Saturday, June 13, 2009

That Kind Of Church

I saw this post at FireDogLake, and thought, "Wow. Someone is answering this question with both sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Amen."
When I read the stories from Tiller's patients (and there are more here), or stories like Christy's, the notion of Tiller being a church usher makes sense. The bottom line of being an usher is to care about others, whoever they may be and whatever the circumstances of their lives. Tiller cared so much for his patients that he endured years of protests, vandalism, threats of violence, and actual violence. In the end, his compassion cost him his life.

I was away last Sunday, and so tomorrow is the first Sunday I'll be in my parish since Tiller was murdered. I won't be looking at my ushers in the same way ever again.

There is a counter-question. What kind of church would refuse Dr. Tiller as a member? Of course, we all know the answer to that question, but doesn't that automatically beg a further question, to whit, "Is such a grouping of individuals worthy of the name 'church'?"

My patience, my sense of openness, of family, with those who call themselves Christian yet hate; who call themselves Christian yet divide; who call themselves Christian yet kill - is almost, but not quite, broken. The deafening silence of so many on the right in the wake of the murderous rampage of white supremacist James von Brunn at the Holocaust Memorial Museum is enough to convince me that the rising tide of right-wing violence is starting to penetrate their ignorance-inspired bubble of unreality. The screams of the victims, the tears of their survivors are like acid on the denial of this central reality of our time - the environment created by the acceptance of all sorts of false claims about our President is poisonous, and some are more susceptible to these toxins than are others.

As to my main point - I would hope that any church worthy of the name would not only accept the George Tiller's of the world. Any group of persons who call themselves "church" yet would deny him a place at the table is unworthy of the name.

Nobody Could Have Imagined . . . Clear & Present Danger II

I'm shocked.
An outspoken anti-immigration activist from Everett has been arrested in Arizona in connection to a deadly home invasion robbery.

Shawna Forde, the executive director of the Minutemen American Defense, is one of three accused in the shooting deaths of 29-year-old Raul Flores and his daughter, 9-year-old Brisenia Flores, at their home in Arivaca, Ariz., a town 10 miles north of the Mexican border.

The story gets even more interesting.
The man killed in the home invasion was a suspected drug dealer. And police say the invaders' plan was to kill the entire family and steal money and drugs which would later be sold for cash.

In light of an Arizona Republic report, this is . . . I'm not even sure what word I'm looking for.
Forde is executive director of Minutemen American Defense, a border watch group that claims to secure the U.S. Border from human and drug trafficking, according to its Web site.(emphasis added)

Secure it by . . . killing people and stealing their drugs?

More right-wing vigilantism. And the DHS report is still being vilified. And there is mostly silence on the racist attack on the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

How many people have to die?

Saturday Summer Rock Show

Why not? If your old enough, you gotta just love this song. Yeah, it's hokey, dated, but so what?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Clear And Present Danger

In 1919, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Charles Schenk for speaking out against the draft during the First World War. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote the following:
The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

Let's review some recent history.

1993 - during the service of a federal firearms warrant against the Branch Davidians, BATF agents were fired upon by members locked inside. The resulting seige ended on April 19, when the main building was destroyed in a fire.

1995 - The Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, OK was firebombed by a rented moving truck filled with a homemade explosive, killing 168 persons inside, including many children in the office's daycare center. The culprits were apprehended, and Timothy McVeigh was executed by a federal writ in 2001.

1996 - One person was killed and several wounded in a bombing in the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA. The bombing was later found to be the work of pro-life terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph, who was also linked to several abortion clinic bombings across the deep south. Rudolph was apprehended after it was discovered he had been living in the mountains of western North Carolina.

1998 - On October 23, 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian was murdered in his home. Dr. Slepian was an administrator at a women's clinic that provided, among other services, abortions. A long-time target of the pro-life crowd, he was shot while working on dinner in his home after having returned from Friday night services at his synagogue.

