Friday, January 28, 2005

Life through red-colored lenses.

Toward the end of my senior year of high school, Stéphanie, a French foreign exchange student told me about Senator McCarthy and the Communist Witch Hunts. We had history classes every year, and during my junior year, I, like everyone else, had to take a special twelve-week unit on communism and the Soviet Union, which was designed and taught by Mr. H, a charming right-wing Christian who lamented the passing of prayer in public schools and who once called me "Comrade" (...um, sarcastically.)

We never learned about the Red Scare of the 1920s. We never learned about the Red paranoia of the 1950s. We learned that hippies were naïve and that the United States tried to be nice to the Soviets right after World War I, only to have them steal some military supplies that we left in Vladivostok.

I'll say that again, for those who are having trouble processing that: we never learned about Joe McCarthy. We never learned about Eugene V. Debs. Or Rosa Luxembourg. We did learn that Marx died in poverty and that Lenin was clinically insane and that Trotsky was murdered by an agent Stalin, who was a failed priest. We learned that the Soviets wanted to kill us and that their economy wasn't working anyway, but they were on the brink of burying us.

Mr. H was fond of saying he welcomed questions, but he was also fond of sardonically mocking those who asked them. Years later, when I heard Rush Limbaugh's 1990 program where he invited Phil Donahue and this Communist American who'd defected to the Soviet Union and made a living defending the Soviet system. Rush apparently had him on there to gloat about the apparent coming collapse of the Soviet Union, which came toward the end of 1991, but as I recall, the feeling at the time was more to do with when it would collapse, not if.

Rumor was that Mr. H had a nervous breakdown in 1990. I'd graduated high school in 1987, so it could be that his breakdown didn't really happen, that it was just a nasty rumor instigated by some other "comrade." I don't know. One's education is often hampered by personal agendas of individuals, but those who complain about this don't usually have right wingers like Mr. H in mind. You know the type: they'll pay lip service to a fair and balanced discussion, to respecting others' opinions and points of view, but they don't really. I'd say the real menace crosses political and religious lines, but if you've devoted to wiping out an enemy, you probably won't choose to see things that way.

The right wing has been working hard to engage in total war on discourse, total war on moderates and moderation, total war on all who oppose or even question them. This has grown increasingly apparent to me, but Mr. H, whom I regarded as a comic throwback to another time, represented something more real than my chronically open mind was ready to accept back then. He was the first neocon I ever knew.

It's been almost twenty years since Mr. H's class, and I'm sure that sour old paranoid still isn't happy with the way the world is. How could he? How could any neocon? Their whole movement is fueled by grousing, by complaining, by loud bellyaching about how their kind is persecuted by everyone else. If they ever calm down and accept any of their victories as genuine accomplishments, they're doomed. But one day they're going to be content with themselves, and when that day comes, enough of these vermin will feel guilty enough to let down their guard, and the opposition will be able to get a toehold, and start fighting back with real gusto.

The question is: is there any real opposition? It seems that they've managed to destroy us, demoralize us, shut us down to the point where we won't be able or willing to start hitting back when we can actually grab their attention. Could it be that they've already won?

Or maybe I should just lay off for now. First things first. There's a war on, you know.

Monday, January 24, 2005

18½ minutes of silence are in order.

Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary, has died at age 87. She covered up for her bosses, Richard Nixon and H.R. Haldeman, by erasing part of a tape where they were discussing the Watergate treason. Because of her, we don’t have evidence of what Nixon and Haldeman knew and when they knew it. But, um, we can make some reasonable guesses, can’t we?

Anyway, Woods followed a long tradition of subordinates who were “just following orders:” Heinrich Himmler, Oliver North, Lynndie England… As far as I know, Woods never recanted, never did anything to atone for her sins. If she did, then I regret the snide tone of this post.

I suppose I should say a few things about Nixon. He was ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- president. And that’s the (expletive deleted) truth.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The most depressing day of the year: January 24.

