Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tabloid Culture, Tabloid Lives

Call this "Lessons I've Learned From Watching CDI, Part II.

I have written several times over the past year and a half on our exploitation of the personal foibles of various celebrities. My own take has changed from a pretty typical liberal "tut-tutting" to a far more open position. I no longer believe that we must make a choice between the Angie/Brad stories and Congressional hearings on torture; one can pay attention, at some level of attention, to both without being either a crude ignoramus or a "serious person". I do not think the increasing incursion of tabloid "journalism" spells the death of the Republic. This last is more the death of journalism as a profession.

At any rate, I think some perspective on tabloid-style reporting is in order, to put what we read in perspective. One of the complaints often lodged against the stories one reads in Us, Life & Style and other such fodder is that they rely on anonymous sources offering rumor and unfounded allegation. The narratives change from week to week as the editors switch from building an individual up to tearing them down.

One thing I think it is important to remember is that these stories focus exclusively on what is extraneous to our reasons for paying attention to these folks in the first place. The exceptions are the so-called "celebutants" like Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian who have done nothing to warrant our attention and fascination other than keep themselves before the public eye. They are famous for being famous, in other words. Leaving aside the Nicole Richies of the world, we pay attention to the lives of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer, because they attract our attention. They present themselves publicly through their professions as actors, entertainers, musicians, and as such create an illusion of familiarity that is exploited by the tabloids, who attempt to lift the curtain, as it were, on the person behind the persona. Of course, the end result is, more often than not, as much a fiction as the image we see on our movie and television screens. Or, at the very least, only part of the story.

Watching CSI has forced me to think about this particular issue in an interesting light. While itself just a TV series, it nevertheless presents certain commonalities (and not-quite-commonalities) in a way that has forced me to ask a question the answer to which is quite disturbing: Could any of us have our private lives placed under a microscope, all the details spread before those outside, and not appear just as jaded, immoral, and small as some of our celebrities are presented via the tabloids? None of us live exemplary lives. All of us have secrets we prefer to keep hidden. All of us have a fact or event in our lives we would prefer no one know about. Yet, the tabloids offer us a glimpse of some of our most famous names and faces, without make-up, outside the carefully crafted personas of their publicity agents that do not differ all that much from our own foibles, failures, sins and transgressions. The difference, I think, is that we can at least have the satisfaction of seeing that those who present a certain face to the public have far more complicated lives than they wish us to know about. Sometimes, these secrets are so intimate, most of us would no longer show our faces should that aspect of our lives become public knowledge. Would any of my readers survive having our sexual exploits available to public inspection the way, say Pamela Anderson has done? I admire her strength of character precisely because having that most intimate and secretive part of one's life suddenly become so graphic a part of our common currency of images would most certainly destroy me.

The tabloids are successful for a variety of reasons, although I think mindlessness isn't one of them. Rather, they are successful because they remind us that those society determines are to become well known by wide swaths of the public are just human beings. No more, no less. Angelina Jolie is not to be considered some kind of freak because she desires to adopt children from poor countries, even as she continues her recovery from substance abuse. Britney Spears needs our prayers and good thoughts, rather than church-lady head shaking for her various public melt-downs. None of us are any better, and quite a few of us are far worse. In the end, the tabloids succeed because the lives they present are no different from our own. We are a tabloid society. The checkout-line magazine racks just highlight this obvious reality.

Some More Thoughts On High School

I've had a couple things brewing in my mind for a while, and with an actual day off and time on my hands, you'll have to put up with them or ignore them as you see fit.

I have been enjoying getting to know the television series CSI over the past month or so. Not having cable or satellite does have its disadvantages; I was not aware that a show as intelligent and well-written (for a network TV series) existed. An update of Perry Mason, using forensics rather than courtroom confrontation, I have really enjoyed both the technical aspects of the show as well as the narrative flow. I was watching Season 2 on DVD last night (working 3rd shift has the disadvantage of keeping me up late, or waking far too early), and there is an episode where a school counselor murders a student who bullies younger kids. William Petersen, who plays Gil Grissom, manages one of the best lines I have ever heard uttered in a television series. In response to the counselor's confession that she has, indeed, committed the crime in question due to a certain moral logic that it is better to have killed one bully than to have that bully's victim's pull a Columbine and murder many other students, Grissom says, "As bad as high school is, eventually, it comes to an end."