2008 - A gunman entered Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universality Church during Children's Day services, and opened fire, killing two and wounding several more. The suspect, Jim Adkisson, gave a sworn statement which records the following:
During the interview Adkisson stated that he had targeted the church because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets. Adkisson made statements that because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them into office. Adkisson stated that he had held these beliefs for about the last ten years.

In a letter Adkisson left believing he would die in his murder rampage, he stated that among other unreachable targets was the entire list of names in Bernard Goldberg's book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.

2009 - On April 4, Richard Popalawski murdered three Pittsburgh police officers, fearing their part in a national conspiracy to enter his home and take his guns. Since the Presidential campaign the previous autumn, the National Rifle Association had been advertising that the election of Barack Obama would signal an increase in the regulation of firearms, including the eventual removal of personal firearms from people's homes.

2009 - Dr. George Tiller is murdered while serving as an usher at his Lutheran Church. Dr. Tiller operated a women's clinic in Wichita, KS, and was a long-time target of the pro-life movement, and the subject of many exposes by national media figures including FOXNews' Bill O'Reilly.

2009 - 88-year-old James von Brunn, a long-time figure of the anti-Semitic fringe, entered the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC and opened fire with a rifle. He shot one security guard, who, along with another, opened fire, wounding von Brunn.

OK, that's a partial list. On the left we have . . . The Unabomber who had not actually killed anyone in years, but was wanted probably more out of frustration at his ability to elude federal authorities for so long.

In the midst of all this violence, we have the ongoing assault of talk-radio and right-wing print media. During the 1990's, there were many staunch and ardent defenders of various semi-legal "militia" movements. After the initial confrontation at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, TX, talk-radio host and Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy offered advice to listeners on how to murder federal law enforcement authorities, insisting that it is necessary to shoot them in the head because of body armor.

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, many on the right indulged in a variety of fantasies, from then-Sen. Obama's supposed hidden devotion to the faith of Islam and his attendance at a "madrassa" while a child living in Indonesia, to the on-going insistence that he is not, in fact, eligible to run for or serve in the office of President because he was actually born in Kenya, not in Hawaii. His political views have been variously labeled "socialist", "communist", "fascist", and an entire on-going dialogue has ensued pointing out the various ways policies enacted by the Obama Administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress are leading the United States toward some kind of authoritarianism. Infamously, talk-radio host is continuous in his expressed desire for the Obama Administration to "fail" in its goal of directing a national economic recovery and restoring respect for the law.

We have the Rev. Wiley Drake praying for the death of the President. We have the on-going insistence that the marriage equality movement will destroy the fabric of American society. What was once considered "fringe" beliefs on the far right are now mainstream topics of discussion on nationally syndicated radio programs, on nationally televised "opinion" programs on cable news networks, and on thousands of website and blogs on the internet. This festering sewer, it seems to me, is a breeding ground for people to act out defending their values from the alleged threat the current Administration poses not just to certain policy preferences but to the very heart of the American ideal.

I'm not saying this constitutes a "clear and present danger". I am asking whether or not we are willing to start drawing some conclusions as to the correlation between the swamp of disgusting, blood-lust and hate-filled right-wing screeching and the on-going, and increasing, violence of many on the right.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Even FOXNews Is Getting Skittish

The following video of FOXNews anchor Shepard Smith reading a representative sample of the kind of crazy-talk he receives via email - and we see on a daily basis - makes me wonder what might become of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity in the wake of today's shooting at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Hannity pumps the socialism/birther crap; Beck adds just a hint of nonsensical crazy to the mix. One wonders if a kind of network self-awareness might coalesce as the violence increases.

On a personal note, I have to add that James von Brunn is a year older than my father, which I hate to admit actually kind of impresses me. A guy his age should be dottering around an old-folks home somewhere, or perhaps working in his garden chasing kids off his lawn and complaining about the neighbor's dog pissing on his peony bush. Instead, he's wounded in a firefight with police. Hate certainly seems enough to have kept him going.

R.I.P. Culture Wars

Duncan wonders about the "culture wars". Here's my take, for what it's worth.

