Saturday, May 02, 2009

Erring On The Side Of Panic

If you don't watch The Daily Show (and I should, but it would be a waste to spend a whole lot of money on a satellite dish only to watch this one program), you should at least take a look at this little clip. If you aren't laughing by the end, you aren't paying attention.

An Anniversary, Sort Of

It was three years ago that I started this whole blogging thing, more or less. This is my very first post on what turned out to be a failed first attempt at blogging. Part of my problem, at the time, was that I took myself far too seriously. Another part was more personal and related to issues at home rather than any substantive issues with blogging. It would be a few months before I changed direction, opening myself to all sorts of possibilities.

I think I've come a long way. I no longer take myself nearly as seriously as I used to. I think I manage to display a sense of humor, an enjoyment of the absurd in life, and in myself. I also no longer see blogging as a means to some other end; rather it is its own means and end. The friendships I have managed to form with people I have yet to meet are as meaningful as any I've had in my life, based as they are on a shared desire to communicate and just share oneself with others.

I would ask you take a look at my old blog, but to be honest, I'm kind of embarrassed by most of it, although here are some posts with which I am actually quite pleased.

Horace Bushnell's Gift

Ralph Waldo Emerson And America's Romantic Vision Of Religion

The Gift of Pluralism: Isaiah Berlin's "The Crooked Timber of Humanity"

Narrative Creations: Norman Cohn's "Europe's Inner Demons"

When You Dance With the Devil, the Fat Lady Never Sings

Most of the rest you can simply ignore. Please.

In three years, I hope I can write the same thing about what I've done so far here.

Saturday Prom Music

I'm DJing a prom this evening, and the students still have no idea what their "Theme Song" will be. So, why not have a little cheesy fun, right? Here are not one but two good old songs from my youth. Not "prom" songs, because there was always something that was supposed to be "deep" about them' no these were ubiquitous slow dance songs from my high school days. Lord only knows how many colds were exchanged thanks to these horrid classics . . . If you can only listen to a moment or two of each, I wouldn't blame you.

After putting these up, before I've even published this post, I feel guilty.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Being The Church

I might get in trouble with the wife for this . . .

Here's the situation. A teenage girl has been attending our Wednesday night activities for a couple years. Her behavior is not what one would call "appropriate" for church. A couple weeks ago, she showed up with "Fuck You" written on her shoes (a woman handed her a Sharpie and told her in no uncertain terms that it was to be colored over). The situation has reached a head; several young people have stopped coming because of her behavior. Some of those who seem to "get" what Church is about have taken a lead in demanding a certain conformity of behavior. It was decided that this girl would not be allowed to attend the final two Wednesday nights, nor attend the youth lock-in at Laser Quest (a whole night of laser tag . . .). When Lisa told me this, and asked my opinion, I was blunt.

First, no Church should ever . . . EVER . . . tell anyone that their presence is not wanted. For any reason. Rather, this is an opportunity for the youth, indeed the whole congregation, to learn what it means to be the Church for someone. Rather than being banned, she should be invited back. I told Lisa that those young people who have decided to stop attending should be invited back, and a group discussion should be held on the issue of forbearance, forgiveness, and the opportunity to extend grace to someone who, through behavior and demeanor, works overtime at being unlovable. I suggested to Lisa that this coming Wednesday, she and this young girl sit and talk; why does she come to Wednesday nights? What is she looking to get out of the experience? What has she received?

I told Lisa that this is an opportunity for everyone - to learn, to grow. To love.

Lisa spoke of "safety" - yet it was always in terms of those whose feelings had been hurt. She spoke of "balance" and the "tension" between grace and accountability. I offered the suggestion that the young people who had stopped coming were not being held accountable for their actions - for not continuing to extend love and grace and the hope of community to someone whose actions seem to demonstrate no understanding of appropriateness. I spoke of the parable of the lost sheep; Jesus spoke of the shepherd going off to find the lost lamb, not of first securing the rest of the flock, or making sure they were safe first. Off the shepherd goes.

Finally, I told Lisa that I wondered what the reaction of Church leadership would have been had this entire situation concerned not whether or not certain behaviors are or are not appropriate, but rather concerned race. Lisa thought the analogy inapt. I do not. "Appropriateness" and "race" are social constructs. Were people reacting to a young woman only because she was African-American, I know that Lisa would be in an uproar, and rightly so. Now, however, a young woman is, in effect, not acting as a proper middle-class girl "should" - why, everyone is in a lather about it.

