesus making the bad storm go away, but of the presence of Jesus in the midst of the storm being a source of peace and comfort.

So, I ask, does Jesus make all of life's storms go away? I think the evidence is pretty clear he does not. The presence of Jesus, the peace that passes understanding, gives us the courage to continue on in the midst of the storms of life, some of which indeed threaten our lives.

Brtiney, America, And Our Moral Crisis

It was in December of 2006 that I wrote this post, in which I lamented the decline of Britney Spears. At the time, I had no idea this spiral would not stop, but go on and on. One would have hoped the train wreck would end, and professionals would come along and clean up the mess. Alas, this train was much longer, and the derailment involved most of the cars, leaving us to continue on our way, shaking our heads at the devastated lives and countryside along the way.

I would normally not bring up this particular topic again - one does not wish to add to a young woman's suffering - but I came across this by Krista Tippett, host of Speaking of Faith on NPR, and I thought it worth noting.
I don't worry overly about our cultural interest in celebrities per se. I understand and participate in it and suspect it is as old as time. But as I've watched Britney Spears unravel before our eyes, in real time, with no end in sight, I have begun to think it's time for a pause, a moment of cultural soul-searching. I've been disturbed by the numerous reports I've heard - not in People or Us but in major news outlets - gleefully tallying all the money she continues to make for paparazzi and other people around her, noting with amusement that the profits only rise as she sinks to ever-lower depths.


Britney Spears, as much as any other current celebrity, is our creation. She achieved stardom at an age when her sense of self, of what is good and right and meaningful in life, was completely determined by the adults and the culture around her. But the same machine that made her is exquisitely calibrated to destroy and discard her.

So though it might seem a stretch to add Britney's plight to our public list of "moral values" issues, I'm proposing that she might belong there. I'd like to hear religious and spiritual leaders bold enough to call for compassion and introspection. I wonder who or what could effect a stop to the paparazzi hounding of an already ruined person? Where are the voices genuinely concerned about the plight of her children, whose own personal devastation is also on display in real time, a matter of public spectacle through no fault of their own? What is it doing to our own children when we fail to think and speak about our collective complicity in the creation and downfall of a human being like Britney Spears?

I suppose that I should add that I am as guilty as the next person, gleefully checking out the tabloids for the latest gossip. I shake my head ruefully at each photo that shows, pretty clearly, she is in need of serious attention. I told someone at work, commenting on the pregnancy of her younger sister, Jamie Lynne, "What a fucked-up family," without ever once thinking that it is, in fact, no more messed up than most American families, only more exposed to scrutiny and judgment.

In November, Crooks and Liars highlighted Brave New Films short clip called Fox Porn, in which all the examples of sexual exploitation by a channel supposedly concerned with moral values was exposed. We have become so inured to this kind of thing, when it is presented to us for what it actually is, we react with surprise. Yet, how different are we who decry this kind of thing, yet quite freely discuss Bill Clinton's sexual exploits, without considering the damage reminders of his cuckoldry might do to his family? How many times can lefty blogs deny the attraction of the sexual component in Eliot Spitzer's recent complete public flame-out? Indeed, I wish I could remember where I read it, but some liberal blogger kept insisting Spitzer's downfall was not related to sex at all.


All this is to say that we are no different; we only hide our prurience behind a tut-tutting at the prurience of others. Whether it's Blow-job Bill, Dick Morris' toe-sucking, or now Eliot Spitzer's decisions to pay more in a night on a prostitute than most people make in a month, we focus on the sex lives and titillating details of the lives of public figures, while others focus on those same details of non-public figures. Early in her piece, Tippett writes that she isn't too concerned with the public's fascination with Spears and other celebrities, and I have to agree. Too many liberals and lefties seem to think it is a zero-sum game, in which crap drives out substantive information, fodder for mindless drones spoon-fed trivia on non-persons unworthy of our attention. It's this same elitist attitude that comes to the fore whenever we read a study that says that some percentage of our public doesn't know who the Chief Justice of the United States is. My reply is the same - twas ever thus, whether concerning our desire to read up on celebrities or our general public ignorance on the minutiae and trivia of our public figures.