If you go back in American history, the dominance of European culture over our art, our story-telling, our music, our drama is astounding. In the 1920's, academic musicologists wondered if America would produce a vital, native music, even as various strands of folk musics were even then creating blues, jazz, country, and gospel. As recently as the 1990's, in reading an academic overview of British progressive rock, there is still a consensus among academics that, despite both its popularity and sophistication, contemporary popular musics are still "inferior" to the European art music tradition on any number of levels. This point-of-view, steeped in a blind cultural supremacy that is laughable in its smallness, can be extended to treatments of African-American literature, various strands of southern and eastern European culture (song, drama, literature), and the Scots-Irish folk music tradition that, along with the African-American folk music tradition, is the rich vein for so much of our popular culture today.

The kind of cultural hegemony that could sneer at jazz in the 1920's and 1930's, turn a blind eye to Jackson Pollack in the 1940's, and dismiss the writings of Richard Wright and Countee Cullen became less and less tenable after the Second World War. The onrush of various popular art forms rooted more in folk traditions than "high art" traditions was only controversial precisely because of a combination of racism and an elitist disdain for the common experience of the working class (consider the hubbub over A Streetcar Named Desire as archetypal). Yet, for all the chest-thumping and head-shaking, it was precisely the visceral connection popular art made with its audience that made up its appeal.

This same combination of racism and elitist disdain for the folk tradition created, by the mid-1960's, what was known as "the generation gap". It wasn't really a gap created by age; it was one created by various conceits and prejudices brought on by a kind of cultural supremacy that was blind to its own racism and classism. That the same generation that learned to dance to Little Richard and Elvis would, in their young adulthood, burn the US flag and demand an end to an illegal and unjust war, proved for the elder generation that the mores and sensibilities of the children of the post-war era were corrupt by exposure to "base" art forms. The reaction of the right, which continues to this day, to so much of our popular (and increasingly "high" - consider the outrage that toni morrison received a Nobel Prize) art, is rooted in racist disdain for African-American musics, poetry, and literature, and Scots-Irish musics, story telling, and folkways.

Of course, one issue I have left out is the sexism that boils over to pure misogyny on the issue of abortion. With the introduction of a safe, effective contraceptive pill in the mid-1960's, the final barrier to women enjoying the kind of sexual freedom and license previously considered solely a male prerogative became a focal point of controversy. One wonders at times where all these folks fuming over the pill thought all the men who were free to have sex at will were getting it, to be honest. Yet, by the early 1970's, as the feminist movement found its legs, its voice, various images (burned bra, anyone?), the kind of visceral fear many men direct at independent, sexually powerful women became a shrill cry of outrage with the Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade. Rather than consider the issue of abortion as an issue of women's health and independence, the right continues to focus on the fetus.

With the rise of Republican political dominance, first with Nixon's "silent majority" and the hard hats beating up anti-war protesters, then the victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980 right on through the 2006 mid-term elections, issues of culture became a focus of political debate and conflict even though most people understand that these are, in reality, separate spheres. Politics deals with power; culture is nothing more than the way a society expresses itself. No exercise of political power absent wholly illegal statutory restrictions can effect a change in American culture; thus the on-going nonsense about Hollywood liberals, country-music conservatives, the attempt by many Republicans to hijack NASCAR as some kind of right-wing cultural symbol, and on and on.

Few folks outside die-hard racists and cultural imperialists (Pat Buchanan representing the former; Victor Davis Hanson and the late Alan Bloom representing the latter) really pay much attention to these issues anymore, with the one exception being abortion. Even here, however, the rough and uneasy consensus we have reached nationally, while hardly popular with extremists on either side, has stabilized that issue. That's why the anti-abortion folks are resorting to violence, intimidation, and (of course) murder.

In general, people argue over all sorts of things. The mistake right-wing culture warriors made - and continue to make - is to believe that the realm of political power is either an effective or even legitimate forum for deciding issues of culture. My guess is they will continue to make that mistake, even as our culture, both popular and high, develops naturally.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Full Monty Right-Wing

I have come to the conclusion, after seeing that Newt Gingrich called the Obama Administration a "failure", that the Republicans are no longer pretending to offer anything substantive to our public discourse. While the hard-core right, Bush Administration dead-enders, fans of Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the talk-radio crazies, and the rest continue to pretend they will be vindicated by events - most of which involve our national collapse - the reality is somewhat different.

