Friday, September 17, 2010

Satire? Reality? Hard To Tell

With a generous hat-tip to my FB friend Les, this story at The Onion is actually pretty much on the mark. That it is also hysterical, well, that's just a bonus.

Pink-faced half-wit . . . Even the made up quotes about a multi-millionaire exploiting fear to make money . . . it's like our current politics and social scene are so far out there, satire can't catch up even when it sprints.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Pope's Skewed Moral Compass

The current reigning pontiff spent much of the time during the reign of Pope John Paul II engaged in two activities - a very public attack on priests and theologians advocating liberation theology (including silencing then expelling Brazilian priest Leonardo Boff) and the far more secret cover-up of the endemic abuse of minor children by priests around the world. The Pope's obvious lie during comments made to the press accompanying his state visit to Scotland reveal - as if any further evidence was necessary - that Josef Ratzinger has serious problems with his ethical radar.

While no theological viewpoint is above or beyond criticism, and there were some excesses in the name of liberation theologies as they emerged in Latin America after the Medellin Conference in 1968, at its heart was a return to a view of the Christian faith as engaged with the very real lives of people living lives on the margins of society. Seeing how the Spirit could bring life, could give people who were viewed as of no value by the larger society a sense of worth, of value, of humanity, liberation theology was rooted in the Biblical witness.

On the other hand, ensuring that the institution of the Roman Catholic Church was not tainted by persistent allegations of sexual misconduct by the priesthood was far more important to then-Cardinal Ratzinger than supporting the pastoral ministry of priests in lands under the twin thumbs of economic and political exploitation and oppression. His sudden realization that he had no idea how widespread the sex abuse was, and that he's really, really sorry for it ring hollow. That much of this happened during the reign of a pontiff much loved should start a serious re-evaluation of the history of Pope John Paul II, as well as Ratzinger's role in his pontificate.

For the moment, though, it is enough to note that Pope Benedict, rather than being greeted warmly by Queen Elizabeth at Balmoral, should be considered an international pariah.

Bait And Switch - The Republicans And The Crazy

With Newt Gingrich's recent venture in to crazy land (not a first foray, to say the least), I have given a lot of thought to the relationship between the kind of oddball right-wing behavior on display and the corporate benefactors of the Republican Party (Think Progress has done a good job unearthing the connection between the Kock Brothers and the Tea Party movement; grass always does better with green fertilizer, I guess). While it is pretty evident there are a whole lot of folks - honest social conservatives opposed to abortion, what they call "the gay agenda", and what they perceive to be a kind of general cultural laxity; libertarian kooks who always seem just an inch or so away from really nuts; the usual suspects of hard-core bigots and publicity hounds - attracted to the odd rise of the right over the past year or so, recent experience should make them wary of celebrating if the Republicans take control of either House of Congress (again, I do not think that's going to happen, but one never knows).

Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress from 1994 to 2006. In those twelve years, with solid conservative leadership, there was never once introduced serious legislation addressing abortion (the partial-birth abortion ban is a kind of stand-alone monument to how far the Republicans will go), public prayer, let alone the kind of fiscal probity that seems at the heart of much of the current rumbling (along with a visceral hatred of the President, of course). To put it another way, corporations and private donors are quite willing to support Republican candidates whose views range from the mildly disturbing to outright insane as long as the end-results are Republican majorities.

As Matt Yglesias noted, the kind of conspiracy-mongering O'Donnell pimped during the Clinton years was mainstream. It should be noted that I do not believe for one moment any serious Republican figure really believed Bill Clinton was a criminal. They allowed the crazy folks, however, to push all sorts of insanity - from the murder of Vince Foster to the rape of a beauty pageant contestant in a limo (this last pushed by George Will) - in order to keep the public distracted from the massive transfer of money from public coffers to corporations, as well as continue the dismantling of the social safety net for individuals in multiple ways.

With the idea that a return to Clinton-era tax rates on the top 1% of earners (still historically low) is somehow a socialist scheme to redistribute income, we are closing in on the heart of Republican tactics. While there is much that is odd and silly and crazy and frustrating about Republican notions of governance (such as they may be), with the threatened sunset of Bush-era tax cuts we are see the real Republican Party emerging from the soup of nuts it funds.

Whenever we consider the oddities of our public discourse, it should always be kept in mind that, in essence (to quote Alan), this is nothing more than shiny toys to distract attention from the real goal of Republican Party - power and money. Period.

Christine O'Donnell's Manichaeism

This profile concerning Republican candidate for the US Senate seat in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, and her awakening to chastity, contains a kind of standard script for the way some young people, besieged by guilt as they explore their sexuality, turn their lives around and embrace certain extremes of behavior. In the midst of the reflections, however, is an observation Ms. O'Donnell makes that is at once familiar and disturbing.
You're either very good or evil.

In the context of the whole unfolding of her conversion from typical college student with a free attitude toward her life to a strict moral code rooted in the peculiarities of American evangelical Christianity (and, I suppose I should add, Roman Catholicism, considering her upbringing and her current religious affiliation), this statement reveals the presence, sadly never rooted out, of moral dualism in American Christianity.