With my previous post noting the 25th anniversary of my own exit from high school, I have to confess a certain amount of reminiscing and thinking back on my days as a student. I also have to confess that something author Stephen King wrote once (I wish I knew where) is far more true than I understood the first time I read it. He said that we adults have no understanding of the lives of children, or even the memories of our own childhood because, while we remember events, we have no emotional memory of them. We do not grasp the conflicting, sometimes contradictory, and certainly complicated, emotional context in which certain events occurred. I think that is true, with the rare exception (the first kiss, fist crush, some other significant life event).

I also think it is the reason so many adults are alarmed by the goings-on in high schools today. We hear tell of bullies, of cliques, of conflicts between and among groups and we wonder what the world is coming to. Yet, this is one of those instances where "'twas ever thus" actually applies. Back a few years ago, around the time of the Columbine shooting, I was talking with my parents about bullying, violence in school, etc., and my Dad told me of a classmate of his (or perhaps it was someone in another class, I don't really remember the details) who punched the school gym teacher, knocking him unconscious. As my father graduated from the same school system I did in 1939 gives you an idea of the time frame. People who say that school violence is something new are just wrong. Of course, the events at Columbine HS were on a different order of magnitude, and conducted with a certain sociopathic efficiency and level of violence, but that does not mean they are qualitatively distinct. It is a question of degree rather than kind.

I look back on my own years of primary and secondary education with mixed emotions. Like most kids, I was teased (I was both small and slight; I was different because I had bright, flaming red hair and very fair skin). But, I was hardly a potential perpetrator of horrid violence. I had friends, and a group of other students with whom I could associate because we had interests in common, whether that was music, or swimming, or trying to do well academically. I am not so lost in sentimentality that I look back with fondness of that time, because I am honest enough to admit that, for the most part, I have little in common with those people I spent twelve very important years of my life with. In the quarter-century since I left school, I have traveled a winding path, and am far enough removed that I can honestly say I have no idea what some of those others and I would talk about. At the same time, I have enjoyed getting to know some folks I used to know through email. We have managed to catch up, to talk about college/careers/marriage/parenthood and find common ground in our contemporary lives.

With our older daughter entering middle school years, a particularly difficult time in anyone's life, I have a very different point of view on how we should handle the rough emotional waters ahead for her than my wife does. While I have sympathy for the pains and tribulations I am quite sure Moriah will face, and with which she will have to deal (the poor dear is far too much like her father in this regard; she has always worn her heart on her sleeve, and is unselfconscious of how vulnerable she is because of it), I do not wish to protect her from them. One of the things I think the social climate of the average HS does is prepare students for dealing with life. Of course, events in HS are magnified due to the immaturity of those involved, their lack of perspective, and the concentration both physical and in terms of context, in which these events occur. As adults, we have a distinct advantage because we can put the same things our children experience in the larger context both of the world in which we live and the passing of our own lives. We can see how small and inconsequential were most of the things we once thought were of such grave importance. We wish to impart to our children the same sense of proportion and context. We want them to ignore cliques, to dismiss bullies, to focus on the academic aspect at the expense of the social.

How many of us live our lives this way? How many of us focus our energies solely on professional achievement to the detriment of our social lives? How many of us give no thought to the groups to which we form attachments, attachments that we make partly out of self-preservation, or perhaps the selfish idea that such attachments might benefit us in the future? How many of us are able to dismiss the occasional ridiculous comments of the most ridiculous among us?

For the most part, adults are able to do these things to a certain extent. Children, however, cannot for one simple reason - they have no experience to guide them. The emotional turmoil of adolescence adds a certain amount of frisson to the entire context. The fact that the classroom is also the primary locus of our social lives creates a certain amount of confusion as well; at what point do we interact only as fellow students pursuing some academic goal, rather than friends/rivals/acquaintances?

