Saturday, July 26, 2008

I Predict They Deliver

A couple days ago, I said that I thought the press would turn Obama's trip abroad in to a plus for John McCain, who spent the week eating in a German restaurant and having an awful photo-op in a grocery store, having a fake conversation with a hand-picked local supporter. McCain's campaign seems to be run by the same people who ran Michael Dukakis' infamous 1988 Presidential run, not able to catch a break even from the weather. Obama, on the other hand, was practically tongue kissed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, previously the darling of the right.

According to this overview by a diarist at Daily Kos, not only did the press somehow step up and try to turn Obama's triumph in to some kind of negative, they did so using the same word - presumptuous. This commenter says roughly the same thing I do about this entire story:
It's interesting how the corporate media sets up these ridiculous narratives to screw Democrats. You'd almost think they were getting their talking points from the RNC. ("Gambling? Here? I'm shocked!")

Before the trip the narrative was "This is a big test for Obama. If he makes any mistakes, it proves he's not ready to be President."

Then when he completely kicked ass and made no mistakes (while McCain was back here making a gaffe a day) the narrative became "He's presumptious" for being so competent and awesome. Hand it to the propagandists in the corporate media to somehow turn a brilliant flawless performance on the world stage into a negative. It really is bat shit fucking insane.

That word, presumptuous, is a nice, polite off-hand way of saying that Obama is an uppity nigger. Period. Not only that, he has the audacity to be accepted by leaders of other countries as an important person. Of course, there are those on the right who dismiss the opinions of people and leaders from other countries, especially when those opinions don't jibe with their own.

Back in 1999, George W. Bush was questioned on his knowledge of world leaders. In a bit of historical irony, or perhaps an instance of karma turning around and leaving big old teeth marks on his butt, he famously couldn't answer when asked who was the leader of Pakistan (then in the news because of the coup that led to the military dictatorship of Gen. Prevez Musharaf). When that interview took place there was a howl of rage from many pundits, who insisted that such knowledge was unnecessary to be President (which turned out to be true, in a minimalist kind of way). They called the interview the worst kind of "gotcha" journalism, a kind of verbal mugging. They did everything but promise to coach Bush for any future encounters.

The goal posts constantly move around for Republicans and Democrats, but in different directions. When a Republican candidate for President, whether George W. Bush or John McCain, shows basic incompetence, or even a tendency towards a certain lack of understanding, excuses are made until what should be evidence of a lack of qualifications becomes a plus. On the other hand, when a Democrat not only has a record of competence, but rises to certain occasions with aplomb and class, that doesn't matter, because the original demands have suddenly morphed in to a new set demands that weren't even visible before. For example, Michael Dukakis ran on a record of more-than-competent governance, including a sterling environmental record as Governor of Massachusetts. George H. W. Bush stages a photo-op in Boston harbor, where journalists can take pictures of dirty water while the then-VP claims he wants to be the "environmental President", thus juxtaposing an image and a good sound-bite that are neither related to one another nor true with the honest record of a good Administrator.

Obama is chastised for not going overseas, so he not only does so, he does so in style, with an agility and ability that is stunning, especially given the past seven years when we all cringe whenever the sitting President goes to another country and embarrasses all of us. Because he outshone not only McCain, who whined today because he didn't get the press Obama did, but our current sitting President (not that that's hard; my St. Bernard could do better), he is, therefore, "presumptuous" to have done so.

Suck it up, Republicans. Obama knocked the entire week out of the park, out of the parking lot. McCain got a chili dog when he ordered nachos, and complained about the lousy seats he had behind third base.

A Second Rerun - With Comments

I originally wrote and ran this particular piece in April of '07. Strapped for ideas back in March, I ran it again. When I re-ran it four months ago, I got zero response. My hope is to get a good discussion going here, despite the fact that some of the references to what were then current events are now dated. I believe my larger, "meta", point is still valid in the context in which it was presented.

I would also like to make a couple observations. First, as I noted in the comments a year and a half ago, I chose this particular photo because it was a perfect representation of St. Augustine's view of sin as "concupiscence". The apple sitting on the woman's lap - need I say more? NPT just couldn't see past the image, and actually argued there was something pornographic about the picture, something I still fail to understand. Second, the last two comments I didn't discover for several months, as I rarely revisit a piece once it has dropped off the bottom of the page. Yet both those comments mean more to me than you might think. That a person just happened along and found something positive in something I wrote - that's what this is all about, folks. Not to disparage my regular commenters and readers at all, but those two one-time comments really made me sit up and realize that the things I say here on this little blog reach farther than I can imagine. It's a pretty humbling experience, to be honest.

I think, of all the over one thousand posts I have written, this is by far my favorite, despite what I think are some serious flaws, especially its limitations by referring to current events at the time, rather than dealing with a broader brush. Anyway, here it is, "Women, Women's Sexuality, And The Right"

I've been thinking about this post and the accompanying photo in the context in which it all came about - French fascist Jean Marie Le Pen's comments on how women should avoid unwanted pregnancy - and the larger issue of sexuality, especially women's sexuality, and the social reaction to it. I had been thinking about how to say more, from a Christian perspective (or at least my Christian perspective) on this question, but I wanted more than just my opinion to be out there. I started one yesterday, then gave up. Then, late last night, I came across this piece by Jane Hamsher at FDL on Rudy Giuliani, and lo! and behold! it began by summing up much of what I wanted to say by way of background, and I quote (although it would be rewarding to read the whole thing):

I know I'm late to this particular party, but I have to disagree with just about everyone who thinks Rudy really stepped in it with his abortion comments last week and believes he has now alienated the mouth breather vote. It may have been an artless move, but I think it actually won't cost him a thing — in fact, it liberates him from an image of slavish devotion to wingnuttery that will help him in the long run, and I seriously doubt that that the lizard brains are going to abandon him.