I think, however, that rather than be left-wing moral scolds telling people what they shouldn't read because it's bad for them (how different, in kind, is this from right-wing moral scolds telling people they shouldn't read The Diary of Anne Frank because there are things in there that are morally objectionable?), we might take Ms. Tippett's advice and use this moment to ask ourselves about the human cost of our fascination with celebrity. Not just Ms. Spears, but Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, the deluge of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stories, Heath Ledger's death - there is no lack of sources for our fascination with celebrity. Yet, we are dealing here not with creatures of the imagination, but human beings, many times human beings whose lives bear little or no resemblance to the narrative constructed by the tabloids. Some of them are fragile individuals, with serious problems. Rather than gaze pornographically at the details of their foibles, it might behoove us to consider them as unique individuals, worthy of love, respect, and our prayers and support as they deal with their lives. Very often, while they might have the material resources to cope - they can certainly afford expensive rehab centers - the emotional and psychological resources they have as individuals seem to be lacking. Rather than stare like motorists at a wreck, why not actively engage in support and help for these individuals?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Not Absent - Being A Dad

Took my kids to see Horton Hears a Who. I decided that a little quality time with them was more important than a lot of blather signifying nothing.

Oh, go see it. You know you want to, kids or no kids.

If this movie proves nothing else, Steve Carrell is much funnier than Jim Carrey.

Don't be a fool. Visit the forest of Nool, and enjoy the cool of the pool.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

God, The Bible, And Morality - From The Comments At Erudite Redneck

So ER takes Neil to task for some odd comments he made, and opens a can of worms on how one reads the Bible, which I take a step further and ask some questions that have been swirling in my own mind concerning the whole issue of the relationship between God and morality. After an initial back-and-forth, Bubba responds as follows:
Geoffrey, I appreciate the benefit of the doubt regarding ER's theory that Neil and I are the same person. We're not.

However, I reject your suggestion that my defending myself from the suggestion that I hate gays is unjustifiable lecturing about other people's prejudice. If someone thinks that the position that homosexuality is immoral is equivalent to hatred for homosexuals, he is prejudiced.

You write, "It is clear from the Bible there are times that God is a pretty immoral, small-minded creature." If you hold that position, I still don't grasp how you can be confident in God's love for us.

Or, if you think that God really isn't immoral and small-minded and thus reject the Bible's characterization of God (as you understand it, with which I would probably not agree), then I don't see how you think the Bible is a reliable source regarding His love.

The overriding message of the Bible, for this humble sinner, is simply this - God's love for us continues even in the midst of our "immorality" precisely because God doesn't really care all that much about such things.

I disagree. The cross demonstrates both God's love for us and His hatred of sin. Jesus prayed that the cup would pass, and it did not.

Jesus affirmed the moral standards of the Old Testament, even teaching that lust and hatred are as immoral as adultery and murder. God's concern for justice and holiness prevented Him from offering grace on the cheap: it's offered as a free gift to us, but it cost Him plenty.(NB: The italicized sections are from a previous comment of mine)

I'm not sure how I'm prejudiced because I don't believe gays and lesbians are inherently immoral, and that those who do so believe are not prejudiced - there is something missing in this logical chain. Please don't try to explain it to me, because I might get a headache.

As for the confidence I have in God's love for me, if I also see God acting in ways I would deem "immoral" - the answer is simple. It takes nothing away from who God is to refuse to ascribe something called "morality" to Divine acts. In the late 18th century, German philosopher Immanuel Kant said that it adds nothing to a subject to ascribe the empty concept "being" to it; rather than "perfect" it, ascribing some "thing" that makes it not nothing really adds nothing to the subject. In the late 20th century, American pragmatist Richard Rorty pulled the same thing with "truth"; we do not add anything substantive to an argument, discussion, sentence, whatever, if we insist that there is some thing called "truth" that inheres in that sentence that other sentences lack. Since the concept of truth is not one thing, but many things, we first have to determine what kind of truth we are speaking of, and make sure, once "truth" is ascribed to a sentence, that the particular kind of truth we are speaking of actually applies - it seems much easier to insist that there might not be some "thing" known as "truth" that attaches itself to certain sentences, giving them some kind of special status. Much better to be honest to say that "Such-and-such is what I believe for these reasons," without making transcendent claims for these sentences.

I do believe it is long past time we discarded the notion that "morality" is something Divine that inheres in certain human acts, giving them transcendent affirmation as coming from God. The Bible ascribes all sorts of acts to the Divine governance, which many contemporaries would consider morally questionable if not downright vicious. This does not mean that we should get rid of the concept of "morality", or that God's love and care for creation lacks a component that we could call "good" (it obviously is that). Rather, I do believe we should recognize that morality is a creature of the human brain. To judge the acts of God, whether the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, the razing of Jericho, the defeat and exile, or the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus as either moral or immoral only gets in the way of understanding the ways in which God's love become manifest. Sometimes, Divine Providence includes acts of horrific violence, interpersonal brutality and betrayal. Jesus even understood this, saying that he came to bring not peace but a sword to the family - for all those who believe that Jesus upholds the family, I might want to point in the general direction of this particular verse.

