Saturday, December 9, 2006

An American Pregnancy

Until earlier this week, I had absolutely no reason whatsoever to be concerned with the welfare of Mary Cheney. I like Lesbians. All things being equal, I would rather sit next to a Lesbian stranger on a long train journey than a non-Lesbian stranger, because I’ve had such good experience with lesbians in the past. But I no longer relate to all gays and lesbians as automatic brothers and sisters, having discovered a whole bunch of folks with whom I have absolutely nothing in common beyond sexual identity. No complaint there. It is an indicator of how far we’ve come since the early days when gays had to stick together to be safe, that I can make that statement.

I don’t feel a strong connection with Mary Cheney, I’m trying to say. And Mary Cheney registers as “daughter of Dick and Lynn Cheney” well before she registers in my mind as lesbian. It’s not her fault she was born to Satan, of course, but I have to tell you her being lesbian was hardly enough to make up for helping her war criminal dad get reelected to the job of telling W how to run the world. For that, I might still cheerfully assign her a spiked seat in hell, if I ever get to decide who sits where. And add a couple extra spikes for working for Adolph Coors, to boot.

And yet, that bit of personal animus has kind of faded since I heard that she and her partner, Heather Poe, were making their marriage public. Considering all those right wingers that must come to sup at the Cheney table, this must have taken some courage, don’t you think?

Then, last Thursday, when I read she was pregnant I couldn’t help myself. I smiled. And what was that feeling leaking out of a dark and usually unused corner of my non-Republican heart? Affection?

Go, girls. More power to you.

As for you, Mr. C, for telling the world you were looking forward to your sixth grandchild, it would appear that just maybe you’re not actually Satan. Maybe I’ll have to downgrade you to Darth Vader. No that’s too far. Goebbels. He apparently loved dogs and his children quite sincerely.

Never mind. You’re not what is important here. This little baby coming into the world is.

Man, what this kid is going to have to grow up with. Two Lesbian moms and a world community of gay and lesbian parents begging for recognition on the one hand, and a grandfather, on the other hand, whose success as war profiteer depends on humoring the bastards demonizing his much loved daughter.

Now, if you are following the American Culture Wars, that is interesting.

What this kid won’t have to face is the prospect of sleeping under a bridge. Living in the inner city. Choosing between joining a gang to stay alive or getting stabbed on the way home from school. This little tyke will be reading as soon as his/her little eyes will focus, riding horses if the spirit calls, rubbing elbows with movers and shakers and, like most well born and wanted children in America, learning the many ways that life can be good.

There will be some limitations, of course. Thanks to Grandpa Cheney’s supporters, her non-womb parent will not be permitted to give her permission for a school field trip, and will not be able, legally, to have access to her in the hospital, God forbid she should want and need to. Virginia, where they live, will not permit Mama Heather, her birthmother’s partner of fifteen years, to adopt her, thanks to those folks with Family Values who took pains to pass a law just this year to that effect. Mary and Heather could fix all that, of course, by moving to the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain or Canada. Or Massachusetts. But they both have jobs they like, so I suppose that’s out.

The so-called traditional family folk, like Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, are beating the drums quite predictably on the dangers of having babies without daddies, once again entirely missing the point that being born to a caring, responsible and self-aware single parent is infinitely better for a kid than being born to a mother/father combo who raise you in fear and resentment. Being born to two caring parents makes life a whole lot richer yet, but it’s the network of real and chosen family that makes all the difference, and not an even distribution of sex organs and supposed gender roles.

Ms. Crouse’s stunning lack of understanding is not new, and the ideologically fixated will always be with us. But mercy, Lord, could these folks please pick up a newspaper now and then? Or rent that marvelous DVD called All Aboard Rosie’s Family Cruise, maybe? Check in with the American Psychological Association? I suppose that’s like asking the folks convinced of dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden to study up on carbon dating.

Which brings us to the good news. The fact this is happening in the Cheney household is keeping the toxic religion folk on a leash while the rest of us get a closer look at a gay household in transition and at the battle it has to fight for recognition.