There is a central misconception at play wherein people believe that because the social conservatives make so much noise about abortion, it's something they actually care about. It isn't. It's an abstraction. If you think they really give a happy hootie about innocent fetuses, you're living in a fool's paradise. George Bush could say the war on terror will be won tomorrow by stringing up Islamofascist blastulae and torturing them at Guantanamo Bay and nobody would make a peep. Not a one. Being anti-abortion is an article of faith, a calling card, a way of saying you are a member of the tribe. It's Michelle Malkin showing up in a white hood to the Klan meeting. The "unborn child" is what they profess to care about because what they really care about are self-determined urban women with lives of their own who take their jobs away and have sex and don't bake quite enough pies, and they hate 'em. But that's not okay to say so we get yet another chorus of "Every Sperm is Sacred."(emphasis added)

It is my belief that the Supreme Court's decision in Roe V. Wade, legalizing abortion on demand, was the last straw for many on the Christian Right. For a decade since the introduction of the birth control pill, the prospect of women being able to have a fulfilling sex life without fear of unwanted pregnancy posed a mortal threat to male dominance of society. For centuries, sexual freedom was a male prerogative. Women were the objects of male sexuality, quite often nameless, faceless, non-persons who were walking masturbation aids. With the advent first of the pill, then of abortion, which took care of those missed by the pill, women were now emancipated from the fear of issue and could exercise their sexual desire and power with a freedom previously only reserved for men.

I do not wish to downplay the economic dimension, either. With both conception control and abortion available as live options, women were now free to pursue careers outside the home with a freedom even their mothers had not had. As legislation and case law increasingly defined the limits of discrimination against the employment of women, and as women were no longer bound by either tradition or biology to limit their options, it increased competition in the workplace. Indeed, in many ways, the pool of available workers suddenly doubled, as both men and women became potentially equal partners in the job market (I say "potentially" because it hasn't happened, and we are years away from the playing field being even). Combined with the more elemental threat of a more free sexuality available to women, the reaction of the right, especially the Christian right, should have been obvious.

A generation later, however, we have yet to grasp the almost elemental fear and hatred of women among many on the right. I do not mean hatred of individual persons who happen to be women; I am talking about the fear engendered by free, powerful, sexually and (relatively) economically liberated women upon men. As long as women fulfill roles defined for them, there is nothing to fear. Once women start to press the limits of "acceptable" behavior, however, one can almost hear the howls of rage. Consider, for a moment, the disdain for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the past two weeks, there has been an onslaught against her for a trip to Syria, part of which included bringing along a message from the Israeli government to reassure Bashar al Assad that Israel had no plans for a spring or summer offensive against them (the Israeli government claimed afterward that no such message was given, even though the Israeli press had been discussing it prior to Pelois's visit; this is a separate matter deserving a much fuller treatment elsewhere). For our purposes here, it is just enough to consider the almost universal screech, not just from members of the Administration and Congressional Republicans, but from members of the mainstream press who should be aware that the trip was (a) bi-partisan, and (b) unremarkable because members of Congress routinely do exactly what Speaker Pelosi has done, not the least of them being Newt Gingrich. Yet, as Glenn Greenwald has carefully and thoroughly demonstrated, the attacks upon Pelosi began before she even took office as Speaker of the House and have continued in the same manner for the past five months.

Nancy Pelosi is a woman who has attained the Number 3 position, essentially, in our Constitutional order (she is second in line for the Presidency after the Vice President). The threat she poses, I contend, is not just political, but sexual. She is a successful, powerful, appealing, and attractive woman - a horrible combination for men already threatened in their masculinity by female freedom in general. Is it any wonder that many on the right feel about her as frequent visitor and commentator Neon Prime Time expressed in a comment several months ago, viz., "She scares me"? What is frightening can be summed up in Simone de Beauvois's famous dictum, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Here is a woman who does not need a man to be free, powerful, a leader. She doesn't know her place. That she is physically appealing as well as politically appealing only makes the threat that much more horrendous.

Faced with the power that women have over men, a power men have had to control through de-humanization, social and economic control, sexual exploitation and physical violence, and the rhetoric of innate sexual difference, many men end up, in the end, a quivering puddle on the floor, terrified that a strong woman will discover and make public what has been heretofore a secret even to these men themselves (except perhaps in their darkest thoughts they dare not express) - these men just don't cut it. A sexually, socially, economically liberated woman is a threat on many levels. It is my contention, however, that the most elemental threat is the sexual element. There are various social and economic controls that still exist to limit the social and economic power of women. A woman who is sexually free, however, threatens men's view of themselves at its most basic level.