So according to that beacon of respectable journalism, Great Britain’s own Sun, we’re coming up on the most depressing day of the year. It’s apparently January 24, according to Dr. Cliff Arnall of Cardiff University in Wales. He figures it’s due to the sunlight and the weather and other factors. How the weather here in New York relates to the weather in Wales, I don’t know, but I do know we’re getting slightly more sunlight here than they’re getting in the British Isles, and we will continue to get it until spring starts.

Dr. Arnall’s calculations also figure in one’s financial debts and the time since Christmas, which renders this survey a tad cliché, but I’ll agree with him where the light and weather are concerned. It was 12º F outside this morning, and while the days have been getting longer for almost a month now, I still haven’t noticed their lengthening yet. These conditions, say Dr. Arnall, sap one’s motivation and energy. Though I don’t suffer from seasonal affective disorder myself, I’m inclined to think that everyone’s affected by the weather and daylight—some more than others. Currently I’m at rock bottom where motivation goes, so at least I’ve got science on my side to explain away what we would have called laziness in simpler times.

Blue state

I think a special corollary applies to Dr. Arnall’s formula this year. I’d say the most depressing day is January 20, since the prospect of Bush taking office again and our facing another four years of this monster has sapped my energy considerably and has rendered me miserable. The night of January 20 I’m going out drinking with fellow despondents so I can face down the right wing’s hijacking of my country in the best possible state to handle it: blind, stinking drunk.

Friday, January 14, 2005

In 1492

One thing about history that’s been changing a lot over the past century has been the way we view Christopher Columbus and what he did. From the time I was a kid in the 1970s through now, I’ve been aware of the growing animosity toward Columbus’s voyage. When I was in the first grade, my mother taught me the first two lines to Jean Marzollo’s poem In 1492, which most people know. There’s more to it, which no one seems to know.

What I’ve done is rewrite the first stanza of the poem, as it would change with attitudes over the years. In 1950, I suppose the prevailing attitude toward Columbus was pretty much in line with the poem. But after that, well…

1950
In fourteen-hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and sailed from Spain,
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

1960
In fourteen-hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
But what’s recalled by very few:
The Indians came to greet his crew.

1970
In fourteen-hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
When he made land he there did find
Tribes with whom we grew entwined.

1980
In fourteen-hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He looked for spice but conquered land
For Isabelle and Ferdinand.

1990
In fourteen-hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
His mission: to exterminate,
To get real rich and make Spain great.

2000
In fourteen-hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Left likens it to genocide,
Right says the weak ones should have died.

2010
In fourteen-hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
That’s all I learned ‘bout that old fool;
You mostly pray when you home-school!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The James Ossuary: a proven fake.

The James Ossuary has proven to be a fake.

There was a long article about this in the New Yorker late last year. The antiquities dealers who were in possession of it were pretty enthusiastic, and while the New Yorker tried to be as evenhanded as possible, the dealers struck me as shady.

But even if the ossuary weren’t a forgery and did date to the time of Christ, that wouldn’t prove anything. There were hundreds or thousands of guys named Joseph in those times, and there were several dozen Yeshua ben Josephs in Jerusalem alone. Chances are pretty good that more than one of them would have had a brother named James. In other words, the ossuary could possibly belong to some other guy, which wouldn’t indicate whether Jesus Christ ever existed or not. To date, there’s still no such evidence. Anyone who believes has to have faith.

Perhaps the most damning evidence was that the Aramaic inscription was in 20-pica Times New Roman font. I’m no expert, but I’d think that would have given it away. That and the discovery that the ossuary was actually a painted-over “Dukes of Hazzard” lunchbox.

That’s where I give a certain amount of credit to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Unlike the Roman, Protestant and evangelical churches, they allow that man-made icons can be infused with holy power. If you can have a picture of a saint which represents a direct link to God, your need for the Sacred Virgin to appear in the icing of a Boston cream doughnut diminishes considerably. The Eastern Church’s notion that icons are themselves holy is more in line with Thomas the Apostle’s teaching that the Holy Spirit is all around us, that we don’t need a conduit, necessarily. The evangelicals think the same way, but where they come up short is their not having anything they can say is holy at all. Lacking this anchor, their faith is shaken, which is why they’re so hell-bent on discrediting wild notions like evolution and the heliocentric solar system.

