Friday, February 27, 2004

Enough Said
By way of Body and Soul:

It is vital that the Passion play be continued at Oberammergau; for never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed as in this presentation of what happened in the time of the Romans," Hitler had said. "There one sees Pontius Pilate, a Roman racially and intellectually so superior, that he stands out like a firm, clean rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry."

Passion plays of the "watch-the-nail-go-through-the-hand" sort have always served the fanatics. It's not the ressurrection--it's the pain, and--hey, look over here, HE's guilty!

It's getting ugly out there, people.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Weaseling of Mel's Supporters
I must be the only person in the world who could care less about Mel's latest But I have really been interested in people's reactions, pro and con.

Tonight there was a discussion in The Newshour about the movie. Two theology professors gave their impression of the movie. Now, in several discussions I've read lately, one of the "pro" arguments made most often can best be described as "it happened; deal with it." Or to paraphrase Mel, this is the story as written in the Gospels.

The "con" professor pointed out several places in the movie where Mel departed rather strongly from any and all Gospels and into the fevered imagination of the not-so-sainted Emmerich. Specifically, he discussed three: Christ being thrown off a bridge by a Jewish mob; a raven pecking out the eyes of one of the thieves crucified with Jesus (right after Jesus says "forgive them Father for they know not what they do"!); and the presence of devils and demons in the crowd. Interestingly, the "pro" theologian started defending those "additions" as forms of artistic expression.

Jeez. I didn't remember any conservative theologians standing up for artistic expression during the showings of The Last Temptation of Christ.

My opinion? As all four of you know, I'm a First Amendment absolutist. Mel has the right to make his movie and people have a right to see it. BUT...another memory surfaces. During the Dixie Chicks brouhaha, one of the arguments on the right was that with free speech come consequences: if you speak your mind, you must be prepared to pay the price.

I wonder how many of them will weasel out of applying their own dictum to Mel.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Sometimes I think I've passed through a wormhole and come out somewhere so strange that its only proper name is Weirdland. Only in Weirland would I find so much in common with Pat Buchanan!.

I happen to be a full supporter of Israel. My father, who thought Meier, Ben Gurion, Dayan, and Eban were modern-day superheroes, taught me to be a Zionist before I even knew there was a word for it. But I fail to see why that means I must deny Palestinians their own rights, or hope for a peaceful end to the conflict.

Much like Buchanan, I fear for a country mired in unending aggressive war. James Madison said it best: no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. And it is precisely that freedom that will be America's lasting legacy, not our overwhelming power. Most of the people of the world look at America and marvel that a citizen can tell the government to go pee up a rope without fear of a midnight knock on the door. Yes, terrible things happen in America, but much less than in other places; and most importantly, we stand as a living rebuke to all those who say that if the individual is not subordinate to the state a nation cannot survive.

The phrase that pisses me off the most is that "they hate us for our freedoms". If you mean "fundamentalists hate American freedoms," then we don't need to go outside our borders to find those that would gleefully restrict them. As for the great mass of people around the world, "they" do not hate us for our freedoms. They hate us when we do not live up to our great words, when we hypocritically deny others what we insist on preserving for ourselves. And the neocon's cardinal sin, in my book, is to hold two sets of standards, one for us and another for "them".

That's the real "ugly American": a neocon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Now, Why Would They Do That?
By way of Mark Kleiman, an update on the "Kerry intern" silliness. I haven't been paying much attention, but I decided to read the news stories he links to. And found something, shall we say, veerrry int-er-esting.

Here's the ABC News Story, discussing the statements made by Polier's parents: The statement did not address purported quotes by Polier's parents in the British tabloid The Sun that were harshly critical of Kerry.

Here's the SF Chronicle story: The statement did not address purported quotes by Polier's parents in the British tabloid The Sun that were harshly critical of Kerry. But in a later statement e-mailed to the AP in New York, Terry Polier said he was misquoted by the Sun and that his wife never talked to the Sun reporter. Contacted early Tuesday, the Sun had no immediate comment.

Now, the interesting part is that IT IS THE SAME STORY, taken off the AP wire. I have compared them, as as far as I can see that is the only missing sentence. Can anyone think of a good reason why ABC News chose to leave out the second half of the paragraph?

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Tell Me Again What a Good Job They're Doing Fighting Terrorists
A friend sends me this:

A move by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to subpoena the medical records of 40 patients who received so-called partial-birth abortions at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago was halted—at least temporarily—when a Chicago federal judge quashed the information request.
The ruling is the first in a series of subpoenas by the U.S. Justice Department seeking the medical records of patients from seven physicians and at least five hospitals, Crain's sister publication Modern Healthcare has learned. Besides Northwestern, Mr. Ashcroft is seeking patient records from University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers in Ann Arbor; Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp.; Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medical Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital both of which are part of the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System; and an unidentified San Francisco-area hospital.

The move seems to be the first move towards punishing the patients of doctors challenging the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Although the Attorney General's office claims that this was not meant to identify patients, the judge was not receptive. At best, the judge wrote, the government is seeking possible impeachment material. The Justice department, in the meanwhile is " reviewing the ruling in light of our commitment to defending the law banning partial-birth abortions.”

Get it through your heads, people. Your safety and security is secondary to their pursuit of their fundamentalist agenda. Terrorist be damned--they've got bigger fish to fry.

You. Me. Any of us who do not buy into their religion.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Hating George Bush
The latest meme of the conservative blogosphere is that those of us who oppose the president's policies do it out of some irrational hatred of the man. In fact, some say that we have the same irrational hatred on George Bush that Republicans had of Bill Clinton (at least I'm glad they're admitting it).