My point is not that morality is not important, or that we are now free to do whatever we choose. Rather, my point is the ascription of "morality" to God and God's actions. The Bible is full of what can only be called Divine immorality. So, the choice is rejection of God, or rejection of the notion that morality and God have anything to do with one another. My choice is the latter, for a whole host of reasons.

The single biggest reason is this - I am not God, Bubba is not God, Neil, ER, Alan, drlobojo - we aren't God. God's reasons for doing whatever - whether slaughtering the inhabitants of the promised land or bearing us on eagle's wings - are God's reasons and have nothing whatsoever to do with what any of us might consider moral or not, right or wrong. On the other hand, moral reasoning and choice are necessary for human beings to live together without completely slaughtering one another. The notion that morality needs divine sanction in order to stand on its own is ludicrous. To make this argument places all other moral codes and standards rooted in non-Judeo-Christian thought as ipso facto immoral, and unworthy of consideration as living alternatives for human life. Not only is this hubris of the worse sort, it is just plain, well, immoral to so judge the lives and lifeways of others based on incomplete information and a narrow point-of-view.

I'm not sure I really understand the basic question here, after all. How can I have faith in God, if I question the morality of Divine governance, or at least some parts of it? That's simple. My faith in God is rooted in my own experience of Divine love and grace, and that of a whole host of witnesses, living and dead. I would no more root my belief in God in one or another story from the Bible than I would one or another testimony of other Christians. I have multiple sources for my faith, not least the testimony from my own heart and life that confesses every day its thankfulness for God's transcendent, inscrutable, unfathomable love for me. I am confident that this love transcends any act I may commit, any thought I might have, any word or words I might say, not because I can point to this or that verse that might prove it so, but because of the experiences of my own life and the lives of so many who have gone before me in the faith. My God, and my faith, are far bigger than the contingent questions of our current historical moment, whether they be war and peace, or whether gays are inherently sinful and vicious or not. I do not believe we can use Scripture to bolster our arguments on these issues one way or another, ascribing moral virtue or viciousness to each other based on any of these passages. Far better to let the narrative of Scripture unfold for us on its own terms, over time as our faith deepens and widens, than to try to wrestle meaning from it which just doesn't exist.

Stupid Is Bi-Partisan

I haven't commented on Geraldine Ferraro's really ignorant comment about Barack Obama because I figured it was covered pretty well. Also, like Eliot Spitzer, she's gone now so we shouldn't heap hot coals upon her head, as it were. Yet I read with interest and gratification Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite's commentary. To imagine that Obama's only virtue is his race, rendering his ideas, his energy, his passion as irrelevant to his success - this is a right-wing talking point being mouthed by the last person one would think would echo the worst of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

I still have my pin from the 1984 election with Ferraro's face on it. I will keep it, because I want to have good memories of Ms. Ferraro; having this as her last serious public statement on matters political is kind of sad. Considering 1984 was also the year George Wallace apologized for his "segregation forever" comment and sought to make serious amends with the African-American community in Alabama for the harm he did gives her statement a bit of irony in my eyes. She actually moved in the opposite direction from that other Democratic politician. That she is oblivious to the racist undertone to her own words - the mind boggles.

Read Brooks Thistlethwaite, and you will feel better. I did.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's In A Name?

Apropos of nothing but a question - I came across this at Think Progress, and I just have to ask: Is Rod Parsley a porn name or what?

I Hate Memes, But I'll Do This One, I Think

I've been meme-tagged by Angry Ballerina. It's a middle name meme, and the rules follow:

1. You have to post the rules before you give your answers.
2. You must list one fact about yourself beginning with each letter of your middle name. (If you don’t have a middle name, use your maiden name or your mother’s maiden name).
3. At the end of your blog post, you need to tag one person (or blogger of another species) for each letter of your middle name. (Be sure to leave them a comment telling them they’ve been tagged.)

Here goes:

S - Swimmer. I was a member of my high school varsity swim team. I hope I can come up with better stuff than nonsense like that. Especially since I have two "E"'s in my middle name.

T - Truck driver. I went and got my Commercial Driver's Licence and spent a few months driving around the upper midwest, until it became too much of a strain on me and my family. I probably would have stuck with it if I didn't have all sorts of reasons to stay close to home.

E - Employment. Since I was sixteen years old, I have been a swim instructor, a camp counselor, a dish washer, a line server in a cafeteria-style restaurant, a hotel desk clerk, and worked for the county in a job still covered by a confidentiality agreement.

P - Pale. Being a redhead, I do not tan. Even though I spend my non-working, daytime hours in shorts during the summer, I am as pasty as a plucked chicken no matter what time of year. Tanning beds are out; I would end up getting a sunburn.