You might be wondering about the whole "Christian" element I spoke of above. It is my contention that all that I have written has been written from a perspective that views women as equal creatures before God, created with power and vulnerability, part of which is sexual. Unless we want to deny that sex is a good gift from a good God (as my other told me, "If God made anything better than sex, He kept it to Himself"; there is no better theology of sex that I know of!) we have to start thinking in more creative ways about human sexuality. We should begin by recognizing, as a social fact, the threat posed to men's well-being by strong, independent women. We need to recognize that threat as existing on multiple levels, and deal with it on multiple levels. We need a positive view of human sexuality, one not linked to outmoded social roles and easily avoidable biological consequences, and teach both boys and girls, men and women, about the power they have, and how it should be used creatively and positively; and about the dangers it poses destructively and negatively.

For further reading, I suggest you go here to I think the headline says it all.

Note: The photo is entitled "Forbidden Fruit" by Alexander Feodorov.

Parklife said...

Well done.
I think you can go farther though. I get this masculine v. fem. feeling out there, with Republicans occupying the former. Its not just about how Pelosi is treated. Its about how all dems. are treated. Coulter is off writing "How to Talk to a Liberal". Meanwhile, conservatives feel the need to punish people for their sins. Rather than finding a long lasting solution to the problem.

Republicans have the need to talk down to us. Its the only why to "make us understand." And how perfect is it that she goes to Syria to open talks with the country, while the Admins. sit in judgment.

PS.. The word police might be after you for that photo.
5:21 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I thought the photo was perfect! I have said all I wish to say to the "word police". If they have a problem with naked boobies, that is most definitely their problem, not mine.
I agree with your larger point, viz., that much of Republican rhetoric involves the "feminization" of the Democrats (i.e., applying traditional, largely negative, feminine stereotypes to Democrats), and I also agree it is part of the larger phenomenon I am writing about here. Again, it's all about men being more powerful than women. As long as this post is, one can only say so much before one loses people's attention.
5:27 PM
neonprimetime said...

The word police simply says that I think you can get your point across without such items. I don't think you're accomplishing anything by trying to be a blogger shock jock (for lack of a better term).
9:32 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Oh, please, Neon. Really. If you are shocked by that photo, then the problem is most definitely yours. It is the perfect visual illustration of my point. And your reaction is, as well, a good illustration of my point. Me, I believe God made us beautiful and there is nothing wrong in tasteful displays of that beauty. You, all you see is a naked woman, and the composition just offends you. Or does it frighten you, like Speaker Pelosi?
8:04 AM
Parklife said...

I just love it when people are offended by nudity... NPT, there is a big difference between your photo and Geoffrey's photo.

Further over/hyper-masculinization (is that a word?) might be found in fright-wingers like Imus and his comments. And, thinking about those Fighting Pseudo Pigeon Bird People, they felt the need to attack a demonstration. Not to mention those Fighting 101 Keyboarders calling the British sailors cowards. It all smells really bad. Oh.. and Bush saying the only way to have peace is through war.
10:41 AM
neonprimetime said...

>> If you are shocked by that photo, then the problem is most definitely yours.

I knew I was missing something. More pron as a kid!

Do you not feel sorry for this girl, or if not her, then her family? I'd be hard pressed to think that her family approves of such exploitations. That's the whole concept behind rape is that you're taking away someone's innocence. I fully believe that something as simple as a picture can rape a woman of her innocence. I would never promote such an act, whether she did it willingly or not, because it affects more than just her.

I assume that your wife reads your posts? What's her take? Not on the article itself, but does she think it was necessary to duplicate the picture on your blog and basically continue the promotion of such images?
4:13 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

A) To view this particular photo as porn reveals a certain, um, prudishness (to be kind) toward the exhibition of the human body. This is most definitely not "pron" (I'm assuming that's a typo), but most definitely an artistic rendering of Augustine's idea of original sin as concupiscence. It also demonstrates visually one of the ideas I was trying to convey, viz., that the power women have through their sexuality is threatening to many men. Your reaction, it seems to me, proves my point more than you might imagine.
No, I do not feel sorry for this model. How is she exploited? How is she demeaned? How is this lovely photograph, in which the woman is most definitely a subject rather than an object, on a par with the kind of vapid gyno-porn one finds out there in the world? My complaint about porn isn't that is the same as rape (that's psycho-Andrea Dworkin talk), but that it lacks imagination, human feeling. It reduces sex to the barest mechanical minimum, and yes it does exploit women, but it also exploits men as well.
Finally, my wife does view my blog, and she did express concerns over the photo. Once she read the piece, however, she understood what I was doing, and she only wanted to make sure I wasn't going to get in trouble for putting bare breasts on my blog. I laughed, and explained some facts of life to her. See, Neon, my wife is a grown-up, too.
12:51 PM
neonprimetime said...

And if your wife is ok, then is your girls? Your bio says you have 2 amazing girls ... do you hope that they grow up to be just like that model? And would it bother you if other websites were re-posting those pictures of them online? I think of it as hurting the people around this girl ... even if the girl herself doesn't think it's hurting her.