Thoughts? Opinions?

More On Hate Crime - Checking Out Newt Gingrich's Claims

The Nutwing of the Republican Party is out in full force about the Hate Crimes legislation, and the leading acorn is Newt Gingrich.
Let me share part of what I think concerns reasonable people who look at that kind of legislation. In Sweden today, it is illegal to quote from certain parts of the Bible. Literally illegal. So pastors can get put in jail for quoting from the Bible. On some college campuses, thought, you know, regulations have said to students you can’t think out loud whatever you want to say. The act of thinking it becomes a crime, the act of saying it. It’s very dangerous to go down a road that says you can’t have an honest debate about an issue, because we have now decided we’re protecting one group of people.

[Gingrich then goes on to describe the free-speech horrors in Europe and Canada because they don't have a First Amendment.]

... So I think that’s why you see people who are really worried by George Orwell’s 1984, and the very real danger that as the state starts to regulate what you are allowed to say, suddenly you could find yourself literally censored or in danger of going to jail, if you said the politically incorrect thing.

I'm going to jump around when dealing with this. Newt Gingrich doesn't know what the word "reasonable" means, so all his talk about "reasonable people" is empty. This is a guy, after all, who blamed the Columbine shootings on "liberals". Now, the business about this Pentecostal from Sweden I had not heard about. The first thing I found was this, a web page that reports the story without links, without any references whatsoever.

I typed "Ake Green" into Yahoo (you know, having the name helped), and most of the sites listed are conservative. However, Wikipedia does have an article on the case, and among other things, Gingrich is just plain wrong about "reading the Bible". It isn't illegal to "read the Bible". The guy was arrested and originally convicted for preaching a sermon that attacked sexual minorities. So, Gingrich is wrong. Also, Gingrich failed to mention that Pastor Green's conviction was overturned by the Swedish Supreme Court because, under treaty obligations, Sweden must recognize the freedom of conscience and speech (wow, who knew that international law and treaties, if ratified, actually became law? oh, right, that's in our Constitution, too . . .). One aspect that the Wiki article highlights is that Fred Phelps actually has a monument to this guy. So that leads me to wonder where, exactly, Newt Gingrich is getting his information. Also, since the whole controversy is moot - the guy's sentence was overturned, and it isn't about reading the Bible anyway - I think this kind of debunks the whole "You can't even read the Bible in Sweden!!!" rant.

Gingrich then gets all confused over the difference between thought and speech. Untangling this particular mess would take far too long, but suffice it to say that if Gingrich really believes that thought and speech are the same thing, he needs to go back and take a philosophy class. Sheesh.

Finally, it should probably not need to be said, but the bill does not deal with speech. Rather it deals with the motivations for committing crimes. Targeting someone and committing a violent act against them precisely because one believes the intended victim is gay, or is African-American, or whatever, does not attack thought, or speech, or being Christian. It recognizes that some crimes have their genesis in bigotry and hatred. Bigotry and hatred aren't the targets; only the violent acts that ensue from bigotry and hatred. I can write an article that calls for overthrowing the government of the US and no one can do anything about it, legally. If I actually attempt to overthrow the government, however, that's a crime.

Likewise, I can sit around and rant about niggers and spicks and hooknosed shyster Jew bankers running the world; I can insist that all fags are going to hell and that the US might just sink along with it because we are all gay now anyway (the Fred Phelps theology). The worst that can happen is I might lose a few friends. On the other hand, if there is sufficient evidence that shows that I targeted an individual as a potential victim of a violent act precisely because that person was black, or Hispanic, or Jewish - that's a hate crime.

So, while I fully expect Gingrich to be quoted and cited by all the sages on the right as a source for "debate" on the Hate Crimes bill, I thought it might be nice to subject it to a reality test. Of course, as usual, reality won.

The Red Dragon, Sort Of

This is William Blake's "The Red Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun". It figures prominently in a novel by Thomas Harris, entitled The Red Dragon, concerning retired FBI profiler Will Graham (although at the time neither VICAP, nor psychological profiling of serial killers was as systematized as it would become later) and his hunt for "The Tooth Fairy", Francis Dolarhyde. The central conflict of the novel is Graham's seeming ability to think like a serial killer (a device exploited by Chris Carter in his short-lived TV series Millennium). This is a conflict because Graham is a moral agent who, through some quirk, or trick, or intuitive sense, is able to think like an immoral monster. The toll taken upon him, especially his near death at the hands of Hannibal Lecter, pushed him out of the business. Dolarhyde's murders draw him back in, and they take a similar physical and psychic toll.