H - Horseshit. My favorite expletive, and one I learned from my father (sorry, Dad, but I did learn other things from you, too).

E - Education. When I graduated from High School, I earned not just a diploma from my local school, but a New York State Regents Diploma in Science and Spanish. I handed my diploma to my parents and went about gallivanting that evening, only to return home to find out my father was angry because I had not, it seemed, received the said Regents diplomas. In fact, my father thought that, since these pieces of paper were not to be found, I therefore had not earned them. I opened the sheepskin, and peeked behind the local HS diploma, and there was the little statement from Albany, stating that I had, indeed, earned said honors. He was immediately ameliorated; I wondered why no one else thought to do something that simple. I have since earned two more diplomas, easier to find - a BA in political science from Alfred University, Alfred, NY; a Master of Theological Studies degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC; I studied for, but never completed, a doctorate in philosophy from The Catholic University of America, also in our nation's capitol.

N - Nixon. The night he resigned, I watched his announcement on television and cried. In my defense, I was eight years old, and Nixon was the only President I had any personal experience with (Johnson left office when I was three). On the other hand, if my child had done such a thing, a sound beating would have ensued.

Not very good? Well, then, come up with your own ER, Cameron, Alan, and Parklife (I feel OK doing this because he's added his real name to his Blogger ID).

Once Again, Greenwald Misses A Point

With Eliot Spitzer's resignation now announced, and pending for Monday, I had hoped to write no more about him, his dalliances with professionals of the horizontal trades, or the whole issue of prostitution and its legalization. Yet, in a post by Glenn Greenwald today, in which he attempts to summarize (in a quite sarcastic tone, I might add) certain facile libertarian arguments concerning so-called victimless crimes, he brings up one point that needs to be addressed directly. In so doing I know I will appear elitist, snobby, paternalistic, and generally all the things I usually don't like. Yet, it is a point that needs to be addressed directly, and is pertinent to the issue at hand, and the libertarian viewpoint more generally on a host of issues.
* Sometimes, adults make choices for their own lives that other adults perceive to be bad choices. When that happens, the adults who know better have the right to step in, pass laws to restrict the bad choices, and even make the bad choices criminal -- all for the good of the adults who don't know what's good for them.

Simply put - sometimes people do not know what is good for them, in their own best interests, and make bad choices based on impaired reasoning. I am not just speaking of clinically diagnosed mentally ill individuals, but of people impaired in any number of ways from making sound judgments. Whether these include a history of emotional, psychological, or physical abuse and/or neglect; chemical dependence of one sort or another; or the limitations placed upon individuals by class, which restrict the perceptions of what is available as a "choice" for people - people, both men and women, very often do not know what is in their own best interests. When they make bad choices about how to live their lives, it entails a cost not just to themselves, but to the entire society. While, in an ideal world, the answer to this might be education or counseling or an end to the legal and moral restrictions we place upon lifestyle choices, we do not now nor will we ever live in an ideal world. When bad judgments lead individuals to make choices that threaten them with violence, dehumanization, and the hyper-commodification of themselves, it becomes an issue the entire society needs to address for the simple reason that human dignity is something we all should be upholding.

It is not enough to say, "Boy, that woman really messed up her life by becoming a prostitute. How was your day, dear?" This kind of glib public amorality ignores the simple reality that others in our society are, or at least should be, a focus of our concern, even love. It isn't that becoming a prostitute sometimes entails all sorts of dangers, or could be made after a perfectly sound, rational assessment of the possibilities open for financial or other independence. The same could be said about becoming all sorts of things - CEO of Enron, a drug dealer, Presidential press secretary, any dehumanizing role or occupation carries the potential to threaten us all.

And, yes, sometimes it does take those who do know better, at least as far as our contemporary understanding of what is right or wrong, better or worse for us individually and collectively, to step in and prevent individuals, who might make bad choices, from so doing.

Let me just say that my opposition to legalizing prostitution is not based on hating "sex". In fact, prostitution debases human sexuality, reducing something beautiful and sublime to yet another market transaction, no better than buying butter or a new car (hopefully the warranty on the car lasts longer). Just because human beings have engaged in prostitution for thousands of years is also no reason to throw up one's hands and say, "Ah, well, human nature." Human beings have been ritually slaughtering each other for thousands of years, so we might as well give in and embrace war. Human beings have been enslaving other human beings for thousands of years. Why should we try to end such a financially rewarding pursuit, which has the added benefit of providing work, housing, etc. for our surplus populations?