But if you don't see it as somebody else's little girl ... then I guess, nevermind.
7:04 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

First of all, if my girls become models when they are adults I will be proud of whatever they accomplish. Will I be comfortable with the thought that, as adults, they might do things or make decisions that I wouldn't make? Well, that's part of being a parent - even now, as my older daughter approaches her tenth birthday, letting go is already beginning, in small ways that nevertheless seem huge to Lisa and me right now. We have a choice - we can smother them, or we can let them live. I would prefer they live.
Second, to ask whether I view the model in the photograph as someone's daughter implies that (a) I do not view her as a person, a subject in her own right, with all the specificity that entails; and that (b) by so objectifying her, I am doing some kind of metaphysical violence to her. First of all, of course she is someone's child. All of us are. That is neither here nor there. I know nothing about the model or the photographer; I selected this photograph because it illustrated my point beautifully and brilliantly. Should I learn that the model was underage, say, or the photographer is also a nefarious character, I might change my mind about using his work in the future. As long as there was neither violence nor illegality involved, I am not sure what there is to complain about here.
Finally, I think it is approaching inappropriate to use my daughters as points in an argument, an argument you seem to be having only with yourself. My blog is not for children, but for adults, adults interested in politics, in religion, in issues surrounding cultural and social struggle, conflict, and community. I have neither the time nor the inclination to worry too much about who might be offended by something I say or show here, because that would keep me from doing anything. I do what I do the best way I know hoe, and while I recognize I may make mistakes, as I have acknowledged in the past, all I can do is apologize for them, both retrospectively and prospectively, and carry on doing what I'm doing. This isn't about my wife, or my daughters, or even about the sensitivities of those who see a woman's naked form and get all woozy. This is about me blogging (see, this is my blog, so, yes, it is all about me here), and doing it the only way I know how, trying to make it interesting and lively and controversial and fun. If that connects with other people, I'm thrilled. It seems to have connected with one or two, and that is enough to keep me going, day after day.
Neon, you seem so focused on that photo, and I can't help wondering why. I am honestly befuddled as to how you can construe anything about that photograph as salacious, or demeaning, or even pornographic. Please enlighten this poor benighted liberal.
9:12 PM
neonprimetime said...

>> Finally, I think it is approaching inappropriate to use my daughters as points in an argument

If you're offended, I apologize. Just please don't take my job!

Anyways, I was simply trying to explain why I'm saying what I'm saying ... and I would back up my statements by talking about children ... therefore I wondered if you would too. That's all, no harm meant.
8:26 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

take your job? I'm sitting down, so that one flew over my head.
No offense taken, I was just a bit surprised, that's all.
7:27 AM
neonprimetime said...

imus said something offensive and they took his job

i said something offensive ... i'll let you fill in the rest
8:23 PM
Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Saying things for a living is your job? BTW, it wasn't offensive, I said it was "bordering on inappropriate", that is, trying to infer either personal hypocrisy or personal immorality on my part by invoking my status as a father of two girls as a measure of my attitudes towards nudity and art.
This may surprise you, Neon, but I was an art model for a few weeks my freshman year in college. Yes, I sat around nude for three hours (actually three fifty minute sessions, with ten minute breaks in a bathrobe). It paid really well ($10 an hour when minimum was $3.35). I stopped doing it because the studio at college was just too cold.
8:40 PM
The Flip Flop Girl said...

I"m sorry you had to go through that silly arguemnt with that ignorant prude! I love your essay and it helps me to see some really healthy and balanced expression from a Christian point of view. We are living in very strange times indeed. One must hope, and pray, that a Democrat is elected president in '08 to, at the very least, help clean up the current mess and abuse of power. My blog deals with sexuality and pop culture from, well, my point of view, a young woman. It has been interesting to me to read my responses, predominantly from men. Many do provide thoughtful and sensitive feedback which is reassuring. Then there are those who seem to see me more as a sex object than anything else, or exclusively as a sex object, and I feel sorry for them. Finally, I love the photo on your blog. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it!

2:30 PM
Rebecca said...

Hello! I am neither Christian nor male, but I loved this posting and have added an extract from it to my own blog. I've recently moved to Egypt and I'm experiencing my sexuality in a new way, simply because the men in the street here harass women so much. I'm seeing more clearly than ever in the streets of Cairo how female sexuality is a powerful force that makes men uncomfortable. I loved reading your perspective - it was a positive contribution in my efforts to get my head around women's sexuality. Thanks!

Saturday Rock Show

A few years back, I was talking with a man I worked with about the band U2. He was a huge fan, and I told him that I had seen them in concert on the Joshua Tree tour. He replied, "I wanted to go, but my parents wouldn't let me."

I had no answer to that, because I went the fall after I graduated from college.

This is my favorite U2 song. Period. No question. I have no idea what it means for Bono. For me, it is God's reply to a prayer. The chorus, "So let it go, and fade away" - we need to let our sin go, and let it fade away, so we can be wide awake to the possibilities for life.

From the movie Rattle and Hum, the single best version of the single best song this wonderful band ever did. By the way, I like Bono's channeling of Jim Morrison, all withdrawn and introspective at the beginning. Morrison did it because he was painfully shy; I think Bono was doing it to show the way we retreat in to ourselves in those most private moments.

Or maybe he was just tired. Anyway, here's the song.

Obama Overseas

There isn't much I can add to this sentiment.

He never once looked in to the eyes of anyone and saw in to their soul.

He just sunk a three pointer to a cheering group of troops in Kuwait.

He just had his Iraq policy endorsed by the Prime Minister of Iraq.

He just spoke before 200,000 in the Tiergarten in Berlin.

He just met with foreign leaders without once mentioning a pig.

Rock star?

