29 December 2008

The Rev. Rick Warren ("WTF...!")

Obama, in a colossal blunder, named the Rev. Rick Warren to preside over the inaugural. Some of you have asked me about my opinion on this, and in the intervening weeks I've been trying to get my thoughts in some sort of order.

Some things are clear: 1.) Really smart, astute people can make really bad decisions; 2.) pandering isn't just for the Clintons; and 3.) It's still perfectly acceptable to tell gross lies about gay people - about who we are, about what we do, about how we live our lives - under the guise of religion, even among "progressives." Perfectly acceptable.

Who is Rick Warren?

Allegedly the fuzzy (not Fozzie, sadly) bear of the Religious Right, Warren is pastor of the Saddlebcack mega-church in Orange County. He invited Obama to come speak at the church in November of '06, an invite which Obama accepted. Now, Obama has invited Warren, the popular author of A Purpose Driven Life, to preside over his, Obama's, inauguration. Pro quo for his quid.

So what's the problem?

Well, he is not a new warm and fuzzy kind of Christian pastor. He doesn't allow gay people to become members of his church, a fact he then he tried to cover up by removing that language from his church's website once it was picked up on nationally read blogs. (Nice belief in your convictions, Rick. Way to stand firm. Guess that invite means more to you than the so called "truth" you're about?) He has said, more than once, and re-confirmed this week, that he believes that being gay is curable (his church helpfully has a ministry to do so, in the face of all science) and that it's the moral equivalent of child molestation and incest. He also, helpfully, told me that I need to restrain my urges (at around 1:10 on the clip, where he talks about his sexual urges; what is it with these guys?) - just cuz I may be wired this way (i.e., gay) doesn't mean that I have to act on the urge (i.e., have sex with dudes. Or have a long term relationship with a dude.) Well, what was that about the splinter in your neighbor's eye and the plank in your own (Matthew 7:3)? Nice self restraint you've got there, buddy. When was the last time dude stepped away from a buffet? If food was sex, he'd be working Sunset after sundown, making Ted Haggard seem as chaste as St. Maria Goretti.

Sorry... ingratitude and hypocrisy make me a little crazy. Where was I?

Right, our new President elect, bad judgment, pandering, and queer folk being inconsequential. So why did Obama do it?

An early thought, and one I've come back to many times, was about Henri of Navarre, King of France. (It's really discursive, so it's at the bottom of the column if you want to read it in full.)

So, my thought was that Obama was throwing a sop to the Christian right and going to do things in office that would really have a positive effect on my life and the life of other GLBT folks who are not yet full participants in American democracy - the Rick Warren invitation was his "Mass for Paris", so to say, and once in us gays would get our own Edict of Nantes.

But here's where it breaks down - Obama didn't need to do it. He's already elected. And he got elected through the hard work and financial commitment of many, many queer folk, including me.

Can Obama actually agree with the guy? Warren doesn't allow gays to be members of his church. Read that again. Gays can come and worship at his church in the hope that maybe they'll be cured, but they can't be members. Not surprising, since Warren compares gays to child molestors. Obama doesn't agree with that, does he? That we can be cured? That we are the moral equivalent of chld molestors?

No way. I don't think that for a second. He's roughly my age, I'm sure Obama knows at least some gays personally. I suspect that he finds that repugnant.

It's a calculated, cynical political move - of course it is. He's pandering to the Religious Right, trying to prevent them from the mobilized loathing that they demonstrated against Kerry or Gore or Gavin Newsom here in my beloved California. And who is he offering up? The gays. Because we are politically expendable. And that's why I'm angry and disappointed. It's not that Warren is coming to the Inauguration; he's in an official capacity. And Obama, as Democrats do, is not taking care of the hand that fed him. Except this time it's because he feels he doesn't have to; I just don't quite matter enough.

Insult on top of the Prop 8 injury.