As parents, we have the task of helping guide our children through these very rough waters, with the added element that we did so ourselves. Neither my wife nor myself came away without our own bruises and even scars. No one did, at least no one who is honest enough about the time. Yet, Lisa is far more inclined to want to shield Moriah from the coming maelstrom. I, on the other hand, believe the only way for Moriah to learn to cope is . . . to cope. We have spoken of the fact that, some day in the not too distant future, we will have to console her first broken heart, or deal with her rejection by this or that popular group. For me, I would much rather she go through these than that we act as a buffer between her and these slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Perhaps I am a harsh, unfeeling father for thinking so, but I also believe that, as Grissom said, high school ends one day. Sure it's hard, but the social turmoil is a good proving ground for what's coming.

If you walk across the stage and get your diploma from your local HS, you now only have shown you have brains enough to make it that far. You have also shown you have the guts and emotional and mental fortitude to keep going.

An Anniversary I Missed

This past Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of my high school graduation. The photo here is of the 2008 graduation of my alma mater.

Just thought I'd mention it, as well as send out my congratulations and well-wishes to all those who made it through the hallowed halls of my old high school.

One thing I would mention. The principal, Dave Mastrontuono is a graduate of our arch-rival Sayre HS. At the time he was in HS, my mother was an occasional substitute teacher, and she remember him well. I do, also. In Junior High, I spent a summer as a member of a youth recreation swim team. Dave Mastrontuono was an excellent swimmer, and was also a member. Far larger and stronger than I was (I was not yet 13; he was, I believe, either 18 or 19), he took out his dislike for my mother's strictness on me, once pushing me into the pool as I was climbing out. The problem was my knee got caught in the gutter that ran around the edge, twisting my entire leg as the rest of me went in. Nothing broke, but to be honest it was a near thing. I find it amusing that someone quite willing to laugh at a serious potential injury of someone both smaller and weaker than themselves is a HS principal. Life does take some funny turns, doesn't it.

Doth Mine Eyes Deceive Me? More Conservatives Eating Their Own

For two years, I have been saying that the Christian Right is fading as a political force. I would never argue that Christian conservatives have disappeared, have no influence, or that they should so disappear (although I sometimes have wished they would say less stupid things; of course, that goes for anyone, regardless of political ideology). I would just insist that, four years after they helped deliver the White House legitimately to George W. Bush, they are becoming a shadow of their former presence.

This week has seen the spectacle of James Dobson attempting to pick a fight with Barack Obama over his theology and interpretation of the Bible. I have dealt a couple times with this, as have many others. Today's Washington Post offers a surprising op-ed piece by Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and also a former member of the Bush Administration, who takes Obama's side in this latest attempt by Christian conservatives to impose theological and Biblical conformity upon the nation. If any more evidence is needed that Christian conservatives are no longer a monolithic group moving in lockstep, I'm not sure where one could find it.
Earlier this week, Focus on the Family's James Dobson criticized Sen. Barack Obama, accusing him of "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit ... his own confused theology," of having a "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution" and of appealing to the "lowest common denominator of morality."

Dobson's judgment was based on Obama's keynote address at a "Call to Renewal" conference on June 28, 2006. In fact, this speech was impressive in many respects. As an evangelical and conservative who has deep concerns about Obama's policies and political philosophy, I nonetheless welcome such a statement by a leading Democrat.(emphasis added)

This is the opening, which should make the eyes pop on anyone who has been paying attention for the past couple decades as the differences among various Christian sects - fundamentalist, evangelical, dispensationalist - became blurred as all these groups were recruited by Republicans to support their party, while getting little but lip service in return. What is both surprising and pleasing about this opening is we have the honest acknowledgment by a conservative that a liberal might actually be saying something important. Shoot, I'm trying to remember the last time I did the same yet opposite number . . .

Anyway, the most interesting and critical aspect of the column follows:
Dobson was critical of Obama's biblical references here and suggested that he had set up a series of straw men to support his "confused theology." But as I understand him, Obama was pointing out why the words of Scripture do not provide a ready policy blueprint for modern American society. Indeed, many of us have grappled with how to arrive at a theologically informed and fair-minded reading of the Bible that takes its moral principles seriously without simplistically applying to our time the cultural norms of previous eras. The chief defect of Obama's speech was that he didn't provide more insight into how to navigate these theological waters.