Carrie Gordon Earll, spokesperson for Focus on the Family blathers on as predicted about what a bad lady Ms. Cheney is for not manning herself up before conceiving a child. But that only leads Jeff Lutes, Executive Director of Soulforce, an organization formed to fight “the misuse of religion to sanction the condemnation and rejection of any of God’s children,” to issue the following statement: "We wish Mary Cheney and her partner, Heather Poe, a future full of love and joy. We find it unconscionable that Focus on the Family has exploited their good news in order to once again ignore or distort the social science research on same-sex parent families."

Well said, Jeff.

Happy parenting, Mary and Heather.

December 9, 2006

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Letter to Robert Fisk

Mr. Robert Fisk
The Independent

Dear Mr. Fisk:

In reading your December 2 review in The Independent of Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, I was struck by your suggestion that the French government was at work in Vienna recently censoring the fact that over 11,000 Jewish children were handed over to the Nazis for extermination under Pétain’s administration.

You don’t provide your sources, but I managed to locate both what I take to be the Vienna Jewish Film Festival’s blurb on the film La Mémoire des Enfants and the French Embassy’s shorter version with the reference to the number of children removed.

“But imagine Mr Draschen's rage,” you write,

"…when he discovered that the French embassy in Vienna, which hosted the film's premiere, deleted the following sentence from its programme: "11,400 Jewish children from France were handed over to the Nazis by the French authorities and murdered at Auschwitz."

"Why, in God's name, was this act of censorship permitted? President Jacques Chirac recognised in 1995 that the French state was responsible for the deportation of the Jews, but somehow the Quai d'Orsay seems to have missed out on this. Certainly the staff of the French Institute in Vienna didn't get the message. Should they be sent a complimentary copy of Némirovsky's agonisingly tragic novel? Or just an invitation to the next mass for the late Marshal Philippe Pétain of France?"

I won’t quibble that there are many in France, and no doubt in the French government, who are slow to fess up to the shameful behavior of many in France under the Vichy regime, and no doubt anti-semitism is alive and well in France.

But it seems to me if you’re going to document those claims, you need to be careful to do it accurately. And get Draschan’s name right, as well.

Where is your evidence here that the editing in the embassy piece was anything more than limiting publicity to information about the film event itself? Or that this is a decision by a single member of the clerical staff and not the Quai d’Orsay? After all, if the embassy is pointing people toward the film and the film festival, does this suggest they are in the business of covering up French history?

If my sources below are not in fact the sources to which you refer, I stand corrected. If they are, you’re not giving the French an even break. You’re too good at what you do to make irresponsible potshots like this.

With best wishes from a devoted reader,

Alan McCornick
Berkeley, California, USA

Französische Botschaft
Währingerstraße 32
A-1090 Wien


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mother Wants You Home


from the Associated Press, October 19, 2006…

“The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops said Wednesday they are developing new guidelines for ministry to gays, reaffirming church opposition to same-sex marriage and adoption by the couples, while condemning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Go ahead. Read it again. “While condemning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

These rules/guidelines, AP tells us, “have been in development since 2002.”

“Catholic teaching is based on ‘objective moral norms,’ not prejudice.” But “gays should live chastely and celibately,” according to the drafters.

And who says catholics lack a sense of humor?

New guidelines? You mean, like when they start returning to the church in droves, best not burn them alive when there’s a newspaper reporter present?

And news? Jesus, this is news right up there with the fact that fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and men tend to put their trousers on one leg at a time.

You gotta love these guys. New guidelines, my ass.


I’ve got a suggestion for you bishop people. Give us some choice.

How about this: To be catholic, you must agree to one of the following:

1. Loss of hearing in both ears;
2. Removal of the part of the brain which recognizes color and the faces of friends;
3. Life in a cell without windows;
4. Removal of taste buds;
5. Removal of both feet at the ankles;
6. Life without sex;
7. Life without affection; or
8. Life without Mozart.

There. Given a choice of sacrifices, your numbers might grow a tad faster.