And, just for a second, think if Warren held these "strongly held religious beliefs" - which evidently gives you ideological cover to believe whatever the hell you want to believe in the absence of all evidence or rationality, in fact in the face of evidence and rationality, and the right to lie about people, other voters, other citizens, other taxpayers, in a way that actively works to eliminate their civil rights, because you're a so-called "man of the cloth" - about anyone else. Pick a group - any group. Like women - they are inherently inferior in the Bible, over and over and over; you can sell your daughter, you can buy a girl slave for less than a boy, a raped woman has to marry her attacker (but only after the rapist pays her dad five shekels; oh, it's in there! Deut 22:28-29). Would that be called "reaching out" to people who think differently? Or Jews - many right wing Evangelicals believe that Jews need Jesus to reach heaven. What if Obama named a pastor who actively believed that? He couldn't. Setting aside that most people consider those views to be barbaric, on a practical level he couldn't because women and Jews have too much power. Ah, but the homosexyuls can be thrown under the bus. And he did. IN this he has as much moral courage as Pastor Rick showed when he removed the "truth" of preventing active homosexyuls from joining his church. In a vain attempt to neutralize crazy Christian opposition to him he chose as the leader of the Inaugural prayer someone who has taken selective verses in the Bible and extrapolated them to mean that I am the moral equivalent of a child molestor.

Nice. Welcome to the Change We Can Believe In, gay folk!

So we'll see. We'll see if he rescinds the odious Executive Directive from the odious little man that preceded him at 1600 Penna, eliminating job protections for GLBT Federal employees. We'll see if he rescinds Don't Ask Don't Tell, put in place by that supreme Panderer-in-Chief Bill Clinton. We'll see if we get a commitment to a nationwide non-discrimination in hiring law, or a national hate crimes law, or requirements for companies bidding for Federal jobs to offer domestic partnership benefits, or any of the 100's of things he could do to have substantive positive impacts for me and my people.

We'll see if he's as smart as he thinks he is, neutralizing right wing opposition by naming "one of their own" and basically saying "Screw you" to a motivated, engaged and contributing part of his base.

Frank Rich in the NY Times doesn't think so.

Yeah, well, I don't either. Too bad I'm "nice enough".

More on Henri de Navarre:
For those of you who don't remember, Henri de Navarre was a crazy died-in-the-wool Huguenot, a French Protestant, who took an active role in the French wars of religion. Of royal blood, being descendant from the eldest son of Charlemagne, Henri, through no acts of his own but through lots of bloodshed on the part of others, came to be next in line to the throne. The problem? France, late 1500's, was Catholic. The solution? He is alleged to have said "Paris vaut bien une messe" ("Paris is well worth a Mass") in taking the French throne. Despite his long work for the Huguenot side in war, diplomacy and intrigue, Henri abjured his Protestantism at the door of the Cathedral of St. Denis in front of the Cardinal of Bourges, went to confession and then Mass, assumed the throne in 1594, and four years lated passed the Edict of Nantes allowing the free practice of Protestantism in France. (The story is a great read - there's regicide, Cardinals getting murdered and held prisoner, deranged monks killing Dukes, the Pope telling everyone in France that they didn't have to be loyal to the king since he wasn't Catholic, and lots of intrigue from foreign powers.)

24 December 2008

The NFC West should be banned from the playoffs


Why do teams who play in crappy divisions get a free ride into the playoffs?
In the NFC, in recent history the JV to the AFC's Varsity, the Cardinals just stink slightly - slightly - less than the rest of the moribund division. The Cardinals clinched in week 14, ending the longest drought in NFL history between division titles (33 years - which means they last clinched when Phoenix's population was just over a million people and they were in Saint Louis) against, for irony's sake, I guess, the latest NFL team to call Saint Louis home. The Cards have collected 5 of their 8 wins versus the Niners, the Seahawks and the Rams, which are a collective 12-34.

Outside of their division, the Cardinals are 3-7, with wins against Dallas and those mighty, mighty AFC East powerhouses of Miami and Buffalo. (Which makes me wonder how it is that sad New England apologists are saying the Cheater* has done his BEST! COACHING JOB! EVER! How is it that you think the AFC East is any better than last year? Cuz they ain't.) The whole NFC West, the entire division, all four teams, have a TOTAL of six wins against teams with winning records (St. Louis at 2-13 with wins over Washington <8-7> and Dallas <9-6>; San Francisco at 6-9 with wins over the Jets <9-6> and Buffalo <7-8...>; and Seattle at 4-11 with a win over the Jets [I'll take 'beating a dead horse' for $400 please, Alex?]). And that's IT, for the whole division!

Arizona has dropped four of their last five by pretty hefty margins, by 40 @ New England (in late December, in case anyone needed more proof that the schedulers at the NFL take care of some franchises); by 21 at home to the Vikings; by 28 @ Philly and by 8 at home to the NY Giants. IN reverse order - they are getting demonstrably worse.

And the owner of this sad collection of poor performances gets a guaranteed home game!? Eesh.


#1. Happy Christmas (War is Over)

A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear.