The amoral obtuseness of such a fallacious argument should be clear from the above example. Human societies exist to protect and uphold not just the whole body as a whole body, but the individual members who comprise it. When these individuals make bad choices, these choices threaten the integrity of the whole. For reasons of simple group survival, it seems to me we face the necessity of stepping in, intervening, helping people make better choices for their lives.

How Stupid Are They?

With the Spitzer thing still grabbing so much attention, it has gone almost unnoticed (except by some liberal bloggers) that the Commander of the United States Central Command (which includes the Middle East) resigned the other day just ahead of an Esquire magazine article that said he was most likely going to be fired because of his obstinate position against any US military action in Iran. This has been a pattern with the Bush Administration - they look for the most compliant senior military officers possible; when one or another becomes recalcitrant, they scrap him and look for the next guy.

On the one hand, there is nothing untoward about this. The generals do not make policy, but carry it out. If an executor of policy strenuously objects to that policy, there is no reason in the world why the civilian commanders cannot and should not seek one who endorses that policy. The problem in this case, however, is two-fold. First, the Bush Administration has a track record of screwing up even the most basic functions of government; left to themselves to conduct a war, the US would probably be invaded and overrun by El Salvador (Ronald Reagan's nightmare). Their incompetence, which has the President's approval ratings hovering in the 20's with only downward momentum, is stupendous. These are men and women you wouldn't want running a donut shop let alone the most complex governing apparatus in world history.

Second, and more important, on matters of military policy, at least since the end of the Second World War, great deference has been given to the views of senior military officials. With the creation of Joint Chiefs of Staff (part of the National Security Act of 1948), the final touches were put on the movement towards combined military planning first begun at the turn of the 20th century when War Secretary Elihu Root revamped the old system and created the staff system, reducing the offices of the secretaries of the branches to underlings, and raising the uniformed services to more central advisory roles. Copying the reforms Germany implemented a decade before, it did little at first to enhance American military prowess, but paid off over time.

With better and better military education (the War College is among the best military education institutions in the world), our senior uniformed officers are among the brightest, most educated such persons on the planet. They know their jobs, and they understand the role of context in military matters. Since the summer of 2006, former general officers have been outspoken in their opposition to pretty much every position the Bush Administration has taken. Their love for the service has overcome traditional uniformed reticence to speak out on matters of public controversy, as they watch Bush Administration military adventurism strip their beloved services of morale and credibility, and put the country more and more at risk with less and less provocation.

Their have been a slew of reports about Admiral Fallon's objections to any US military action in or against Iran. It was noticed early on, and was the source of much speculation concerning the possible length of his tenure in that office. The best summary of what it might mean is this post by digby.

I can't help but ask, however, whether we are actually overestimating the stupidity of the Bush Administration. Not just their stupidity, though, but also their resourcefulness and agility. Even a series of airstrikes on Iranian soil would entail huge costs; a nuclear strike, even using low-yield weapons designed to hit reinforced targets, poses an exponentially higher risk. As awful as this bunch has been and continues to be, I think a part of me simply refuses to believe they would do something as monumentally dumb, especially in an election year. If a summer or autumn "surprise" of a sudden threat to the US by Iran results in military action, these clowns in charge would almost surely doom any Republican candidate to high office to defeat, for the simple reason they can't even get good stuff right; they are the quintessence of failure.

So, I just wonder, as the title to this post asks - How stupid are they? With most Americans refusing to believe anything the Bush Administration says, can anyone convince me they would play the same game they did with Iraq, cook the books, and try military action against Iran? If they did, wouldn't that be enough for someone in the US to finally haul their asses to The Hague? Weary as I am of this group of nincompoops, I just refuse to believe they would do something as grossly asinine as this.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


In the previous blog post, I mention that I "don't quite get" the argument that prostitution is a victimless crime. If one thinks of prostitution as only being a sexual act in which one person pays another for the service, then, I suppose one could argue the point successfully. To do so, however, is to consider prostitution outside any social context - including the imbalance of power between the genders, the history of male exploitation of women in all sorts of ways, the systematic dehumanization of women by our legal system (women were legally no better treated under law in this country than minor children until well after the Civil War, and even then the change was sporadic and slow), and all the different ways prostitution appears.

I also think it is kind of specious to argue, as both a commenter and Greenwald do in the post linked below, that there is no legal difference between pornography (in which people are payed to have sex with each other, the results are filmed and marketed to the public) and prostitution. In fact, at the beginning of the Bush Administration, back when John Ashcroft (who covered the statue of justice because her breasts were bare) was Attorney General, there was an attempt to do just that, so that argument kind of falls flat. In fact, there are several differences, not the least of which is the consumer of pornography is not having, nor is he or she paying these people to have sex with him or her. Nor are the "performers" payed by other performers to have sex. A prostitute is remunerated for the act of providing sexual satisfaction to another person (I suppose one could argue that masturbating to pornography constitutes sexual satisfaction, but I do believe we are going a bit far afield).