The passage of the speech that prompted Dobson's "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution" and "lowest common denominator of morality" comments was this: "Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. What do I mean by this? It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, to take one example, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

Dobson paraphrased this as "unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe in." But that's not what Obama was saying at all. Rather, he was arguing that in a pluralistic nation like ours, politics depends on people of faith being able to persuade others based on common and accessible ground and appeals to reason -- which sounds entirely reasonable. Christians who oppose abortion can make an effective case by talking about sonograms, fetal development and the moral imperative to protect the most vulnerable. That doesn't mean one's faith shouldn't inform the question of abortion -- or, for that matter, war, poverty and other issues. After all, President Lincoln's argument against slavery was partly grounded in faith. But appeals to the Bible or church teaching aren't sufficient in a pluralistic nation. That's why Lincoln talked primarily about the Declaration of Independence.

This should be surprising precisely because so many liberals did not hear what Obama was saying as clearly as this conservative did. I remember well this speech and the reaction to it. Many liberals thought that Obama had jumped the religious shark on this one, even as I thought he had managed to send the message to liberals that he would not resort to religious rhetoric for his appeal to religious voters (something the Republicans increasingly have forgotten to do). Furthermore, Wehner acknowledges Obama's deeply American understanding of what constitutes public discourse. While I have problems with the word "universal", one does not need to deal too much with it because the intent is clear. The issue is using a general vocabulary stripped of the particularity and exclusionary intent and history of religious rhetoric. Wehner is doing something I have yet to hear many religious conservatives do, which is accept that religious concerns, when brought in to the public square, need a bit of tweaking in their presentation in order to make a broader appeal. Using the example of Lincoln may not be the best (Lincoln himself wasn't much of a believer beyond vague references; he never attended church, and probably couldn't get Republican Party support today), but it does show how a wise, intelligent, and cagey politician understands the way to "do" political debate in America, with that most American of Presidents as a guide.

I do so love the ending of this column:
If Christian conservatives want to be taken seriously, they need to make serious arguments and speak with intellectual integrity. In this instance, Dobson didn't. He has set back his cause and made some of us who are evangelicals and conservatives wince.

Not just conervatives winced, Mr. Wehner.

Saturday Rock Show

Filter was the result of sidemen from Nine Inch Nails' tour getting together and putting some of the ideas Trent Reznor had in a different context. Not as successful, they nevertheless had an alt-rock hit in "Hey Man, Nice Shot". The song was used effectively in an X-Files episode, when a character who could control lightning killed someone. Kind of fitting . . . It's a very '90's song.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Throwing Them To The Lions

Rich, privileged, free, American Christians have no idea what real discrimination and persecution is. Seriously. Oh, sure, there are psychopaths like Sam Harris out there, and ninnies like Richard Dawkins, who make fun of something they believe is Christianity. There are the occasional instances of some person or other being teased about the way he or she dresses, or the school they attend (I can remember wondering about the kids who went to the Catholic elementary school in my town when I was a kid). True martyrdom, however, is something that American Christians know nothing about.

Except in their own minds.

Exhibit "A" comes via Sadly, No!, where Jillian highlights a woman in high whine mode about an anti-discrimination law enacted in Colorado that includes sexual orientation as a protected category.
The Ku Klux Klan can march. The Nazis can hand out brochures. Skinheads can do whatever it is that Skinheads do. But in the state of Colorado, the only group who is NOT allowed to be heard is … the Christians. They're the ones who disagree with same-sex marriage, cohabitation, and believe the biblical view that homosexuality is a sin. But if they voice that objection from now on, it had better be inside the four walls of a church. If not, they'll be staring at the four walls of a prison cell … for up to a year.

Since the text of the statute has standard anti-discrimination boilerplate that includes sexual orientation as a protected class, one might wonder why a self-professed Christian would worry that something they would say might be considered legally objectionable. See, Christian are supposed to be about love, and openness, and all that gushy liberal stuff. Except, it seems, towards teh gay who threaten our very survival with the planes they crash in to our office buildings and all the IEDs they put on the roadsides . . . .