It is just not the case that there "is" only "very good" or "evil". Our best actions are always tainted by sin; our most vile moments are always done under the shadow of the wings of a gracious God. While I would never gainsay Ms. O'Donnell's decision to alter her life in the name of living a more holy life, neither would I say that such a decision is rooted in some basic moral structure in the Universe. There is much, in fact, to laud in turning from a life of emotionless sex to a far more disciplined sexual life (I would even include refraining from masturbation under that theme). On the other hand, taking such an approach to one's life and insisting that this particular set of ethical values is necessary for an individual's life precisely because "there is only very good and bad", rather than to proclaim the power of grace within the Body of Christ for helping one through times of trial and to discover the gracious benefits of a disciplined sexual life is repugnant to me.

Rooted in dualism, her view of life is antithetical to the Biblical witness, to any notion of God's grace, let alone to a broad-minded approach to sexual politics. While I recognize her position resonates with many Americans, and her views will certainly commend her to conservative voters in Delaware in two months, her position, rooted in an unreflective moral dichotomy, seems to me to offer very little guidance for a more thoughtful approach to sexual politics.

There is very little in Ms. O'Donnell's view of the world, her history of statements on everything from the Clinton-era fake scandals to creationism, and now her sexual politics, to commend her as a serious political figure. At least I can understand why Sarah Palin endorses her. . .

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Really Self-Indulgent Post On My Life

I've been struggling with life-stuff now for a while. Moving this summer has created a whole new set of life-expectations, not to mention a new setting for living my life. In the past, each move has brought the promise and peril of looking for work/figuring out if I wanted to just look for work, la-di-da-di-dum. This time, however, I kept my regular night job, with the added warm fuzzy of a much longer commute. So, my whole "set", as it were, of what a move is supposed to be, has been thrown off-kilter.

For the past month, I must admit, I've been in severe-angst mode. My life has seemed to be out of control. Indeed, "control" has been so far beyond reach that there has not even been the comfort of incipient depression against which to react. Part of that has been that I keep telling myself that my whole "life-worry" thing is small potatoes compared to, say, people losing not just their jobs, but their homes (in the latter case with the added bonus of having used up their savings to try and save their homes, so what are they supposed to do about living somewhere?). I haven't returned from Iraq or Afghanistan with a head trauma and had my VA benefits denied me (let alone refused a Purple Heart Medal). The peculiarities of my situation are such that any serious crisis is just ridiculous, quite out of proportion to my actual situation.

Telling myself that last has helped. For about a day. Two at most.

See, I keep running up against all sorts of hints and clues and, of course, my own conscience, that can be summed up this way - When I am on my death-bed (should I be so lucky as to have one), do I want to fade out wishing I had done something different with my life? Make no mistake, for all that I have been grateful to have kept my job through the worst of our current recession while nine million of my fellow Americans have lost theirs, I have neither the intention nor the desire to retire from Wal-Mart. Not that there's anything wrong with it (well, there are all sorts of things wrong with Wal-Mart, but we shall leave all that to one side for the moment because this post is about me). Circumstances, however - by which I mean the economy, for the most part - seem to be in the driver's seat.

Of course, that's not all. I have recently attempted to do some "serious" writing. That is to say, I started a couple "book reviews", mostly for the sake of practice (I doubted very much if they would move much beyond the stage of being exercises in writing something different, allowing myself to be critiqued/edited) and ended up, after submitting one to an on-line magazine, giving up. The thing is, the editors general note was, in short, "There is good stuff. Rework it so the good stuff is there, and the other stuff ends up in the recycle bin, and we can use it." Encouraging, right?

Pretty much every time I sit and try to do something a bit "more" - more serious, more length, more thoughtful - than this silly little hobby-writing of mine, I end up becoming more discouraged the encouraged by the reality that quite a few of the folks I've come to know via the internet are not just published, but great. Every time I click a link, I think, "Damn. Much better than anything I could ever do." Perhaps not the healthiest reaction to the experience of delight in reading others, but I console myself with the thought that it is normal.

So, anyway, that is my current situation. On the one hand, I feel unable to do much about my current life-situation, as discouraging as it might be. On the other hand, I feel completely incapable of doing the one thing I want to do because every time I try, I have this big FAIL sign blinking in my head.

Forgive the "oh-poor-pitiful-me" tone of this post; I did it, after all, to keep the blues at bay.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Awesome New Website

I have to thank Denise, via FB, for linking to this post. From there I wandered around and discovered a marvelous, funny, irreverent, honest take on being a Christian.

Well, you know what to do. Check it out. Especially the story about him losing his virginity to his teacher. It reads like fiction, or perhaps superannuated adolescent fantasizing, but he claims it really happened. The whole leg-shaking thing sounds too real not to be honest.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Source Of Gingrich's Insanity

Yesterday, I noted Newt Gingrich's racist Tourette's outburst. Today, I come across Adam Serwer's account of the source of Gingrich's insane blather. It wasn't just "an article" in Forbes. It was, in fact, the cover article, which means that Forbes has jettisoned any pretension as a serious periodical.
It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States. That is what I am saying. From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America. In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America's power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe's resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.