When a member of Congress can say the following, we have reached then end of the line as far as taking these jokers seriously is concerned.
The right wing, however, has seized the opportunity to launch baseless, fearmongering attacks, with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) leading the way:
This is the first step in the Democrats’ plan to import terrorists into America.

There's not even the pretense of saying anything serious. This isn't even fear-mongering because no one except the pissy-pants crowd cowers in fear of TERORRISTS!!!!

Of course, we also have the meaningless SOCIALISM nonsense on everything from the GM bankruptcy to health care reform to Frank Gaffney's oft-cited op-ed in the Washington Times calling Obama a Muslim, and it just proves that, however much they are assisted by the national media, the right and the Republicans are now just nakedly empty of anything to offer. Since the harshest substantive critics of the Obama Administration are on the left, and this seems to be the ones to whom they react far more than the right, I think it is driving the remnants of serious loyal opposition into silence.

We are left the John Boehners and the Michael Steeles of this world (who called members of the Obama Administration "numbnuts" last week) and, of course, the king and queen of the Republican Party, Newt and Sarah Palin. If any two individuals represented what is wrong with the Republican Party at this point in time more than they, I don't know who they are. The tongue bath Palin received from Sean Hannity earlier this week is just an example of how devoid of any substance the right is. One idiot asking another idiot her opinion on socialism adds absolutely nothing to our national discourse.

In the near future, I am quite sure we will have to put up with these folks giving us their meaningless, fact-free opinions on all sorts of matters. The nice thing is they have neither power nor constituency any more, so they are just a whole lot of hot air.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Music For Your Monday

Our theme today is - murder! It has always been a part of the folk/ballad tradition to tell stories of murder. Sometimes, like "Hey, Joe", they are declarations of intent (there are a lot of those in the blues). Telling stories of murder in song is old, old. Here's an early Bob Dylan tune, "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", the story of a travesty of justice in a racist murder.

From his second solo album, About Face, here's David Gilmour's "Murder", a somewhat detached, one almost could call it British, approach to the subject.

The provenance of the final song could not be made up.
The message posted in an Internet chat room read, "Seeking well-built man, 18-30 years old for slaughter." A few months later, a user responded: "I offer myself to you and will let you dine from my live body. Not butchery, dining!!"

It wasn't a joke, and what followed was far more gruesome and bizarre than the plot of nearly any horror film. In March 2001, Armin Meiwes, a 42-year-old computer technician in Hesse, Germany, killed, dismembered and ate 43-year-old microchip engineer Bernd Juergen Brandes. While Brandes was still alive, the two dined on parts of his flesh together, then Meiwes stabbed him to death.

The incident captivated the European media, and provided East German industrial metal band Rammstein with some ripe new material with which to return from a three-year self-imposed exile.

"I was really interested to find out about why he would want to kill a man and eat [him]," guitarist Richard Kruspe said in a strong German accent. "What I figured out from some research was that Meiwes' mother totally destroyed all kinds of relationships he had in his childhood. So, he felt that if he did this, his victim would stay with him forever. It was just a really interesting story, so we decided to make a song about it."

The Newt Gingrich Phenomenon

With this latest bit of information - Sarah Palin has been disinvited (again) to a big Republican fundraiser out of deference to Newt Gingrich - we see another plot point in the on-going story of Newt Gingrich's sudden appearance as Republican spokesman. He was on one of the Sunday Chat-fests yesterday. Again. He seems to be all over the place, really, calling Judge Sotomayor first a racist, then a racialist (not quite sure what that second construction means), Twittering from a Nazi Death Camp, and praising Catholic doctrine on marriage, without any sense of irony at all.