Nah. Just the next President of these United States of America.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama's Success Is Good For John McCain

A while back, John McCain criticized Barack Obama for not visiting Iraq and Afghanistan recently. So, Obama set up a trip there, and also to Jordan, Israel, and Europe. In the process, he had his policy of phased withdrawal over sixteen months endorsed by the Iraqi Prime Minister, called for a renewed commitment to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and got a standing "O" from US forces there, went to Jordan and Israel and basically said it was time to move past finger-pointing and get the job of peace done, and wound up with a speech before 200,000 in Berlin.

McCain, meanwhile, spoke in New Hampshire, and ate at a German restaurant in Columbus, OH, after canceling a campaign trip to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico due to a hurricane.

Years ago, this is the kind of thing that made the pundits barely hide their glee at the ineptitude of the Democratic Party. Except, of course, now it's the Republicans who look like they are piling out of a clown car during rush hour. McCain gets his timeline wrong on the role of the surge and an enhanced security situation in Anbar Province? Obviously, he's right and all he has to do is change the meaning of words and reverse the course of time to show it. McCain says that he would rather give speeches in foreign countries as President? Well, never mind that little trip to Colombia earlier this summer, or the campaign speech he gave in Canada recently. They don't count.

The Republicans can and have run far better campaigns than this. The only thing in their favor right now is they may be bottoming out before the convention, so they can only do better. This has been a very bad summer for John McCain.

So, obviously, it has been a good summer for John McCain. I'm quite sure we'll hear about that real soon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oh Good Lord

I realize that every liberal blogger is remarking on this, but the amount of stupid on the right has reached a tipping point, I do believe.

Imagine! A person printing out flyers for a public speech in a foreign country in the native language of that country! It's . . . It's . . . It's un-American! Obviously, because the country is Germany, it's almost a Nazi moment.

Among the thousand-million questions this entire stupid episode brings to mind, do these people on the right have any idea how offensive to the Germans this kind of thing is? Not only do they, probably, not know. In all likelihood, they do not care.

This Is What I Mean By A Good Discussion

I mentioned a couple days ago that Neil and I have been having a good discussion. Since I have exhausted my own position, and have no desire to begin repeating myself, I thought it might be good to provide a link, so that you might see what is possible when two people who disagree have a frank exchange of views without devolving in to a shouting match or name-calling.

I have no idea of this is some kind of turning point. I do know that I am far more satisfied with the outcome of this discussion than with others I have had in the past.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More On The SMU/Bush Library Business

Last week, I noted the release of a report by a committee of the South Central Jurisdiction on the proposed George W. Bush Presidential library to be located at Southern Methodist University. Today, David Waters tries to paint the issue as one not of principle but of politics. In the process he displays an ignorance of the theology, polity, and teachings of the United Methodist Church that is a wonder to behold.
Methodists such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who are conservative and Republican tend to agree on one set of social principles. Methodists such as George McGovern and Hillary Clinton who are liberal and Democratic tend to agree on another set of social principles. People in the pews tend to choose pastors and congregations that match their own political and partisan interpretations of scripture.

I've heard Methodist leaders on both sides of the sanctuary aisle lament that the church has been captured by the culture. I think it's worse than that. I think the church has surrendered to the culture.

First of all there are not different social principles. There is just the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, first written in 1910, and affirmed at the united conferences of 1939 and 1968. The issue of "implementation" isn't one of political ideology because they aren't about politics, but carrying out Wesley's teaching that we are to be about serving the Kingdom of God through acts of justice in the world.

By adding the frame of the whole "people in the pews", and describing the way "people pick" clergy and congregations - wow. Ours is an episcopal polity, in which clergy serve a yearly term, appointed each year by the bishop with the advice of a cabinet of what were once known as presiding elders and are now known as District Superintendents. Local congregations do not "pick" clergy. They may or may not choose to support a particular appointed clergyperson, but that is not the same thing.

Finally, as the authors of the report clearly state, while the Presidential library clearly violates not just the Social Principles, but several other paragraphs of our Discipline, the contract between SMU and those who are proposing the library is binding, limiting the recourse of those opposed. Therefore, the issue isn't about politics. It's about the law. Our denominational law, the separation of church and state, and our integrity as a denomination.

It would be nice if a publication as reputable as Newsweek would publish something by someone who displayed at least passing familiarity with the structure of a church he was writing about.

Finally, George McGovern was and is a far better United Methodist than George W. Bush. See, part of the membership pledge is that one will support the local congregation through prayer, presence, gifts, and service.

'Nuff said.

Balls Of Purity

They're baaaaaaaccccckkkkk! Time magazine discovered the existence of Purity Balls, and did a story about them, a year and a half after the fashion magazine Glamour did so. I wrote a couple short pieces at the time, expressing my disgust at the very concept. Since they are now "news" because Time has discovered them, I thought it appropriate to find my original pieces, and to say a bit more about them.

First, however, props to digby for writing about them first, over two year ago. I think her most recent commentary is spot on, especially as regards the kind of silly writing Nancy Gibbs did for Time. Before going too much further, I would also recommend Duncan's comments as well. We shall return to one specific thing he wrote in a moment, but first I would like to turn to the "pledge" the father's recite at these Freudian Nightmare Events:
I, (daughter’s name)’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.