Wait, no that's insurgents in Iraq and Al Qaeda.

What's the threat to our civilization posed by GLBT folks? I can't think of it right now.

Anyway, it seems to this humble Christian that Janet Folger needs to worry less about getting arrested for fag-bashing in Colorado than about what Christianity means to her.


Exhibit "B" comes via ER. First, as I wrote earlier this week, James Dobson has attacked Barack Obama for his expression of his Christian beliefs. Now, this is a certified case of faith-based attack. Obviously. Yet, it seems that Kirbyjohn Caldwell, a United Methodist minister (I love their ubiquity; I'm so partisan) has a website called You can go and sign up, give a testimony. It seems Dobson doesn't like all that sauce for the gander. I would urge everyone here to go and sign and read the testimonials of those who refuse to have an unelected spokesman in the form of a bad child psychologist.

There have been times over the past 2000 years when Christians faced the prospect of violent death because of their faith. The Romans didn't take kindly to folks who refused to make room in their religious beliefs for emperor-worship, so bunches and bunches of Christians ended up in the stomachs of lions, or cut down defenselessly as people cheered. During the late Middle Ages, various radical sects had Crusades proclaimed against them, including the Cathars in southern France and the Waldensians in Italy. Jan Hus, one of the national saints of the Czech Republic accepted a free pass promised by the Pope, which lasted long enough for him to get to Avignon and be burned at the stake. During the Reformation, the term "Anabaptist" was coined to make fun of people who declared their Roman rite and Lutheran and Reform baptisms insufficient. See, what these groups did to the "Anabaptists" was tie rocks around their wastes or necks and toss them in rivers and lakes, baptizing them again.

The Puritans, hyper-Calvinists who were ultimately the losers of the English Civil War were not only booted out of England, but out of The Netherlands as well. Huguenots were burned, raped, and other wise murdered by the hundreds and thousands in France. Thomas Muntzer ended up in a bad way because he honestly believed that Christianity called people to live out their faith in a radical way. The Peasant Revolt in the various German states that made up the inaptly named Holy Roman Empire claimed as many as 100,000 lives. This particular bit of Christian fratricide was encouraged by Martin Luther.

We should never forget the hundreds of Christians the Nazis murdered because of their faith.

Here's the thing. Real martyrs don't whine all that much about how they're picked on. They live out their faith the best way they know how, and take the consequences while refusing to denounce their beliefs even at the point of a spear, gun, or burning torch about to be placed in a pile of sticks at their feet. Call me unimpressed with the complaints from these pampered folks. When they end up sport for lions before a cheering public, I might pray for them. Otherwise, I wish they would shut up.

Oh, The Shame Of It

David Broder begins his column today (against gerrymandering) with a paragraph that is simultaneously rich in irony and wanking.
When Barack Obama decided last week to throw off the constraints on campaign spending that go with the acceptance of public financing, he was rightly criticized for rigging the system in his favor.(emphasis added)

First, he was criticized for going back on a promise to stick to public financing. He wasn't criticized for being "unfair". That's just a straight-up falsehood

Second, what is "unfair" about the situation? Why, Obama has raised and will continue to raise far more money than Sen. McCain. See, that's what's unfair. Obama has more money, will get even more money, and it's always wrong when Democrats get more money than Republicans. For three decades, the Republican Party and its candidates have been able to raise money hand over fist (sometimes illegally; Nixon and the Republicans got in to a bit of trouble for shaking down ITT back in 1972). That's OK, obviously. Reverse the natural order, and it is "unfair". Why, we might even hear about how Democrats have created a special right to take in more money from donors than Republicans, because we all know how fond liberals are of special rights for minorities.

I do so wish Broder would retire. Perhaps an Obama win will provide the incentive for him to find a nice home on a sea island in South Carolina somewhere, where he can ignore how the Democrats are once again trashing the place.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Disco Jesus

Lisa showed me this, and I laughed so hard. I suppose there might be someone out there who might get offended, and if so, I apologize beforehand. This is meant to be a laugh, and I do hope you laugh as much as I did. Enjoy.

Any complaints can be emailed to . .

The American Thinker Strikes Out Again

At least I didn't come across this one at Marshall Art. . . .