For my part, at least, I'd like to say that I don't hate George Bush. I don't hate anyone, that I can think of; it's too time-consuming and unproductive. I can cheerfully disagree with anyone about almost anything and still go home at the end of the day with nary a darkling feeling in my heart.

However, I will admit that George Bush is not my favorite person in the whole world, but I have reasons. Clear reasons that you might not agree with, but cannot claim to be irrational:

1. He comes across as the most incurious person I've ever encountered. My mother, with a fourth grade education, seems more engaged with the world than the President of the United States. It's not a single thing that I can point to; maybe it's just that I have yet to hear the man give an unscripted talk about any subject, off the cuff. Heck, maybe I was spoiled by da Arkansaw houn'. But the feeling still persists that Bush doesn't know and doesn't want to know.

2. He's the biggest failure I've ever known who was propelled to success by others...and still insists that he did it himself. OK, I guess that in his world view, being a successful hustler of other people's money is "doing it himself". But I grew up in a family where success by predicated on hard work and honesty. My grandfather turned down one million dollars (in 1946!) to help throw and election; and my father, who is eligible for veteran's benefits because he was briefly drafted during the Korean war while he was living in Long Island (local board #4, Freeport), will not even touch a penny. He says he didn't fight, he doesn't deserve it and that's that. With that background, you can imagine how I feel about Bush's continual use of his family connections to pull his fat off the fire...and trumpet those rescues as successes.

3. He believes in a God that gives me the willies, and wants to impose Him on the rest of us. It's the second part that makes me unhappy, not the first. You can worship Yog Soggoth for all I care; that's what "freedom of religion" means. The only thing you CANNOT do is force me to follow your God's dictates. Bush seems to want to set this country on the road to a fundamentalist Christian theocracy. I can't imagine a more ignominious end to the United States of America.

4. He thinks of America as the Great World Penis, able to screw anyone at any time, and loves being the one doing the screwing, giving no thought for the enemies he is making. Look, we are the biggest sumbitches in the valley; that's reality. But even the biggest sumbitch can be brought low if enough little people swarm over him.

There's a short story, I can't think of the author right now, where a sorcerer is asked why he just doesn't change this annoying putz into a frog, and he replies that frogs multiply at a great rate, and he would rather deal with one idiot than a thousand frogs. We are making frogs right and left with our barging about and our grandchildren will pay the price, one way or another.

There you are. Four reasons why I don't like Mr. Bush as president. But I do not hate him. I wish him a long life and happiness...back in Crawford.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Sympathy for the Devil
I am a fan of the Father Brown mysteries. They aren't really that great, as mysteries go, but they deal with matters of religion, ethics, morality, and the deepest, darkest misdeeds of human nature from the point of view of an unassuming, shabby little priest who can see and understand the heart of anyone, no matter how evil he might seem to us.

The little brown man with the three-cornered hat and the umbrella came into my thoughts today as I watched a local Fox Channel newscast. I was flipping channels when my attention was caught by a beautiful young dalmatian staring into the camera. It seems the owner took her to a local Petco and abandoned her there. The owner of the store chased the woman out to the parking lot, but she pulled away in an U-Haul.

The announcer went into paroxysms of denunciation: nobody can understand why anyone would do such a thing, yadda yadda. Cut away to a local employee of the pound (I think), who says he sees neglected animals all the time. Finally, the announcer tells us that the "well cared for" poor dog had a message attached to her collar.

This is what she read of it:

Please help me. My owner lost her job and her house and can't take care of me any longer.

Of course, right after that, the female yahoo continued her diatribe. How could anybody....

That's when I turned the damn thing off and came here to vent.

Where the hell did our ability to sympathize go? When did we became so all-fired-up perfect that we can pound on someone without at least making an effort to see their side? In fact, when did we become so fired-up holy that we can judge another human being?

One of my favorite Father Brown stories tells about a famous philanthropist of whom all manner of stories and even legends were told of the miraculous rapidity with which he could form a sound judgment, especially of human character. When he is killed by some of those he had suppposedly helped, father Brown replies to someone who asks him how could Wynd have misjudged so badly:

'Yes', he said almost fiercely; 'that is how he came to be killed. He was killed for just that. He was killed for being a judge of men.'

They all stared at him, but he went on, almost as if they were not there.

'What is any man that he should be a judge of men?' he demanded. 'These three were the tramps that once stood before him and were dismissed rapidly right and left to one place or another; as if for them there was no cloak of courtesy, no stages of intimacy, no free-will in friendship. And twenty years has not exhausted the indignation born of that unfathomable insult in the moment when he dared to know them at a glance.'

Where do we get off being judges of men? Even--maybe especially--if we are right?

Look, I'm not talking about seeing someone that is doing something wrong and stopping them. I am not talking about being "soft of crime" (and a more idiotic phrase has never been invented!). I am talking about taking the time to understand the why, of placing yourself in someone's shoes, seeing the world from their perspective, from the gut, so that you know yourself capable of committing her crime.

This simply entails accepting that you are as human as they are, as prone to error and imperfection.But it seems that these days it is impossible to admit to anything but horror and revulsion at any act that contravenes our own image of perfection. So we create the monster "other" that we can cast out ritually. Or, in our society's case, televisually.

Undertaking Father Brown's exercise does not mean that you will dissolve into liberal puddles and kiss a murderer. But it might mean that, if instead of seeing the "other", you see "you", you might want to help "yourself".

You know, what that guy Jesus said: Do unto others...?