I have to wonder what the producers who book him on television are thinking. Institutional memory in Washington is indeed quite short, but it should be long enough to remember that Gingrich quit the Speakership after the public turned against Congressional Republicans for pursuing impeachment against Pres. Clinton (in a huff, he also quit the House as well). It became public knowledge that even as he pursued Pres. Clinton without any remorse for the President's lie about receiving oral gratification from Monica Lewinsky, Gingrich was involved in an extra-marital affair (hardly his first). He managed to turn public opinion against Congressional Republicans with his childish hissy-fit over seating arrangements on a flight with the President, which led to his shutting down the federal government in a contrived budget battle in the fall of 1995.

Gingrich's entire career is a case study in hubris, overreach, and the public display of seriously poor judgment and its results. I find it hysterically funny that he is offered to the public as a serious alternative voice to President Obama's when he really has nothing to say. If he becomes de facto leader of the Republican Party, my guess is he will become their Presidential nominee in 2012. My fervent hope is this occurs, because Newt's long history of making crap up, calling the Susan Smith murder case in South Carolina and the Columbine HS shootings in Colorado examples of Democratic policy in action would be funny if the situations weren't so horrific. While I doubt anyone will ever bring those statements up, at least as Newt continues his romance with a swooning Washington press corps, they are out there, and there is enough of a memory outside the hallowed halls to keep those quotes alive.

In all, while I consider him completely irrelevant to our current situation, and wonder what, exactly, the people who book him think he has to offer, for the most part I am quite happy that he keeps his face and voice out there. He has a tendency to insert his loafers deep in his mouth - calling Sotomayor a racist is hardly the worse - and much worse, precisely because he has such an elevated sense of his own genius and role. He thinks no one is laughing at him, when in fact while most people are ignoring him, those who are paying attention are providing a laugh track for a future Newt run for President.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Making Bill O'Reilly A Martyr

When Dr. George Tiller was murdered last Sunday, many left wing websites and blogs started putting up video of FOXNews personality Bill O'Reilly's multiple statements calling Dr. Tiller a murderer, a Nazi, and so forth. Pressure mounted for O'Reilly to make some kind of statement, which he - characteristically enough - botched. The campaign continued, and it seemed the idea of putting a certain amount of responsibility squarely on O'Reilly's shoulder was gaining some traction.

I was wary, for a variety of reasons. After some time spent perusing the fever swamps of the right, specifically those places that address the Tiller murder directly, make it pretty clear that O'Reilly's rhetoric was hardly unique. Indeed, the idea that, rather than a doctor running a clinic providing legal, safe health services to women, fully compliant with the law, he was some psycho, piling up the bodies of babies for his own glee and, of course, profit. The words "murderer", "murder", "dead babies", and much, much worse are pretty routine, not just in addressing Dr. Tiller specifically, but the entire issue. Abortion is considered not a safe, legal medical procedure fraught with all sorts of moral and emotional baggage and consequences, but rather murder, pure and simple. A fetus isn't a fetus, but a "pre-born baby", which is why "infanticide" is tossed around so glibly.

We don't need to go to the big right-wing websites to discover this. Consider Neil, and Eric, Mark. There really is no difference between these hate-filled, ill-informed, blood-lusting posts in which they don't so much dance with glee on Tiller's grave as actually spit on it.

Making a martyr and symbol of Bill O'Reilly serves no purpose. The entire right-to-life movement bears responsibility for Tiller's murder; by creating an atmosphere which (a) views a medical procedure as part of a project of mass murder; and (b) those who commit these acts "monsters" in the wonderfully dehumanizing phrase of one of the linked posts, murder becomes not only a live option, but the only truly moral act left. Politics has failed. Judicial action has failed. The abortion mills continue to churn out millions of dead babies a year. Stopping just one abortionist (in Neil's nomenclature) by any means necessary becomes a bad means justifying a moral end. Tiller's murderer is the only truly moral actor. All those "denunciations" ring hollow, drowned out by the clamor of those calling him a Nazi, comparing him to Josef Mengele, and on and on.

While many big-name liberals and progressives might get a certain sense of satisfaction out of some kind of action taken against Bill O'Reilly, I won't.

All those bastards have blood on their hands. I hope the tears of Dr. Tiller's family keep them up nights.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More