Furthermore, prostitution has many different faces. From street-walkers turned out to provide additional income to drug dealers and other street-level criminals to such high-end rings as the one frequented by Gov. Spitzer to the local massage parlor - the oldest profession has many faces, and the women involved have various levels of freedom and choice. Some women work for "escort" services as a way to earn extra income. Some women are forced on to the street by a variety of circumstances, some of which include a lack of any sense of self-worth and self-respect, as well as the belief that they have no choice. Is an entire set of life-circumstances that lead a person to live such a dangerous life (from the threat of violence to STDs and AIDS) "victimless"?

Just consider the way this ring presented its "ladies" - no different than the way Amazon presents their books. I bet they even have "customer reviews". I find this a bit unsettling, to say the least. When human beings are presented as a commodity, including how expert they are at providing certain "services" for which she is being traded - please tell me how this is "victimless". Should anyone say, "Well, it's always gone on," I would agree and add that all sorts of things have "always gone on" - from slavery and war to providing for one's family and running governments. Some of these things are necessary and good, some are not. Some, like slavery, have actually been ended, or are on their way out. Some, like war, are actively campaigned against, with serious alternatives being offered for dealing with disputes that do not involve killing masses of human beings. That's a lazy person's argument, saying "it's always been around." That presupposes there is something called "human nature" that is irreducible, the same in all times, places, cultures, societies across the vast expanse of human society, from prehistory to the present.


Until someone can tell me how prostitution could be practiced in such a way that human beings are not commodified in the process; how the power imbalance between men and women will no longer be perpetuated by the practice of the profession; and how the various threats those involved with prostitution will be reduced - I will buy the argument that prostitution is a "victimless" crime. Until then, please save your breath.

Hypocrites (UPDATE)

I am now officially a tad ticked off. It would be nice if liberals would be consistent. I do not believe it is right to, in effect, whine "But they do it, too, and no one cares!" In fact, people do care that David Vitter hired prostitutes to dress him up as Sweet Pea from Popeye and take care of his "needs". It's the press that seems to think that, paying a woman to perform such deeds is much less bad than a consensual blow job provided for free to the President of the United States. Indeed, the judgment of the American people is remarkably healthy on the difference here - consensual adultery is not a big public problem; breaking the law by consorting with prostitutes, no matter how "high end", being illegal, is not to be tolerated. All the whining about whether or not prostitution "should be" legal suddenly sounds like a whole bunch of question begging to my ears.

The worst example of this kind of thing - and there are many others - is Glenn Greenwald. I respect his judgment, his political fervor, and his ability to write long blog posts that people actually read. On this issue, though, he attempts to make the point that the differences between David Vitter and Eliot Spitzer can be boiled down to schadenfreude - it's always fun to catch a moral scold being immoral. He does point out that Spitzer, too, was a bit of a scold, prosecuting a couple high end prostitution rings; yet, as I note in comments here, he apparently only used these as leads for phone numbers.

I think it should be a simple equation - regardless of how one feels about the legality of prostitution, it is currently illegal. Public officials take an oath of office to uphold the law. We currently have a federal administration that is neck deep in lawlessness. To excuse Spitzer because one believes prostitution to be "victimless" (I really don't get that one) misses the point that it is illegal. The kind of blatant hypocrisy on an issue such as this really irks me; liberal bloggers now reveal themselves to be partisan hacks, no different from the Republicans who ignore the vast law breaking of their co-party members.

Sorry, but we should be better than that.

UPDATE: Jane Hamsher asks some interesting political questions, completely ignoring the simple fact that they would have been irrelevant had Spitzer not be consorting with prostitutes. As far as DoJ going after high-end prostitution rings, and the Mann Act - if the ladies were crossing state lines, that is a violation of federal law, putting the acts in question directly in the lap of federal prosecutors and law enforcement. Furthermore, this was the highest of high-end rings - it catered to international types, probably including diplomats and others who would be under scrutiny from the feds. I have no problem understanding why the feds might be checking it out.

The bank transfers? That is a bit unsettling, I'll admit, but, again, Spitzer should have been smart enough, or at least kept his brain out of his crotch long enough to realize that the Bush DoJ would discover whatever dirt on him there was to find. Sorry, but to me this just goes to his judgment - he thought he was untouchable, except when he paid for it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Music Monday

I didn't do a tribute thing when Dan Fogelberg passed away a while back, because I had to figure out, exactly, how I felt about his music. He is usually lumped with the singer-songwriter group - James Taylor, etc. - and that might be fair, or not. Some of his songs just don't do it for me; I even learned to play "Leader of the Band" on the guitar, but ugh! Ditto with "Longer", which I sang at my sister's wedding 21 years ago. "Run for the Roses"? More like "Run for the Toilet".