When I first read this novel, in 1999 (long after having read both Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal), I wondered about the nature of this conflict. It seemed to me at the time that one should be able to separate out the self from the other, as it were. Yet, it seems that I was thinking - at the time I was reading this - as if there were something real about "identity", something permanent upon which an individual could fix in order to hold fast in the face of the very real psychic challenge posed by entering in to the thoughts of a psychopath.

While not calling folks on the right psychopaths, my refusal to engage them has made me realize the reality of the struggle described by Harris in his book. The lines between who we think we are, and what we could be should we cut ourselves adrift from the world in which we live (in a psychological sense), are microscopically thin. Reading dreck and drivel from the right, whether it be a leading light such as Newt Gingrich insisting that repeating old mistakes as repackaged "New Ideas" is the best way for the Republicans to save themselves; or some lesser light who defends torture, extraordinary rendition, and engages in an almost complete denial of facts on any number of issues in order to make a political stand, one can become convinced, at some point, that it must be possible to operate as they do and still function. In order to engage them, one must think like them at some point.

Doing that can take a toll, let me tell you.

I got thinking about this because I'm concerned that all the Republicans have left as a loyal base are people who are so vested in an image of the country; its current state, its potential; the world in which the United States exists as a co-equal nation-state among two hundred or so; and the desires of the American people; all of which is easily demonstrated as false, and most of which is a mix of fantasy and denial of facts that are perfectly clear to most of the rest of us - how can they possibly recover?

As the US begins to recover economically - and it will, in six months or a year, maybe two, but it will happen - and the benefits of the kind of society the Democratic Party and the American people envision begins to take shape, benefiting the entire country, what will happen to these people? Will it be possible to scream "socialism" without receiving gales of laughter? Will the imminent demise of the US as a world power, our entire country about to be overrun by Chinese bringing swine flu across the border from Mexico (or whatever the fantasy du jour may be) still be heard in various corners of the land? Will Rush Limbaugh still have an audience?

Part of the problem lies with the American political culture. Rather than a group of smaller parties, we have always tended toward coalitions of various interest groups gathered around a cluster of centrally important issues. Opposition in such cases has usually amounted to tinkering with trivia around the edges rather than substantive disagreements, because all parties involved understood that the country and its governing system don't work that way. Yet, that is all the Republicans seems capable of now and in the foreseeable future, precisely because they have become a rump part of the hard right. While many of Obama's policies could certainly be described as "liberal" in a traditional American sense, the "middle" as it exists right now is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party.

Trying to fathom the mind of those who are convinced that if we just did things like we did under George W. Bush, only moreso, in all likelihood, would leave one like Will Graham, in Harris' novel - looking for nothing more than to get your boat fixed so you can go fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hate Crime

With the House of Representatives debating a Hate Crimes bill named for Matthew Shepard, it should be no surprise that the crap is flowing from the right. On the floor of the House, though, makes cleaning a bit more difficult.
Rep. Foxx: "The bill was named after a very unfortunate incident that happened, where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of robbery. It wasn't because he was gay. The bill was named for him, the hate crimes bill was named for him, but it's, it's really a hoax, that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills."

Once again, for those who refuse to understand what's happening, we'll go through it. The bill does not create new rights; it doesn't mean a violent act against gays, or African-Americans, or whomever, is worse than any other violent crime; it doesn't target ministers in the pulpit.

What this bill does it target perpetrators. Here's a scenario. I'm walking down the street, minding my own business. A group of men confront me, calling me a fag, then beat me senseless. This is a hate crime because, for whatever reason, this group targeted me precisely because they (a) believed me to be gay, and (b) would not have happened had they not thought I was gay. In other words, Hate Crimes laws do not target "thought" (what a stupid notion), nor do they create "special rights" or protected classes. Rather, like the differences between homicide and manslaughter, voluntary and involuntary, etc., they target the perpetrators of crimes, their motivations, and specify the way these crimes are considered in a court of law. Had this group of men driven by me and merely shouted "Bum-puncher!" out their car window, there would be no crime. Had they rolled a drunk and stolen his money, it would have been simple assault.

The issue in Hate Crimes legislation deals with the reality that certain crimes are motivated by hatred. It deals with material facts in a criminal case, not thought, not the status of the victim, and certainly not "political correctness".