Frankly, Eastern Orthodoxy with its man-made icons fills a need. There’s no science to it, but it does offer a tangible way for people to focus their faith, so there’s no need to feel threatened by science. “I’m sorry, Father, but our lab analysis on your icon of St. Cecil indicates no measure of holiness, nor in your icons of St. Cyril and St. Nicholas of Antioch. Are you sure you’re in the right denomination?” The poor Western Christians are stuck trying to dig up the timbers of Noah’s Ark, the Shroud of Turin, splinters of the True Cross and Jesus Christ’s teething ring. If they were smart, like the Eastern Church, they’d just make their own icons and call them holy, rather than listening to the damnation of Darwinism from some iconoclast.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Stan & Ollie go voting

Here we are, more than two months on, and I still can't wrap my mind around what happened on Election Day 2004. I can come up with only one plausible explanation, which is something like this:

Ollie: Well, Stanley, I just voted for the next President of the United States: John Kerry!

Stanley: Gosh, Ollie. Voting certainly is important work, isn’t it?

Ollie: It certainly is, Stanley. Now it’s your turn. Enter the booth and pull lever one for Kerry.

Poll worker: Excuse me, sir, but electioneering ain’t allowed in polling places.

Ollie: Well, I was just trying to help my friend here…

Poll worker: He’ll have to make up his own mind. You can’t tell him who to vote for.

Ollie: All right, but I will tell him who not to vote for. Can I do that?

Poll worker: Okay, mister. You can do that.

Ollie: Very well, then. Stanley, get in the booth.

Stanley: All right, Ollie.

Ollie: And whatever you do, don’t pull the lever for Bush!

Stanley: Right, Ollie. Um… Ollie? Lever four is not Bush. It’s someone called Peroutka.

Ollie: No, Stanley! Lever four is not Bush! Lever two is Bush!

Stanley: But Bush only has one lever, Ollie.

Ollie: Well, don’t pull that one! Do what I told you to!

Stanley: Don’t pull lever one, pull lever two.

Ollie: Two is for Bush, so don’t pull it! Pull one!

Stanley: All right, I’ll pull one, but two is not four. They’re each different people, Ollie.

Ollie: I know that! Don’t pull the lever for them!

Stanley: All right, Ollie. Don’t pull lever four.

Ollie: Yes, Stanley. Don’t pull lever four. Now, do you know which lever you’re going to pull?

Stanley: You said pull lever two, Ollie?

Ollie: No! Pull one, Stanley!

Stanley: There’s only one lever two, Ollie, so I’ll pull it.

Ollie: Stanley! No! Here, let me show you…

Poll worker: Sir! You can’t enter the voting booth until it’s vacant! Please step back or I’m calling the cops!

Stanley: Ollie! Which lever shall I pull, now?

Ollie: The lever I told you to, Stanley!

Stanley: Got it! You told me two!

Ollie: Well, I’m glad I finally got you to vote, Stanley. Democracy is what makes this country work so well, you know.

Stanley: And I’m glad I got to pull lever two, just like you said.

Ollie: Lever two?! Stanley, you voted for Bush!

Stanley: I did? I’m sorry, Ollie! I was trying to vote for Nader!

Ollie: For Na—? Well, this is a fine kettle of fish!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Gingrich/Santorum '08!

So Newt Gingrich is mulling a 2008 run for the presidency. His main concern? “Islamists,” he says, and the need for the US to form a society around “Our Creator.” (If you can’t catch the irony there, dear reader, you never will.)

Of course, Gingrich could just be hawking books again. His new book, Winning the Future, releases today, and chatter about a presidential run could only help his publicity. Gingrich’s book of course does focus on “reëstablishing God in American life” (um… sort of like al Qaeda is doing, perhaps…) and “restoring patriotism” (whatever the hell that means.) He also talks about reforming Social Security (assuming it can survive Bush’s reforms) and making health care more accessible (which would be a first for Republicans.)