Thanks, guys.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Corresponding with Maurice Healy

I don’t know whether you caught the news that the Vatican recently insisted that Catholic Charities stop placing children for adoption in gay families. The order came to the Bay Area through former Archbishop Levada, elevated only a couple days ago to Cardinal for his loyalty. Levada saw close-up that several hard-to-place children were placed successfully in gay households during his tenure here. His years in close proximity with the thriving gay community of San Francisco should have removed all doubt that the church’s merging of sexual aggression with homosexuality is an intellectually bankrupt notion, to say nothing of bitter injustice. For him to take the side of the doctrinaire church fathers over what he must have seen here with his own eyes is the story of the insidious psychological destruction of the weak and vulnerable by institutional religion in a nutshell.

San Francisco’s response has been to say screw you, Mother Church. If you can’t not discriminate against us, then don’t lay claim to public funds to do it. Gay people and straight people of conscience don’t need to fund your bigotry. Adoption services, which cannot operate without taxpayer money, will continue to be carried out by various agencies, those whose concern for getting children out of orphanages and foster care and into loving welcoming families has a higher priority than shaming some of the folk with the open arms.

Welcome to this little corner of America’s culture wars. The archdiocese’s spokesperson, Maurice Healy, had a letter to the editor published this morning claiming that that withdrawal of taxpayer money to his organization is itself discrimination.

Such horseshit makes your eyes water.

I just wrote him this letter:

Mr. Maurice Healy
Director of Communications
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco
One Peter Yorke Way
San Francisco, CA 94109

March 27, 2006

Dear Mr. Healy:

I’m writing in response to your appeal for the world at large to allow your church to continue unimpeded to discriminate against gay men and women in the public arena, I suppose in the belief this will bring you closer to God.

In your letter to the editor in the March 27 San Francisco Chronicle you suggest that “(t)he Church should not suffer intolerance or discrimination because of its religious beliefs.”

If this were a boxing contest for the best example of the pot calling the kettle black, I have no doubt you’d capture and hold the title against any challenger.

The world knows two catholic churches. One has given us torture, war and oppression, greed and the lust for power, the arrogance of Vatican I. The other has given us the caritas of Catholic schools and hospitals, the solace of confession and the Eucharist, and the ecumenism of Vatican II.

While the compassionate church seeks to stay afloat, the intransigent church reflected in your letter continues to punch holes in the sinking ship. Your clergy are leaving you in droves and whole parishes have already drowned. Yet you cling to the conviction that the decayed medieval body you are speaking for is the only real church and you choke the language of rights to fit your purpose.

The world at large is now finally awakening to the realization that the demonization of gay people belongs on the same trashheap of history as the demonization of Jews. My sympathy goes to those in the ecclesia, the ordinary people of the Catholic Church, who are struggling to root out this hateful doctrine based on a willful ignorance of the human condition.

Join them, Mr. Healy. The love of God lives in gay people and their families. Don’t work to turn that love into something sordid. Find your church less in old men stuck in a darker time and more in the common decency of ordinary catholics, and your church will stay alive. Defend the faith and stop trying to conserve the inquisition.

Yours truly,

Alan J. McCornick


To this e-mail, I received the following response:

From: Maury Healy <[address deleted]>
Date: Mon, 9 Oct 2006 08:40:23 -0700
To: "Alan J. McCornick" <[address deleted]>
Conversation: Your letter to the Editor - October 6, 2006
Subject: Your letter to the Editor - October 6, 2006

You are mistaken. The Vatican document you refer to concerns solicitation during the sacrament of confession.

The Catholic Church is composed of human beings, and the faults of human beings will sometimes bring shame upon all.

Dear Mr. Healy:

Thank you for making the effort to correct my understanding. I will look more deeply into Crimen Sollicitationis. I know attempts to see it as the grounding for a policy of circling the wagons have failed in Worcester, Massachusetts, and other places.