Matthew Shepard died because a couple yahoos decided to beat up some poor gay man. That is what they set out to do, they posed as gay men to lure him, then beat him and left him to die on the side of the road. In the process, they robbed him, but robbery was not the motivation. It was, in fact, a ruse, an act committed to cover up the fact that these two men killed Shepard because of his sexual orientation. In other words, they understood that it was a crime of hatred, and tried to disguise it by robbing him.

Anyone who fears this legislation should look within him- or herself.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Country And The Right Wing

Today is the official 100th day of President Obama's first term as President. His approval rating, overall, stands at 69%. In other words, even people who didn't vote for him are supporting his Presidency.

Yet, should one be an avid reader of right-wing blogs and news sites, or a consumer of FOXNews, one could miss the fact that Obama is spectacularly popular. From the Tea Bag Revolt, which made most people laugh, to the uptick in racist hate-group recruitment, to the emerging paranoia over the swine flu outbreak, the right is a festering sewer of fiction, resentment, fear-mongering, and fantasies of armed rebellion.

Of course, these are the people who are driving a conservative guy like Arlen Specter out of the Republican Party. While not really caring all that much - with new party members like that, we could use a little ideological backbone - it is nice that the True Believers are at least fulfilling their role of gate-keepers at the insane asylum.

Since the Republican Party has ceased to function as a viable alternative, and the spectrum of moderate to moderately-liberal policy alternatives is almost wholly a Democratic operation, I am not surprised at all that, for example, not a single Republican voted in favor of the President's budget in the House. With the biggest media stars for Republicans being Sarah Palin, whose life more closely resembles a daytime drama; Rep. Michelle Bachman, R-MN, who is so dumb she managed to give a floor speech in the House in which she blamed the Depression of Roosevelt and something called "the Hoot-Smalley Tariff" (honest to God, she should be recalled for being so ignorant); Sen. James Inhofe, who seems to think that ignorance, even more than bliss, is actually wisdom; and, of course, Newt Gingrich, whose ubiquitous presence on the Sunday chat shows is always a boon to Democrats. Even the normally staid CNN can't take it anymore; yesterday, Jim DeMint appeared on CNN, trotting out a new talking point for Republicans in the face of Specter's defection, and Rick Sanchez finally managed to laugh out loud at the stupid.

The fever swamps of the right are chock-a-block with low-info, outright falsehoods parading as serious inquiry, and just batshit insanity offered as calm analysis. Steering clear of both our local, small versions of the cookiness of the right, and their larger media brethren and cistern is the best antidote to believing that Pres. Obama actually faces serious opposition.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Learning To Do Without

Part of my life-journey as a Christian has been coming to terms with all the things I have managed to put in the way of focusing on God and what God is calling me to do. One of the biggest obstacles I face is taking seriously the business in the Gospels where Jesus declares that unless we hate those we are supposed to love, we are unworthy to be called his disciples. That is to say, I take this seriously - and therefore, it is an obstacle.

My wife, in fact, is an object lesson in the reality of this statement. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's paraphrase of this line - "When God calls a man, He bids him come and die"(forgive the exclusive language) - is another way of challenging our facile ways of understanding the whole Christian things. God takes it seriously; we should, too. Lisa doesn't seem to get that I understand this. It makes for some rough going on occasion, to be sure, but as I always tell her, what choice does she have, really?

Anyway, as part of my desire to flush all the bad spiritual crap out of my life (and I do so hate that word, "spiritual", because everything is "spiritual"; we westerners, with our compartmentalized ways of looking at life, tend to make boxes when everything is really just strewn all over the attics of our lives), my latest struggle (for well over a year) has been with music. I realize this sounds stupid, but if you have been paying attention to this blog, or know me well enough, it is rather a big deal.

Before I even contemplated taking music away, the big struggle sat on shelves in the front living room. Books. Lots of books. Books on all sorts of subject. See, I used to think that reading all those books, getting all that education, meant something. I suppose it does, in a way, but I am far less impressed with the ability to complete a sentence than I used to be (although, as I read blogs and other things, I probably should be so impressed). In a long discussion I had with someone from work last year, I just no longer cared about it all that much. Having a graduate degree. Starting a doctoral program. All it means is I've read a couple more books. Hardly a feat worth shouting about.