All this Christian jihad talk makes me think about another 2008 presidential potential, Senator Rick Santorum. Gingrich/Santorum! Wouldn’t that be a great ticket! The challenge: winning more than 100 electoral votes. Could they do it? Prove me wrong, Republicans! Nominate those jokers! Then the Democrats wouldn’t even need to campaign—they could even run FDR for a fifth term, and he’d win hands down!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Conservatives boasting about ethics?

I'm not surprised, but I am disgusted. Many Republicans have been boasting that not only is their party clinging to the ethical standards that they almost rewrote, they're claiming some sort of moral superiority over Democrats, who have never had a provision to hold their House leaders accountable for malfeasance like the Republicans (still) do. This is—ah, what's the mot juste?—crap. What's going on is that the Republicans tried to lower their standards just to protect one individual. They're trying to cloud the issue by pointing out that the Democrats don't have such a provision. And they don't. But I ask you which is worse: to not have a certain ethical provision at all, or to blatantly circumvent that ethical provision only when it comes time to enforce it?

That's the Republican Party these days: they crow about having ethical standards, but they never actually follow them. Hollow virtue from the hypocrites.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Will Eisner, dead at 87

Cartoonist Will Eisner, inventor of the graphic novel, died yesterday. I'm sorry to see him go.

Eisner's stuff has always appealed to me. He pushed the envelope, sure, though I admit I've always had a feeling that it could have been a little bit better. Still, he was great, and I class his death as a true loss.

My favorite of his works was A Life Force, which is a heart-rending work of humanity, a story of human dignity and how that dignity remains indestructable, even when it only makes sense that it should be destroyed. It hurt to read it sometimes, but at the same time, it was a very warm and comforting book. Its message is universal, too. Sometimes it feels that the entire world has turned against you, has rejected you, has branded and deemed you unworthy and worthless. I think that's a universal feeling among human beings. Eisner captures that, and reminds all of us just what life is all about.

And as much as I loathe cockroaches, A Life Force makes me think favorably of them sometimes. It convinced me a couple of times not to step on one when I saw it on the sidewalk. Read it; it's worth your time.

I forget who it was who summed up Eisner like this: "When you compare Eisner to other cartoonists, he's this fantastic author, but when you compare Eisner to other authors, he's just a cartoonist."

Rest in peace, boychik. You will be missed.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Build a better Bush.

Or at least build a different one. I found this somewhat amusing:

Build a Better Bush

Republican House ethics: the fix is in!

So the House Republicans have abruptly reversed course on their intention to lower their ethical standards. I'm not sure if that's really the case; I'd say it's more likely that it finally occurred to them that it's impossible for them to lower their ethics any further than they already are.

If Jesus Christ walked into Tom DeLay's office, he'd break his feet from kicking over tables.

If the Republican Party is supposed to have so many Christians in it, then why don't they act very Christian?

C.S. Lewis on George W. Bush

Well, maybe not exactly, since Lewis never knew Bush. But apparently Lewis knew Bush's ilk. Unfortunately, it seems, Bush's ilk has been around for a long time, and Lewis, a far better Christian than Bush, had Bush's number. Listen:

"How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound's worth of Pride towards their fellow-men.

I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap.

Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil."

—C.S. Lewis

Bush inauguration fever—catch it!

I’ve got Bush inauguration nausea, myself. I also have Bush inauguration jitters, Bush inauguration cold sweats, and Bush inauguration catatonia. There is currently no known cure. Sufferers frequently self-medicate, typically with hard liquor and (usually in the morning) schnapps.

Those afflicted with Bush inauguration fever suffer side effects such as greed, myopia, self-centeredness, callousness, and compulsive displaying of the Ten Commandments. Long-term side effects are extremely high deficits, underfunded schools, inflation and bankrupt Social Security. Warning: these long-term side effects are highly contagious, and can afflict even those who don’t suffer Bush inauguration fever.

Outbreak has been primarily confined to certain sections of North America, as well as a rash that has inexplicably erupted in the Middle East.