There is so much to talk about here, one wonders where to begin. First, the whole "covering my daughter" thing - this is an invitation to incestuous pedophilia. Sorry, but I can't read it any other way. "High priest in my home"? I'm assuming, since he's a man, the Holy of Holies is the crapper off the master bedroom; please don't let the incense out. . . As for influencing generations to come, one could spend pages and hours doing both hilariously gross double entendres about this, or simply point out that it would be a negative influence, as in "Please don't allow me to be involved in such creepy crap ever again."

From digby's original piece comes a part of the pledge the girls make, and I will highlight one portion (the italics should be a clue) that I would like to take a bit of an issue with:
GIRLS RECITING remain sexually pure...until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband. ... I know that God requires this of me.. that he loves me...and that he will reward me for my faithfulness.

I would respond that the only thing God "requires" of any of us is to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before our God. That's kind of a quote from that whole Bible thingy, but being a pagan myself, I suppose it's not fair of me to throw the Bible in an alleged Christian's face.

One point in atrios' comment I would like to lift out for amplification follows:
Generally our culture has a tremendous fear, almost revulsion, of the idea of female sexuality and sexual desire. Much of that is channeled to and projected onto teen females, where all sensible people agree that maybe it's not such a good idea for them to have sex for reasons they can't quite articulate but can usually be summed up with "if you were a parent you'd understand."

Being a parent of two young girls, I would argue that even if I were not such, I would be appalled by this kind of thing. Digby is correct when she points out that this has nothing to do with "purity" or even "sex" but is all about "the man" - a kind of primal patriarchy in which any woman under a roof is property to be guarded and protected by the male "high priest". Yet, like all such right-wing events that deal with this issue, the confusion and contradictions abound. As I wrote in my follow-up piece last February:
The second thing to notice about these ceremonies is their public nature. We often prefer to keep our sexual behavior, and our decisions about it, as private as possible. One of the cultural right's complaints about American society is its highly sexualized nature. Yet, here, right here, a very public display - an entire ceremony, complete with all the trappings of a festive occasion - regarding the sexuality of young women. Moving from the private sphere to the public sphere in this way creates an entirely new set of problems; now we have a social event in which the sexual behavior of young women becomes a matter not just for public scrutiny and comment, but examination.

If sex is such a private business, why in the world would such a public event take place? Obviously, because it really isn't about sex - yet it is so loaded with talk about sex and offers so much taboo-pushing in re the father-daughter relationship one wonders how they can square this particular dodecahedron.

One bit of information of which I was not aware, originally, was that some of the girls involved in this are as young as six. That's wrong on so many levels, but most basically - how in the world can a six year old understand what any of this is about, except perhaps doing what Daddy says, which creates a whole set of problems considering the boundary-blurring nature of the whole thing? It really is quite disgusting.

I titled this post as I did because the focus of these events, while they deal with the father-daughter relationship in a way that makes me feel quite uneasy, is the man. As a father, I cannot imagine putting either of my daughters in a position where they would pledge their sexual purity to my care in such a direct way. If these fathers were honest, and consistent, they would trust their role as parent in a more conventional way as a good deterrent to behavior of which they disapprove. Even with all the hormonal insistence and cultural and peer pressure to become sexually active early, I really don't know how a pledge really makes much of a difference, other than adding to the burden of guilt a young person goes through as they struggle through the conflicting arena of adolescence. It might even be nice to do a sociological survey of the success rate of this kind of thing - how many of these girls end up making it to their marriage beds unsullied by any previous contact with that dirty implement of boys and men.

Isn't it odd how there is this conflicting message being sent about sex? It is so special and so sacred it is to be avoided until absolutely necessary. Should any of these families follow through on these pledges, what possible understanding of sex can these women have when they reach marriage? I guess, like middle-class Victorians, they shall close their eyes and think of George Bush.

These are extraordinarily scary, not-very-vaguely unsettling things.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Music Monday

OK, I didn't get quite the response to the whole "classical" thing I thought I might. I especially thought Democracy Lover would chime in. However, I did get a couple requests. I had never heard of Vitas, nor this interpretation of "Lucia Di Lammermoor", but I know what he's talking about. I don't ever want to sing again.

Here is a funkified Chopin, courtesy of The Muppet Show - Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem doing his "Polonaisse in A Flat":

Finally, the late great Mistoslav Rostropovich performing Dvorak's Cello Concerto:

I've been thinking of topics for next week. In honor of it being summer, and roadtrip time, I think songs that are great for trips in cars, especially with the top down. Give me some loving on this, folks.

Alternative Readings - How To Interpret The Bible

I suppose this might get tiresome to some, but I wanted to have some fun with Neil's more than occasional attempts at Biblical exegesis. The other day, he offered up this post, entitle "Judging is a two-way street".
Only God truly knows the condition of someone’s heart. People get mighty upset if a person’s professed Christianity is questioned. Some of that is justified, but they miss a larger point: Many people will insist that someone is saved and not realize they are being just as judgmental.

Think about it: Claiming that someone isn’t saved implies that you know their heart. But claiming someone is saved implies the same thing. So a little consistency should be in order.

That is how he introduces his topic. This is one of those times I'm left speechless, wondering what, exactly, he means by all this.