23 December 2008

Bren's Top Favourite Holiday Songs, #'s 4, 3, 2...

(favourite with a "u" because they're all from the UK this round)

#4 - The Kinks, "Father Christmas" - This makes the list cuz, well, it's the Kinks and they are pretty much just cool, but it's another song that acknowledges that not everything is goodness and light on December 25th, however much we might want it to be. People struggle at Christmas like any other time of the year, and endemic poverty doesn't get the season off, and for some people the #1 list item is a job. From Janesville, WI, just this morning: "The closing of GM's SUV production eliminates 1,200 jobs."

#3 - U2, "Baby, Please Come Home" - Gotta love Bono crooning and U2 wailing on this song. And I'm in love and missin' my baby this year, so while in years past I'd just roll my eyes and think "whatever" when I'd hear songs about lovers separated for the holidays, I kinda get it this year. Maybe I'm a little mawkish, fine, but it's still a great song.

#2 - Band Aid, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" - You thought this was going to be #1, didn't you? Well, I did too. I just changed my mind. It's great to watch the original video (link); they all look impossibly young, and it seems impossible that this song was released in 1984. Well, to be accurate what seems impossible is that 1984 was 24 years ago. I remember playing the 45 (kids, ask your parents) over and over and over on our Montgomery Ward stereo, listening through my Barry White headphones with the spiral cord plugged into the jack, both A and B sides, trying pick out all the voices, listening especially hard for George Michael (0:49) and Boy George (0:30). Yeah, okay, that should have been a tell. And everytime I heard it, no matter how many times in a row, I'd get goosebumps to hear Bono ripping out "Well tonight thank god it's them instead of you!" at 1:29. Still do. On the B side, I'd have the same reaction to hear (at 0:19) "This is Jon Ross from Culture Club saying 'Feed the World'! There are eleven million people starving in one country. Doesn't that make you think? Merry Christmas, everyone."

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

22 December 2008

Interesting things I've read in the past week

Friend, watching me read the Sunday LA Times: "Do you really read all of that, every day?"
Me: "You know how when you ask me sometimes 'Why/ How do you know that?' This is how."

  1. We - humanity - are so, so close to winning a big one against the bad guys - disease. Yeah, Team!

    "Health workers are on the verge of eradicating Guinea worm disease in what would be just the second time in history that a disease has been wiped from the planet, the Carter Center said Friday.Cheap interventions such as hygiene education, using larvicides to kill the worm and distributing inexpensive cloths
    to help filter parasites from drinking water have cut the infection rate by 99%, the center said.Fewer than 5,000 cases of Guinea worm disease, also known as dracunculiasis, remain in Mali, Niger, Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan and Ethiopia, the Atlanta-based center said. There were about 3.5 million cases in 1986 when the
    global effort to get rid of the disease began."

    See what the application of human effort, discipline, and - GASP! - science can do for the betterment of life on this planet? (Even in the Middle Ages, when "god" seemed to be more engaged, at least according to contemporary common beliefs, there's no evidence that the plague's path was altered, no matter how much prayer and parading of the virgin and killing of the Jews was done.) Regardless of your beliefs, you have to admit that reducing a disease, the effects of which are horrific , is amazing (and don't read it all unless you have a stout stomach, but know that:

    "During the time that the worm is emerging and being removed, the affected person suffers intense pain and often cannot work or resume daily activities for months. Farmers cannot tend their crops, parents cannot care for children, and children miss school. Even after the worms are gone, people are often left with
    scarring and permanent crippling. Infection does not produce immunity, and many people in affected villages suffer the disease year after year.")

    From 3.5 million cases to fewer than 5,000 cases is a tremendous triumph of human will, human good will, human intelligence, and yes, applied human rationality through science, with which we should all be just thrilled! Think of all of the people who have dramatically increased opportunities in life because of this; who have less pain, less hunger, fewer nightmares, fewer days lost to working to improve their material condition for themselves and families? The population of Connecticut or Oklahoma is around 3.5 million. Again - Yeah, team!