On the other hand, there are a couple songs of his I do like. They aren't stupendous colossal world-changing songs; they are good, and one of them always makes me smile.

When my sister moved back home from Mississippi, preparing to enter the Peace Corps, I was just entering Senior High School. She had a fantastic record collection; one of the records she had was Phoenix. The title track is a nice song in which the narrator (does it matter if it's Fogelberg?) tells the world he's tired of sitting around and moping because a relationship has ended. The following clip isn't very good, but it's the only one with this song on it.

Another song of his I have liked - and I can't really say why - is "Heart Hotels". The title is kind of stupid, to be honest. I think it's more a sensibility thing. Fogelberg didn't write for twelve-year-olds, or fifteen-year-olds. He wrote for adults; in this way he was very much in the James Taylor line of singer-songwriters. His was an adult sensibility, even if the writing and arranging was, well, kind of blah (a DJ on a local radio station when I was growing up called him "Dan Fogelboring", and I still think of that whenever I hear his music or see his name).

Finally, I harbor the dark secret that "Same Auld Lang Syne" has always been a favorite of mine, because I just like the little story that unfolds. It would be nice to have an experience like this - a reunion that is bitter-sweet. I know a couple that were high school sweethearts, who broke up. They went their separate ways, married others people, then each got divorced around the same time. They just happened to run in to one another, in Chicago on separate school field trips of all things. They are now happily married with two wonderful little boys. This is the exception that proves the rule - reunions like this usually end up in restraining orders, rather than either a happy little chat over beer, or a fairy tale ending. For some reason, with one brief exception, I haven't even tried the whole "friendship" thing. Anyway, I know it's hokey, but I still like it ("We tried to reach beyond the emptiness but neither one knew how" is a bit of a stretch; I think the narrator is reaching a bit as he describes his ex's unhappiness with her current lot).

What Was He Thinking

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was caught with his pants down and wallet out, and while he hasn't resigned, I think his effectiveness has diminished.

I just want to know what the hell he was thinking. Before he was governor he was State Attorney General - a law officer and he was consorting with prostitutes. The highest ranking Democratic official to be nailed (no joke intended) by such illegalities, he is no better than David "Poopy Diapers" Vitter, and as far as I'm concerned should resign. Indeed, unlike Bill Clinton, Spitzer wasn't engaged in garden-variety adulterous behavior. He was breaking the law, paying women to have sex with him. Did he actually think he was insulated from detection because of his position? Did he think he wouldn't get caught?

Again, unlike former President Clinton, Spitzer most definitely violated the public trust by breaking laws he had sworn to uphold. I think this disqualifies him from holding any office of public trust. Had he merely been sneaking around with a pretty young thing, or had serial affairs with various consenting adults who didn't have his VISA card number, that would be one thing; a personal foible but hardly worth getting worked up about. Checking out hotties online, then ordering one like one orders a pizza - that's a horse of a different, illegal, color.

Along with sending him packing from Albany, I think a good old fashioned dope slap is warranted.

The Founders And Their Faith

Founder of Beliefnet, Steven Waldman, has published a book, Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Freedom in America, and has offered up what he calls "Liberal Fallacy No. 1" at TPMCafe, attempting to refute the claim that all the men most intimately involved with the founding of the American Republic were Deists.

On the one hand, this is a good reality check, because they weren't all anything. I would be hard pressed to call Jefferson a "Founding Father" at all; he wrote the Declaration of Independence, plagiarizing John Locke along the way, but was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Some of the most important men involved - Governeur Morris, Richard Henry Lee, Alexander Hamilton - are not remembered today as well as others, and were devoutly religious (Morris bankrolled the Revolution with his personal fortune; Hamilton was a sycophant, annoying George Washington; Richard Henry Lee was the grandfather of Robert E. Lee). Of all the men in Philadelphia that hot late summer of 1787, James Madison and Ben Franklin came closest, although as Waldman notes, Franklin implored his colleagues in Philly to pray together.

Deism is a tricky thing, though, so on the other hand, I wouldn't argue that some weren't Deists. Some might have been, or called themselves such. Indeed, Deism as a type of religious affectation was rare, and its impact on religious life overblown by a later intellectual community that sought to downplay what it saw as the superstitious aspects of Christian faith.