You may have surmised my information came most recently from the BBC’s Sex Crimes and the Vatican. CNN had a similar program several years ago, I believe. I will be watching to see how this conflict plays out. Your work would be a lot easier, I’m sure, if the church had not given priority to protecting its reputation over healing its victims.

Thanks again for your response.


Alan McCornick


Your message to: HealyM@ <[address deleted]>
was blocked by our Spam Firewall. The email you sent with the following subject has NOT BEEN DELIVERED:
Subject: Re: Your letter to the Editor - October 6, 2006

Reporting-MTA: dns;
Received-From-MTA: smtp; ([])
Arrival-Date: Mon, 9 Oct 2006 09:42:21 -0700 (PDT)

Final-Recipient: rfc822; HealyM@ <[address deleted]>
Action: failed
Status: 5.7.1
Diagnostic-Code: smtp; 550 5.7.1 Message content rejected, UBE, id=16335-02-4
Last-Attempt-Date: Mon, 9 Oct 2006 09:42:22 -0700 (PDT)

Sunday, October 8, 2006

How to Shoot a Pink Elephant

Mark Leibovich, in today’s New York Times, tells us the Gay Republicans are having a rough time of it. Well boo freakin’ hoo, do you see a tear in this eye?

Party of Lincoln, my ass. How long has it been since Republican meant anything but getting out your rifle and shooting at the little critters in the road, those who couldn’t live by don’t-ask-don’t-tell included.

Leibovich’s piece has that line in it which hits me like an electric wire to the nether parts: “(Some) equated homosexuality with pedophilia, a link that has long outraged gay men and lesbians,” he writes. Long outraged us? Long outraged us? Are you on drugs? Slander is not something one should compare to a fashion with a time duration. But that's another story.

According to Leibovich, Gay Republicans are on the run, thanks to the bad judgment of one of “their own,” Mark Foley, whose attraction for the newly muscled caused him to commit political suicide.

Anybody who knows the actual figures knows this claim of a direct connection between homosexuality and child abuse is the “blood-drinker” lie of the age. Look it up. The figures are plain. Child abusers have a psychological disorder independent of their sexual orientation, to use that silly expression for lack of a better one.

We’re in a day and age when the big Goebbels lie is all the rage. Bush can tell us Iraq had weapons yadayada, the war is going swimmingly, and Rumsfeld, like Brownie, has done a helluva job. The Fox Network can put a picture of Mark Foley on the screen identified as “D-FL” in a program taped two hours before showing, not fix the error and never apologize for the mistake (Hey, Mac. I’ve got a great idea about how to pick up a few Republican votes from some of our dumber viewers.) And the religious machine is cranked up and running the lie that to be homosexual is to be sexually interested in children. Pick a source; they’re too many to cite, but just so you don’t think I’m making it up, try Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council. “The real concern about Foley's sexual predatory behavior toward an underage congressional page (turns out he was first thought to be 16, which is legal age, but now apparently he was 18, but that, too, is another story) is "the link between homosexuality and child sexual abuse."

Politics being the art of the possible, I understand compromise. Republicans who believe in small government (by which they mean small controls over robber barons and a giant military), like Israel, which thought it had to sell arms to the South African apartheid government to survive, have to do lots of things just to hold on to power, and nobody should expect it to be pretty.

But how low do you have to go? Foley had pictures around the house of himself with women. Is that political survival? You bet. Brian Bennett worked for Robert Dornan, one of the more conspicuously homophobic congressmen. One can only wonder what cognitive dissonance he must have experienced hearing Dornan routinely refer to gays as “sodomites” during the twelve years he worked for him, not just as “consultant” as some would have it, but as chief of staff.

Then there’s gay Kirk Fordham, who worked for Senator Mel Martinez (also a Republican from Florida) before working for Foley. I suppose in the land of Jeb Bush if you want access to power there’s little question how much crap you have to swallow, but Mel Martinez went after his political enemies for trying to include gays as victims of hate crimes.