I found this via Roy Edroso at Alicublog. As with all such articles, one could spend most of one's time dealing with the need for editorial guidance, but I shall indulge only the "content". The lede is easy enough:
Society is promoting an entirely new type of leader: the wimp

Ah, the threat to the American male rears its limp-wristed head in the guise of what author Adar Kielczewski calls the "beta male". The evidence?
NBC's popular series The Office reflects this trend quintessentially: promotion of the beta male. Jim Halpert, unofficial "hero" of the program, does little more than raise an eyebrow at the camera as he lives a day-in, day-out life of quiet passivity. His most aggressive action is the occasional practical joke. At last year's season finale, he turned down a managerial position. A man of action he's not.


True alpha males achieve. They daringly change the way people think and the way things are done. Alpha males willing stick their neck out for results, for progress. They formed this nation. Now even some of the nation's former leaders are resorting to the beta male epidemic, a mind numbing coach potato approach to life. The current trend is reject the go-getter and be content to remain seated and watch the world roll by, as long as you're cute about it.

America was built by alphas: aggressive, authoritative, ambitious men who took control, spoke out and even (gasp!) fought for what was right.

This argument - that our role models are a bunch of wusses who are emasculating us even as we reach for another bag of chips and switch from The Sands of Iwo Jima to Changing Spaces, is not only old, it is stupid.

The whole "alpha male, beta male, wouldn't you like to be a male, too" business is the injudicious borrowing from field naturalists who use the term to refer to community leaders among social animals, such as wolves and gorillas. While it might be true that there is some justification for the use of the term among human beings, it is still an argument, rather than a settled matter. Furthermore, including Abraham Lincoln among "alpha males" is a bit of a joke. A bi-polar loser most of his adult life, Lincoln won the Presidency by default. His weaknesses, the very things that made him a loser, stood him in good stead during the worst years of the Civil War, but that hardly makes him an "alpha male". Theodore Roosevelt was the quintessential beta male. Soft and sickly most of his childhood, the only thing he had going for him was his will power. That, and family connections, a keen intellect, and a bullying attitude created a persona that was at odds with who he was.

Of course, we aren't discussing real people here, but popular images who become, by lack of serious thought, "role models". Let us leave aside the fact that the character in The Office is fictitious and consider that, as a comedy, it might be the goal of the writers to make fun of the kind of underachieving mediocrity we all know takes advantage of the Peter Principle to rise to the level of his incompetence. Of course, for these humorless types, that is either beside the point, or irrelevant to whatever passes for a point.

I am surprised that John Wayne wasn't mentioned. Actually, Wayne was often touted as a true American hero, which should be hysterically funny considering the fact that he was a draft dodger during the Second World War, working tirelessly to make sure his number didn't come up. Since none of that fits his profile, it is rarely mentioned.

Since this came up in The American Thinker, it should be obvious that it is silliness of the largest, most wanking sort. Treating it seriously does do it the favor of legitimizing it to a certain extent. But, we all have our crosses to bear.


I saw the headline at Think Progress and thought it was a bit of a joke. I honestly believed it was a piece from The Onion. But, no:
Rove Rips NYT For Outing CIA Agent’s Identity And ‘Putting Our Country At Risk’

Anyone paying even scant attention to public affairs over the past couple years should be aware that Karl Rove was implicated in the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame, as well as the campaign against her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. While "Scooter" Libby took the fall, and Vice President Cheney's handwriting was on a memo that seemed to start the ball rolling, there was enough testimony in court to show that Rove was hip-deep in that particular horrid piece of business.

For Rove to turn around now and bash The New York Times for discussing the role of the CIA in the torture of prisoners in American custody is evidence that he has contempt, at some basic level, for the American people. For those who pay attention, obviously, we will ignore his comments. For those who pay less attention, or for whatever reason are still attached to the Bush Administration, or the Republican Party, the conflict here, or rank hypocrisy (to be far more honest) is something they can always explain away (they always do). This also sucks a certain amount of oxygen from the discussion of other issues. Rove manages to make himself the issue, even though it dredges up memories of Bush Administration crimes (in this case, with a conviction to make the word "crime" applicable). He becomes, once again, the dutiful soldier, taking fire for those above him.