In any event, he uses three different snippets of scripture to attempt to make his point, which he states immediately following the above-captured quote, that Jesus never said we cannot judge, only that we shouldn't judge "hypocritically" (italics in original). First, Matthew 7:1-5 (as Neil doesn't reveal what translation he uses, I will be magnanimous enough to say that I am using the Revised English Bible):
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you will yourselves be judged, and by whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in you brother's eye, with never a thought for the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own? You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's.

The second is from Matthew 7:16-20:
You will recognize them [false prophets] by their fruit. Can grapes be picked from briars, or figs from thistles? A good tree always yields sound fruit. A tree that does not yield sound fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. That is why I say you will reconize them by their fruit.

Finally, he pulls out 2 Corinthians 11:13-15:
Such people are sham apostles, confidence tricksters masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! Satan himself masquerades as an angels of light, so it is easy enough for his agents to masquerade as agents of good. But their fate will match their deeds.

He ties these verses together by assuming that they are all addressing the same topic, which on a cursory, literal reading they seem to do. In fact, however, the first two short pericopes and the last are written by different authors, with a different audience, in different literary genres, with different intentions, in different settings, addressing very different concerns. One could, I suppose, argue that the novels of Benjamin Disraeli and the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson are tied together because both were Victorian gentlemen, and therefore the points they make are similar, their intentions are similar, and therefore construct an entire monograph about the uniformity of Victorian literature. If one were to do so, however, without the caveat that different styles of writing, different intentions, different political, social, religious, and other points-of-view might be in place to limit such a univocal reading, I do believe that most reviewers would give such a reading a thumbs down. One can only stretch words so far before they become unrecognizable.

First, let us consider the combination of genre, with the implicit consideration of audience and authorial intention. In the latter case, we are limited to guessing by inference, rather than any substantive information. Yet, these guesses are most likely pretty good, based upon the internal evidence.

To the Matthean passages. These are part of the much larger exhortation famously known as the Sermon on the Mount. They are paralleled in Luke's Gospel by the Sermon on the Plain. One of the issues the author of Matthew's Gospel struggles with is to show Jesus' rootedness in his Jewish identity, religious world-view, and history. He even attempts to draw parallels between the life of Jesus and the whole history of the Jewish people. Here, Jesus is portrayed as Moses, speaking to the people from the mountain top, bringing them a way of life unique to his followers, as Moses presented the Law on Horeb as the unique manifestation of God's lovingcare for the Hebrew people. Part of the distinctiveness and scandal of Jesus message here is the oft-repeated "You have heard it said . . . But I say . . ." In these instances, Jesus is taking a well-known part of the Mosaic code and superseding it. He does so on no authority other than his own.

Having set the specific context of the verses in question, then, Jesus here is indeed calling on people not to judge. He doesn't equivocate, and say, "Don't judge except when you are willing to stand under the same judgment." He says, quite clearly, "Don't judge because you will stand under the same judgment." The "judging" here is a direct reference to the nit-piking legal issues dealt with in much of Exodus and Leviticus (all that ox-goring, coat-stealing business). He is saying that our relations as disciples is not to be ruled by a law of retribution. We are, rather, to recognize our own fallibility and limitedness.

Neil also leaves out the intervening verses, various short epigrams including "Do not give dogs what is holy"; the whole "Ask and you will receive; seek, and you will find" business; and, of course, the so-called "golden rule" - "Always treat others as you wold like them to treat you".

His exhortation warning of "false prophets" has no link, directly or otherwise, with his exhortation not to judge. There just isn't any. In the earlier instance, he is distancing his own stance vis-a-vis the behavior of those who nit-pick the law to determine who is and is not just. In the latter case, he is telling people that there are criteria to determine who is, and is not, a false prophet. He uses the agrarian analogy of "fruits", which many of his hearers would understand, to draw out what he is saying. Neil also does not quote the passage that follows, in which Jesus says "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of Heaven". That is tied in, in many ways not only to the false prophet sayings, but both are tied in to the context of Jesus' day, with the apocalyptic hope of the coming Day of the LORD. Jesus is here referencing common religio-political understandings that, soon, the LORD would deliver the people from the oppression of Rome. Yet, Jesus is also saying his way is the true way, and is to be measured by its results (kind of like the LORD in Exodus, who, when asked to give a sign by Moses, tells Moses the sign will be when he does what he is told; again, there is a parallel here with the scriptural account of the LORD's dealings with the people of Israel that is implicit but still needs to be heard).

I find it striking that Neil would pick this particular passage from 2 Corinthians to boost his argument concerning "judging" and "fruits". Part of a much larger argument from Paul, in which the apostle is chastising the Corinthian Church for denigrating him personally (!!) and for (possibly) embracing what Paul calls "a different gospel", the passage in question deals specifically with various claimants to the title "apostle" who have visited Corinth after Paul, run him down, and offered a different version of the gospel. The "sham apostles" are very specific individuals who are causing many problems within the Corinthian congregation, problems Paul has been dealing with through various visits and letters to them. If one reads 2 Corinthians from the beginning of chapter 10 through 12:10, one will see that this little passage is meaningless outside the context of Paul trying to remind the Corinthians of the roots of his own authority, and the lack of any authority for those who come after. Is Paul "judging" here? No. Is he talking about "false prophets" who bear "bad fruit"? No. He merely states they are con men. They are liars. He compares them to Satan "masquerading as an angel of light", but he does not say they are so.