  2. An atheist's take on Christmas:

    "There were festivals and celebrations at the time of the winter solstice long before there was a Christian church, for a couple of centuries at least before Jesus may have lived. The early Roman Church simply commandeered all shrines and festivals to itself... What happened in the Greek and Latin worlds also happened in the Celtic, Germanic and Nordic lands. Old gods had their myths and festivals stolen and dressed up as Christian festivals. Celtic heroes became rewritten as Christian Saints. For the most part the people as a whole didn't seem to mind too much. There were still bonfires, feasts, gift-giving and excuses to get drunk..."
  3. Proof that Americans have evolved on racial and other issues in profoundly progressive ways over the past forty years, and proof that we have a long way to go (read the whole thing, it's fascinating):
  • In April, 1968, "53% of non-Blacks agreed that there should be laws against marriages between Negroes and whites."
  • "In August, 1968, 67% of whites believe the statement Negroes 'are asking for more than they are ready for'."
  • "In August, 1968, 63% of whites believe the statement Negroes "have less ambition than whites'."

God...? The myth of Divine Retribution

"I don't believe in God as I don't believe in Mother Goose."
-Clarence Darrow

It's been 41 years since the most recent incarnation of The Troubles began in Northern Ireland. It's been 30 years since Jonestown. It's been 16 years since ethnic cleansing was initiated in the former Yugoslavia, largely on religious lines. It's been nine years since Oral Roberts told his faithful that the Lord would kill him if he didn't raise eight million dollars. It's been three years since twelve Danish cartoonists (did you know there were twelve?) drew pictures of Mohammed, pictures which lay dormant for months until two imams (both of whom had been granted amnesty in Denmark, and you know how I feel about ingratitude) fabricated a dossier and took it to Cairo in an attempt - sadly, successful - to incite mayhem which led to deaths from Indonesia to Nigeria. Three years since the State of Kansas held "science hearings" on whether to teach evolution in the schools.

If you want to know why I'm an atheist, well, religious people are not acquitting themselves particularly well, but I'm not tackling all of this today. I'll have later entries on the fallacy of prayer, on the use of religion and "god" to justify the most onerous human behaviour, and on why the separation of church and state helps both, but today it's the myth of divine retribution.

I understand the impulse. We want there to be some methodology or reason for random events in a complex and unpredictable world. We want there to be a system. We want the pain we feel to be worth something - for the souls in purgatory, for a greater plan, for God's will.

Well, I want a pony.

There isn't a reason. Things just happen, good and bad. There's no such thing as "karma" or divine or ethical retribution, we don't get our just desserts. Two examples of millions:
1. Jacques Chirac, the former French president, approved nuclear tests in the Pacific and Algeria, destroying the lives and livelihoods of indigenous people - of his own generation and for decades and genereations and likely centuries to come - with cancer and a deadly, noxious and irradiated environment, and he is quite likely going to die at home, at peace, cancer free, in his own bed.
2. Andrew Jackson died at age 78 of heart failure, at home, not frozen, starving, or dispossessed, unlike the thousands of those on whom he practiced ethnic cleansing in evicting the Cherokee nation from their land, an eviction that lead to a mortality rate of over 25%.

"What comes around goes around," we blithely say, or "She'll get what's coming to her." Well, it doesn't and she won't. We might hope that the person in front of us with 22 items in the express lane will have a parking ticket on his car, and if he does than we think it's fair and somehow causal. Of course, it isn't. Do we really think that the energy or guiding force or God or gods is involved in that level of detail of the universe? And if so, do we think that e/gf/G/g's shares our biases, priorities, or pettiness? Does the e/gf/G/g's think that because I (the injured party) was annoyed in the grocery line that HE (the offender) should pay? How egotistical! How self centered! If there IS a e/gf/G/g's, nearly everyone agress, then she/he/it/they is/are larger than us, omniscient, eternal, universal. Then why do we insist, through this myth, of making she/he/it/they so small - as small as us at our smallest and pettiest?

Why, if (okay - can we take it from here that "god" = the various ways people use to talk about the non existant energy/ guiding force/ white dude in the sky/ pantheon that people believe in? That's a lot of punctuation.) "god" exists and is engaged at that level of detail in our lives does bad shit go down all the time? I was told as a child that bad things were part of "God's Divine Plan" and that the "mystery will be revealed to you when you die."

That seems to make "god" awfully capricious.

The South Asian tsunami of Boxing Day, 2004, was part of a larger plan that I just don't have the capacity to understand as a mere mortal, but yet "god" is involved in day-to-day life to ensure that bad people get what's coming to them? At the end of the day of December 26, 2004, over 150,000 people were dead or missing.

If it IS part of "god"'s plan then "god" is really inefficient - there were no good among the 150,000 dead? "God" couldn't have given those among that cohort who were morally deficient in some way the cancer, or something less broadly devastating? - or god has a really crappy plan to require so much human suffering and death. And stop cringing, blasphemy is a victimless crime.