I think a far more honest way to present the whole issue of the Founders and their religious belief is this: The Founders understood their religious beliefs as being irrelevant to the vital issue of the structure of the American Republic, and the role of religion in public life to be corrosive to the practice of the virtues necessary to the success of republican life. With the example of a century and a half of religious war in Europe behind them, they knew all too well the dangers inherent in granting official status to one or another system of belief. Catholics, Protestants, Anabaptists, and non-believers managed to work together quite well in Philadelphia because they understood the issues they faced were narrow, practical ones. They hoped their example would be used in the future. Yet, the fourteen states each had official religions supported by state taxes. These were phased out over time, but were certainly present in 1787.

I think it far better to ask the question of the relevance of the religious beliefs of men living at the height of the Enlightenment trust in the rational life for those of us living at the tail end of such a time of optimism. With the screams of the victims of the 20th century still echoing in our ears, one wonders how we could continue to demand adherence to any particular ideology - and I include religious belief here - as a necessary qualification for inclusion in our national polity. One's belief, or lack thereof, in any system of belief, or even a vague acceptance of one or another "god", is irrelevant, in the end, to the more pressing question of whether and how well a man or woman is qualified to act on the public's behalf dealing with issues of vital import.

This is not stripping religion from the public square; I have yet to accept this particular idea. Indeed, this is one of the more stupid ideas presented in the past decade or so. What it is doing is keeping the Founders in view, while remaining true to our contemporary situation in which religious belief, while certainly vital to millions, no longer has the public voice it once did, and is far more a social and cultural palliative than part of the CV for public figures.

As an example, just consider that Bob Dole, George McGovern, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and George W. Bush are all members of the United Methodist Church. Indeed, Dole and McGovern were in leadership positions in the church in which they shared membership with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton.

Whether or not Madison, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Franklin, or the rest of them were Deists or not is not nearly as important to me as whether or not they set up a system of government which continues to function in the 21st century. Ours is a secular state, if still a nation soaked in religious imagery (although the imagery is less and less evocative for the majority of the population).

Prayers, Please

A member of our church was killed today in a horrible accident on his property. Lisa is on the way to pick up his son from college in the Quad Cities. He is survived by his entire family - his parents, his wife, his children, his siblings. He was past President of the school board, a farmer and local business man, a family man. He was also someone who was a good public friend of Lisa, a member of our church who took his faith seriously, and his public service even more seriously. A loss like this - it does give one pause.

Send them up to the Lindberg family.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Question

I've been ruminating a lot on the whole issue of sin (original and otherwise), the relationship between morality, personal and collective, and the Christian life, what grace really means for us as we live our lives, and other light topics. At this point, I've come to some tentative conclusions that I think are pretty controversial, but I just want to know what you, my three loyal readers, think.

When all is said and done, is the issue of personal morality - not just the whole sex thing (which is far too overblown by conservative Christians for my comfort level) but all aspects of one's personal moral conduct - not so much irrelevant but just of less consequence than our collective (i.e., as the Church) action towards furthering the Kingdom of God? Do our notions of morality bear any relevance to the needs and demands and call of the kingdom?

If you feel moved, discuss. . .

Two Weeks Straight

Last week, the Washington Post Outlook Section published an instantly infamous essay by anti-feminist Charlotte Allen on how silly and thoughtless women are (thus refuting her desire to be taken seriously). Today, the editors have chosen L. Brent Bozell, of the right-wing Media Research Center, to write a short, inaccurate history of the past twenty years of grievances of "the conservative movement" against the Republican Party, which has - as should be clear - neglected conservative policies and the conservative base except in rare instances (funny enough, he never once mentions abortion or school prayer . . .).

So, two weeks straight, some of the most important space in print opinion journalism is turned over to someone whose grasp of facts and reality is dim at best, often sliding in to Cloud-Cuckoo Land with such phrases as the following:
But after eight years of Clinton's corruption . . .

How anyone could type that sentence after all the facts of the matter have publicly exonerated Clinton from every charge of corruption (with the exception of a personal impropriety), while the Bush Administration is drowning in corruption - the mind boggles that an editor would let it pass without saying, "You know, Brent, this line right here? It's a bunch of crap."

But, after they published Charlotte Allen's piece of misogynistic nonsense, who would expect something like serious editorial oversight or vetting?

Who publishes next week? Silvio Berlusconi on media independence? Clarence Thomas on the death of racism on the right?

Maybe Leonard Downie on prudent editorial judgment in the newspaper business, and the high standards of American journalism?

And, of course, it's the internet's fault and the education system's fault and video game playing's fault that print journalism is dying. Not the lack of integrity and professionalism of the press. . .

Virtual Tin Cup

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