In all, when considering these verses in context, not just of their literary genre, but within the broader context of the writings themselves, I am not really sure how one can construct any argument whatsoever that ties these verses together. Certainly, I do not believe it is possible to do so and leave the verses with any integrity. Being a self-refuting, po-mo, clueless coward, however, what do I know? Especially since I'm a pagan.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Some Thoughts On Genetics

I suppose I should show that I know at least a little about the whole question of genetics, as I claimed that Neil displayed a marked lack of understanding on this branch of biology. Now, I would reiterate I am no expert, but an interested lay-person who remembers some high school and college biology, and has done a bit of reading on it since. I also have an older sister whose Masters and Ph.D. are in genetics, and teaches biology as Lincoln University, in southeastern PA. Any mistakes are, obviously my own.

When Gregor Mendel's research on pea plants was rediscovered early in the last century, it became clear over time there was a disjunction between his research on breeding and Darwin's account of evolution by natural selection. After the Second World War, following up research that had been conducted during the 1930's, there emerged what became known as "the synthesis" - a new understanding of the relationship between evolution and genetics. This understanding resulted, in one instance, in the science of population genetics, which embodies the synthesis pretty exclusively. Darwin's theory accounted for change in populations, but not having any inkling of the mechanism. Mendel's gene theory accounted for differences among individuals, but not how those differences occurred within populations. The synthesis simply restated the issue thus - evolution occurs both on the individual level and the level of populations. The way to measure this is through a statistical analysis of the rate of genetic mutation and how those mutations breed true.

The vast bulk - well over 99% - of genetic mutations are detrimental to the survival of the individual. The tiny few that survive are inconsequential - hair color, skin color, height, eye color, that kind of thing - and do not result in speciation. A good example from artificial selection is dogs. Chihuahuas and Great Danes are both the same species, and are virtually identical, genetically, with wild wolves. Yet, how many people looking at the first would consider it breedable with the second? There are different species of fish that are genetically diverse yet appear almost identical! So, physiognomy is no clue to genetic relations.

The rate at which DNA errors occur can be mapped and tracked statistically. Given a large enough breeding population, and controlling for other factors - changes in environment, the physical separation of one breeding population from another, the way a given genetic mutation results in an increased chance of survival - one can also see how the process works, over time, and, roughly speaking (within a given statistical margin of error) how long the process takes.

There is not one magical day, some 45,000 years ago when a bunch of homo habilis suddenly produced a homo sapien that was incapable of breeding true with the rest. That's not science, that's just silly (thus Neil's whole "male/female" question). The process takes thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of generations, which translate in to tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Indeed, Neil mentions the various "explosions" of speciation that have occurred in geological time, the Cambrian explosion being the best known. Yet that "explosion" occurred over a time frame unfathomable to the human mind - several hundred millennia - as the result of increasingly friendly environmental conditions on the planet.

All this is to say the issue of speciation is far more complicated a process than presented in the "questions" Neil poses. It is a gradual process, occurring over thousands of years. I hope, first, I am generally correct in my discription. I also hope, second, I am relatively clear.

Patriotic Sentiments?

I was DJing a wedding reception at the Oglesby, IL B.P.O.E. clubhouse yesterday. Before the guests arrived, but after I had set up my equipment, I was sitting in the clubhouse bar, drinking a diet Coke (yes, I was, so there!) and my eye happened on a small poster on the bulletin board. I read it through several times, and thought about it. I have tried to find it on the web, and on the Elks' website, and while I'm sure if I had a bit more patience I probably could find it, I wanted to get this post out there, so I am paraphrasing it here:
Remember, it's the SOLDIER not the journalist who guarantees freedom of the press. It's the SOLDIER not the poet who guarantees freedom of speech. It's the soldier not the activist who guarantees freedom of assembly. It's the SOLDIER who wears the flag, whose coffin is draped in the flag that gives other the freedom to burn the flag.

We have heard a lot of this kind of thing since 2001. Our freedoms are protected and guaranteed by our military.

Actually, this is not only wrong, it is almost fundamentally anti-American. Our freedoms are guaranteed by laws and the Constitution of the United States. Our military does not protect our freedom. They protect our physical existence from physical threats. Since most attacks on our freedoms come from legal issues - laws passed without regard to constitutional provisions - the military does nothing to deal with the very real threats to our freedoms posed by such laws.

There are countries, however, where the military is placed above the legal and political mechanics of governance. They are called military dictatorships. We do not live in one - yet - so I do not see where celebrating the military for protecting our freedoms make any sense whatsoever except to desensitize us to the possibility of such an eventuality.

This is not to denigrate the military in any way. On the contrary, it is to remind people that, in the United States, the military is under civilian, political control. It does not exist to protect our freedoms. It exists, as do all military bodies, to protect the physical and political integrity of the state from threats of violence. Members of the military do not swear an oath to protect our freedoms; they swear an oath to protect the the country from all threats foreign and domestic. With the possible exceptions of the War of 1812 and the Second World War, the United States has never faced an adversary that threatened our sovereignty in any substantive way. Yet, when called upon, they put themselves in harm's way without a thought, and very often with an enthusiasm that should make all Americans proud.

This doesn't mean they protect our freedoms. That is done by courts of law upholding provisions of the Constitution.

Virtual Tin Cup

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