It seems that the underpinning of this is cognitive dissonance - the willingness to believe two opposite and oppositing beliefs simulataneously. (E.g., "'God' is merciful, kind and loving; it's part of 'god's' plan for 150,000 people to die in a natural disaster.") The impulse to believe is strong, and it is broadly reinforced through every aspect of our lives (the solstice, the Pledge, the inauguration, football players pointing skyward after a score), but it does not serve us well. We want to believe so badly that we suspend our rationality to allow ourselves to believe in the face of fairly obvious and simple demonstrated evidence against the arguments supporting belief. The mental gymnastics required to make this work - this myth of divine retribution - are embarrassing, and if we were to have been created by a "god" who endowed us with such amazing things as consciousness and our capacity for thought and rationality, then that "god" is likely embarrassed we do such a poor job with it.

19 December 2008

Bren's Top 10 Favorite Holiday songs, #'s 7, 6, 5

7. Snoopy vs. The Red Baron, The Royal Guardsmen - How great is this song? I had totally forgotten about this when it came on the radio the other day. It's a great childhood memory, love the drums, love the bells, love the flying Beagle. Yeah, so this would never have happened in war. Snoopy couldn't really fly a plane, either - and there were documented examples of de facto cease fires at Christmas time on the Western Front, so we'll go with a little unlikelihood at the holidays.

6. We Need a Little Christmas, from "Auntie Mame" - "For I've grown a little leaner/ Grown a little colder/ Grown a little sadder/ Grown a little older..." I love this song, and particularly this version with Lucille Ball in the role of Mame, becaused it's suffused with melancholy but is ultimately fun and joyous. "Shake it off!" it's saying, "How bad can it be?" In this recession year it's good to remember that other times were as bad or worse, that this too shall pass, and that we need joyful punctuation marks in the sentences of our lives. And this is possibly the gayest holday song ever, in the gay culture sense of the word, so it has earned a place!

5. Silent Night - I chose this version of the thousands out there because sistah really lets the beauty of the song and her voice come out. It's such a gentle, sleepy, moving song, written for strings, and the 'ukulele and her voice seem perfect for it. And it's in 'olelo Hawai'i, which fits cuz it's such a universal song. Orignially it was written for guitar, in German, so why not 'ukulele in 'olelo? Just beautiful.

15 December 2008

Bren's Top 10 Favorite Holiday songs, #'s 10, 9, 8

(Sorry for the long silence! Here's something a little less serious than the usual fare for Bren's Left Coast. Back to usual content soon...)

It's the holidays, and who doesn't like a top ten list? Not particularly original, fine, but until I finish other posts, here is the first installment of my favorite holiday songs top ten list.

10. "Oh, Holy Night" - Mahalia Jackson. I can't imagine how it came to be that we had an album of Mahalia Jackson growing up - Fowler, Indiana, wasn't exactly a hotbed of soul - but we did, and I loved her version of this song. This was one of my Mom's favorite carols which is likely why I love it still. This was the last song on the LP (kids, ask your parents), and I would listen to it over and over, carefully picking up the needle and setting it back down on the gap just before this song, listening to the scratches with anticipation, waiting to hear her start. It's just beautiful and stirring.

9. "Rudolf, the Red Nosed Reindeer" - Jack Johnson. I suspect in future years this will move up, but I only heard it for the first time last night and I don't want to be that guy who says the best song ever is the last one he heard. But, I'm just hooked. It's Jack Johnson, so it's got fantastic vocals, but its power is in calling out "all of the other reindeer," and it makes me wonder how I went all these years without wondering about them and their meanness. It's a reminder that routine inures us to deficiencies of character, and lack of critical thinking establishes routine as correct. Thanks for shining a light, Jack - "We're truly gonna try to change."

8. "Christmas Rapping" - The Waitresses. I realize this is a minority opinion, but I love this song - probably because it was on the store holiday tape when I worked at Banana Republic, and I remember singing it while board-folding t-shirts. I think part of why I love this song is that it talks about checking out of the madness of the holiday and spending it by yourself, and in 1990 and '91, while board folding those t-shirts, that would have been a very seductive sentiment. Subtlety in subversion, I love it. And my friend Meaghan and I call or text each other when we hear it, so it's a gift that keeps on giving! (Check out this vid with the holiday lights. Some people have WAY too much time on their hands, but it's cool!)