Or maybe he is just cynical enough to believe that even those of us who pay attention will have forgotten the testimony that put him in the eye of the Plame storm. That he is currently not wearing federal pajamas at some minimum security lockdown is a travesty of justice. One would hope that some future President (like, next year) would have the decency to ensure that Karl Rove spends at least a few months at a federally operated punch press, or hoeing cabbages and peas at some federally-run farm with barbed wire around it.

Maybe, if God is truly good, he'll keep poking George Bush in the beck with the handle of his garden rake.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Obama Versus Dobson

N.B.: This story originally appeared on an AP website by an AP religion reporter. I am linking to the FiPL blurb, but will not quote either that blurb or link or quote to and from the original. There is a link at FiPL if you wish to see the whole thing. That is why this is a summary and paraphrase. I don't do AP until they remove the threat to take me to court for increasing their traffic.

Faith in Public has a link to a story that says James Dobson will attempt to put the smackdown on Barack Obama's interpretation of the Bible. I find this hysterically funny, because in so doing, Dobson proves he is a really bad Biblical exegete, and demonstrates Obama's felicity at this task (which is peripheral to his c.v. for President).

One of the ways Dobson does this is to mention that Obama raises the issue of Biblical ignorance among Christians, and the wide range of material in the Bible, from the reactionary violence of some of the Old Testament to the more radical passages of the New Testament. Dobson counters that those passages cited by Obama have no relevance to Christians, thus revealing that he has no idea that it is the whole Bible with which Christians must wrestle and come to terms, not just some passages we like and some we don't.

All of this, of course, begs the question of relevance. Obama, it seems to me, was attempting to remind listeners that Christians have a wide array of interpretive tools and positions. There is no single "true" Biblical interpretive guide. If there were, we would all be Roman Catholic. Or perhaps Greek Orthodox (whose doctrine is both older and rooted much more in the pre-Constantinian traditions than is the Roman rite Church). He wants to distance himself from the ugly fights between various religious groups, and remind listeners and voters that these differences, while certainly important for believers and a source of conflict among denominations and religious groups, are not nor should be a litmus test for public service in America. Since there is no test for the "correct" interpretive tool, or for deciding between and among various religious traditions, the best policy is to acknowledge the differences and move on to other things.

This is rank heresy among conservative Christians who believe (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that theirs is the only true Christian way. They further believe that it is necessary to announce to all the world that one acknowledges adherence to this truth in order to serve as an elected official in America. That this violates the religious test clause of the Constitution doesn't bother them because they are as ignorant of the Constitution as they are of Biblical interpretation.

This is a fight, I believe, that Dobson will have only with himself. I believe that Obama has said what needs to be said, and will not respond to Dobson. I hope so, at any rate. I am quite tired of our public discourse polluted by debates about religious interpretation that are irrelevant. On the other hand, as a Christian, it is nice to have these discussions out there; I just wish some wouldn't pretend they were important to our politics.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Point Of Personal Privilege

I do not know if any people who attended Waverly Jr-Sr High School up until 1982 read this. I do not know if any who do check out the Evening Times on-line. If not, you should know that Bettie Simcoe died unexpectedly on Friday. Mrs. Simcoe was one of a trio of outstanding English teachers I had in high school, along with Eugene Higgins and my father, Daniel Safford. She was funny, eccentric, tough, tall, and verbose. Her room and my father's room were adjacent from 1966 until Bettie retired in 1981, when my father's room was moved upstairs due to the District Offices moving in to the High School (my father used to joke that the superintendent's opinion of his teaching was demonstrated by the fact that the office toilet sat on the very spot his lectern stood the previous 15 years). Even after she left, and then he retired in 1988, they would keep in touch. She taught Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for years, and every March fifteenth one or other would call and intone in the voice of the mad seer, "Beware! The Ides of March!"

They don't make teachers like Mrs. Simcoe anymore. I doubt they could! I am fortunate to be among the few who can brag that she was my teacher. I can further brag that my family could count her among our friends. Her loss, while hardly a tragedy, marks the continued passing of a generation of teachers at my HS alma mater who made it a great place to go to school.