For Obama, the solutions are simple. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West. And here is where our anticolonial understanding of Obama really takes off, because it provides a vital key to explaining not only his major policy actions but also the little details that no other theory can adequately account for.

Serwer dismisses this nonsense succinctly:
[T]here's no need to parse the ethnic origins or political philosophies of Obama's parents to understand the ideology of Barack Obama. He is a center-left Democrat who supports mainstream Democratic policies. But some conservatives don't want to talk about policy. They are unable to engage an argument with liberalism on substantive terms, they know only argument by epithet. They want to talk about the fact that our blackety black president is blackety black. It has been two years since a black man was elected president of the United States, and for a group of conservatives clinging to their cultural superiority, this was a moment of apocalyptic existential crisis, a moment that refuted all they had come to know and understand about themselves, about black people, and about this country.

I am not suggesting that every person opposed to the President is racist. I am saying that there is enough of this kind of thing floating around on the right to be safely counted as a major source of conservative rage and opposition. Those on the right who refuse to acknowledge it, and call it what it is, well, isn't that telling us an awful lot about them?

Why Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Muslim Politics Is Not Christian

Trying to sort out the contradictory voices that label themselves "Christian" can lead those outside the faith bewildered, ready to shake their heads and surrender. In this particular moment, when nominally "Christian" folks are supporting the desecration of the holy book of another faith, denouncing the President as a member of an alien religion, and supporting the expulsion of undocumented immigrants from communities across the country, I think it's time one still, small voice spoke up and said, "Uh, no."

Yesterday in church, there was the announcement of a gleaning field trip, open to all, under the auspices of The Society of St. Andrew. Seeking to help alleviate hunger, SoSA receives permission to pick up the leavings after harvest from fields, orchards, and farms, providing food at low cost to the hungry. There is Biblical precedent for this; in Deuteronomy, planters are told to leave the part of their crop they can't or won't use for the poor to glean for their food. Specifically mentioned, along with the ubiquitous widow and orphan, is "the stranger", i.e., the alien, a foreign national in the land.

Taking a step back, reading Deuteronomy as a whole, the "stranger" is seen as a particular target of national hospitality. Each time "the stranger" is mentioned, Moses (the ostensible speaker of the text), offers as his rationale the fact that "you were once strangers in Egypt." Weighted as that phrase is with history and meaning for the people poised on the brink of entering the land promised by the LORD, there is much significance here. As an alien people in Egypt, the Hebrews were not treated with special consideration and care; they were enslaved. By offering up "the stranger" as a group for whom special care and attention should be reserved, the author of Deuteronomy is reminding the people about to become the Israelites that, precisely because they were once a mistreated foreign people in a foreign land, they should take extra care to offer deference and hospitality to the alien in their midst.

In our time and place, "alien" is not univocal. Not just referring, in a semi-legal sense to a foreign national, in a broader sense the word refers to any difference, anything strange and outside what is considered the norm. In that sense, the anti-Muslim sentiment currently amok in some quarters of our land is as unChristian as the hostility toward undocumented workers.

If it were only certain passages in Deuteronomy to which I could point as the source of a Biblical injunction toward particular care and openness to those among us who are different, I think the accusation of cherry-picking and proof-texting as a criticism would be warranted. The entire Biblical witness, summed up by Jesus as the twin and related love of God and love of neighbor includes these particular injunctions within them. In other words, it isn't just Moses in Deuteronomy. It is the entire text of the Bible that witnesses to God's ordinances and commandments for hospitality and openness toward those outside our community.

I don't think it's too much to say that any other claim is erroneous.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Just . . . Wow (UPDATED)

I saw a blurb for this, so I read the whole thing.
Our President is trapped in his father’s time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he is only living out his father’s dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is governed by a ghost.

This in insanity. Simple as that.

Of course, Newt has issues if he's reading Dinesh D'Souza anyway.

But, this . . . In-fricking-sane.

UPDATE: It isn't just me.
Obama Derangement Syndrome can take some strange people to some strange places. Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), in all his pseudo-intellectual glory, has become so enveloped in his own garbage, he appears to have suffered some kind of severe head trauma.


I care about this, not because Gingrich is a lunatic, but because Republicans and the media establishment continue to treat Gingrich as a sane, credible visionary. I think it's fair to say most reasonable people would charitably describe his attacks on America's leaders as idiocy, but the problem is, it won't make any difference.

Given the way the political establishment is "wired" for Republicans, there simply aren't any consequences for this kind of abject stupidity. In the first year of the Obama administration, the most frequent guest on "Meet the Press" was Newt Gingrich. Despite having left office more than a decade ago in disgrace, he remains a leading figure welcome in polite society.

There's literally nothing the man can say to lose his platform to spew nonsense.

One wonders when the tipping point is.

Virtual Tin Cup

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