When I said that, I realized that I no longer needed all those books on my shelves. They no longer were a part of me, or I a part of them. They were just a bunch of paper sitting there. The only thing that has kept me from tossing them out is they are useful, on occasion (including serving to hold up a box spring on a bed with missing slats . . .).

Now, the dual challenge I have is figuring out if I can really live without them. Ship 'em off to a library or something.

Now, music . . . I have done better. Have been blogging in silence for a couple months, which is new (I usually either have the CD player running, or some Internet Radio thingy going). Silence isn't golden, though. I find it harder to concentrate. I find it kind of sad, really.

Ridding myself of all this stuff is more than just an exercise in discipline. Whether it was books or is music, it is all part of stripping away the unnecessaries in life. Years ago, we go rid of TV, and I'm far happier not having the end of that particular cultural sewer pipe spewing in to our home. With the demise of books and all that learning as a part of my identity, I see far more clearly what a jerk I have managed to be over a long span of years of my life, when I thought it meant something that I had read a book.

Now, ridding myself of music . . . That's hard.

A Switch In Time Makes 59

So Arlen Specter has made the leap. Woo-hoo. Number me among the unimpressed. I'm too frigging old to be sanguine about this. After all I remember this:

And this:

And that's just a couple examples.

To my mind, he deserves no benefit of the doubt. There are far better Republicans we should have lured over - the two ladies from Maine being utmost in my mind.

He's just running scared. The Democrats don't need him; more proof the Senate is nothing but a bunch of old, rich, white guys.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Advice From The Lovelorn

Thanks to Duncan, I managed to read a pretty apt criticism of this icky piece of sludge. I'll let you check the links if you wish, but I wanted to add my own thoughts to the whole "get-hitched-early" business.

Why is it that people like this seem to frown and wag their fingers at other people for the choices they make? Who are these young-people-not-marrying hurting? From the article, it is pretty clear that Regnerus thinks "themselves" is the answer. Yet, if that were really the case - if young women were, indeed, as a class, hurting themselves in the long run (don't even get me started on the "shelf life" crap; good Lord but that's awful), it would seem that their younger peers would see the damage wrought and change their behavior.

Of course, Duncan is correct that what we are really reading is the view of a dirty old man, a nosy Nelly who sees all these single ladies in their early-20's being, well, single ladies in their early-20's and is both attracted and repulsed by their actions. Imagine young women behaving that way! I wonder how often Regnerus sits around in bars doing "field research"; it's actually kind of creepy.

When will others besides us filthy liberal bloggers tell these dirty old men to get their minds out of the gutter and mind their own business?

Music For Your Monday

Certainly not GREAT, perhaps not even great, but good, solid, old-fashioned rock, 70's style. Heart had two good looking women, some solid licks and hooks, and the times on their side. Their 80's success would be the victory of record executive A&R men over their natural inclinations (in other words, bleh!). First up, their Zepelineque "Love Alive" (really sounds like "The Battle of Evermore", huh . . .):

Another one of their acoustic numbers, I've always thought "Dog and Butterfly" was a pretty tune, executed well.

What would a little Heart compilation be without their middle-finger to the record industry, "Barracuda"?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Crisis Du Jour

The news that an outbreak of swine flu in Mexico has now moved to the United States is the latest test case for the efficacy of our 24-news channels. On the one hand, we really don't seem to know a whole lot, either about the initial outbreak (other than it seems to have occurred in Mexico) or that there are differences between the Mexican and American strains (at least, differences in virulence; read this New York Times article to see the host of questions raised by this outbreak).

It certainly seems some folks are losing their grip; a Congressman has called for closing the US-Mexico border, although this is most definitely a case of the barn door being pushed shut long after the horses are not only out, but in the back forty.

The larger issue here is the tension between getting the story (and, obviously, getting it right) and the duty not to create a panic by hyping beyond the facts. It should be obvious that even if we are facing a dangerous pandemic, we are in the very early stages of such a creature. My guess, if it's worth anything at all, is that this outbreak has been discovered early enough to keep it from reaching true pandemic proportions. Yet, as the story unfolds, we should keep an eye on how the media deal with this issue. Whether it's the border with Mexico, or various offered measures for containing the outbreak - if such are even needed - it seems that facing the threat of a serious flu pandemic is far more of a challenge than facing the actual thing. Were we in the midst of a true pandemic, the challenges would be different. Right now, it seems far more important not to run ahead of the facts, and the response.

How soon before we have all sorts of news channel chyrons on "The Great Flu Outbreak" or what have you?

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More