Bettie was predeceased by her husband, Locey Simcoe, and is survived by her son, Joe.

The Politics Of Envy

Via Talking Points Memo, I discovered this piece by Jake Tapper at ABC News, in which Tapper reports second-hand (please remember this, ladies and gentlemen; Rove can disavow this entire thing because Tapper is repeating something another reporter told him) that, at a breakfast meeting, former White House political aide Karl Rove said the following in regards to Barack Obama:
Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by.

The easiest criticism to be made against this kind of frame is made by Tapper.
Interesting that Mr. Rove would use a country club metaphor to describe the first major party African-American presidential candidate, whom I'm sure wouldn't be admitted into many country clubs that members of the Capitol Hill Club frequent.

Leaving aside this obvious problem with Rove's comment, let us note something further. It seems to me that what Rove is doing here is attempting to exploit that nastiest and most destructive human emotion - envy. Rove wants Republicans to paint Obama as the guy who was simultaneously class President, chair of the student council, captain of the football team, the steady with the head of the cheerleading squad, and class valedictorian. He wants us to see Obama as the President of the best, most prestigious fraternity who got the full-ride scholarship and answered all the tough questions in class. In other words, he wants to go after Obama for being smart, good-looking, and successful, because most Americans aren't these things.

This might be a good strategy if it hadn't been done before to Al Gore, to John Kerry, to Michael Dukakis. Since John McCain went to Annapolis, was a fighter pilot, married a trophy wife worth a few million bucks, and has been a member of Congress (a pretty prestigious club, no?) for over a quarter century, I'm not sure how well this works. Furthermore, I think part of Obama's appeal is precisely his c.v. as a success, his good looks, his ease on the stump, his obvious affection for his wife (who is also quite attractive, and charming to boot). Rove want to take these positive, however, and turn them in to negatives by whispering in our ear our darkest beliefs about the successful: they have the deck stacked for them; isn't it unfair that everything comes so easy for them; they appear to be our best friend, but snicker at us behind their hands and our backs because we have to work so hard; a person like this deserves to lose, to have his comeuppance, to be dealt a blow to his over-sized ego; such people as this have a certain sense of entitlement to victory that should be pierced by the common folk. The list could go on and on.

I have no doubt that this line of attack will be tried, along with all the others. Envy is far too easy to create, and exploit. Yet, I think it will fall short not because Americans are better than that (we aren't), but because, like everything else Republicans have tried to do for the past eight years, it will fail because the time for this kind of crap is over. Furthermore, that anyone takes Karl Rove seriously anymore is far beyond my own ability to comprehend.

The Republicans used this as far back as the early 1950's, when Joe McCarthy went after Harry Truman's Secretary of State Dean Acheson. 'Twas ever thus, it seems, and it has been a staple of Republican politics since Nixon stole the whole thing from George Wallace's 1968 Presidential campaign; Nixon's "silent majority" nonsense is nothing more than envy dressed up with a haircut and new shoes.

George W. Bush's anti-Midas touch, however, has proved once and for all that electing mediocrity, the quintessential everyman with whom it might be fun to have a beer and tell dirty jokes, is not a good way to choose a President. Personally, I would support the guy who beat me out in the race for class President every time over the class clown who got drunk every weekend and struck out with the cheerleader wannabes at the school dance on the weekend. I want a President who is successful, and smart, and has a record to prove it. Electing a person with a record of failure has only led to, well, more failure. Except the failure now is far larger and far more costly.

Comedy Monday

George Carlin has left us, but he has left us with such a rich variety of work that he will always be with us, challenging us in our thoughtlessness, our sloppy linguistic habits, and our blindness to the way our language betrays our cowardice and hypocrisy. It should go without saying that the following are not appropriate for those who are overly-sensitive, easily offended, or who faint at the sound of dirty words. By the way, it goes without saying that I will most certainly not be putting up "seven little words" business. There is so much more, and better stuff that show us that Carlin continued to be both hilarious and relevant. Besides, he uses dirty words enough in what follows to give us examples of how to use those seven little words that we don't need his little demonstration.

Virtual Tin Cup

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