Then there’s Rick Santorum, the nastiest homophobe of the lot. Dead set against gay rights. One of the strongest advocates for an amendment to prohibit gay marriage, an amendment which he referred to as the “ultimate homeland security.” And Santorum’s references to gays often imply a connection with bestiality and incest, as Leibovich points out. And who’s he got working for him? Robert Traynham, a gay man who thinks of Santorum as “a man of principle.” Probably he is. Just don’t let it matter that one of them is your destruction, fellah.

Back in the days when Republicans of honor and decency... Lowell Weickert comes to mind. So does Alan Simpson. John Danforth. Hell, there used to be gobs of them... it made some sense to be in the Republican Party even if much of it was against you, if you really believed in what it stood for.

Not any more. Not since the big lie has become the modus operandi of the boys on top. Now it’s “the base” which is coming for your souls, you poor pink Elephants, you Velvet Mafia enablers of this unspeakable mess we’re in. The Dobsons and the Falwells and the Robertsons – and the Santorums – they’re comin’ to git ya with the same broad brush with which we blame Arabs for the work of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the perpetrators of 9/11. You’re a fag and you like little boys. Out. Out. Get out of God’s own party, out of God’s own Homeland.

What am I supposed to say? Stay in? Continue to work in this wagon with one wheel already off and two coming loose? Work for this party which rescinded Clinton’s executive order allowing you to get a security clearance? Stay in the closet? Keep your date-a-model subscription current?

How about this instead. How about you come clean about being gay. Show a little personal integrity and stop working for those who would plough you into the ground to lower the tax burden on the top 1%. Find another group of folk to call your own – people who won’t take your way of loving and make it into something dirty, won’t call you names and make you out to be a molester of children despite all the evidence that you are not.

If you can’t work for the Democratic Party, at least don’t work against its never-ending struggle for civil rights and equality. At least stop working so hard for the party of liars your party has become.

Some day go back if you must when you will not be ashamed to be a Republican. May you and the rest of us all live long enough to see the day.

October 8, 2006

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Letter to J. Doyle

Dear Mr. Doyle:

I read your article in this morning’s Chronicle, “Pedophilia treatment is available but scarce – stigma a big hurdle” (10/4/06) with great interest. Since Mark Foley’s blunder and its devastating consequences have hit the front page, pedophilia has reentered the national consciousness and it is appropriate that you should take it on in your column. But I think you’re caught up in a terribly mistaken take on the topic.

I’ve been combing the news looking for evidence that Mark Foley ever had sex or put the make on pages under the age of sixteen. If such evidence comes to the surface, it will of course weaken my argument here, but the point will be the same. The age of consent in the District of Columbia is sixteen. Foley’s actions, unethical and distasteful as they are, do not constitute pedophilia. By blurring the line between pedophilia, or taking sexual advantage of a child, and sex with sexually mature young people whom the state has recognized as legally responsible for their own sexual behavior, you are driving into the ground the rational thinking that should surround the topic of pedophilia.

We can assume Mark Foley’s reasons for hiding his homosexuality certainly include the fact that it would keep him from a political career in the Republican Party. They probably also involve no small amount of self-loathing. Possibly the shame was induced in part by being molested as a young teenager. But your conclusion that it has made him the pedophile he is being taken for at the moment is all wrong. Mark Foley’s e-mail correspondence, which we seem to believe we have a right to read, is a conversation between two physically sexually mature males, one a 50-year old making a fool of himself, and one a normal horny teenager who likes the titillation of sexual innuendo. Where’s the pedophilia in this!

You take up a topic which you are not particularly well informed about. That’s forgivable, of course. You’re a journalist, not an expert in sexual disorders, and you don’t need to be an expert to tell an important story. But as a journalist, I’d expect you to spot your own limitations. Mentioning a district attorney who talks about the “danger” of “sexually violent predators” in the context of an article on the Foley debacle is not shedding light on the topic; it’s muddying the waters. “Taylor attributed Foley’s behavior to mental illness…Now he’s writing things to the child pages…Major mental disorders are not being diagnosed...” you write. Mr. Doyle, a 16-year old may be immature and vulnerable, but he’s not a child when it comes to sex. You are aware, I take it, that some places have lowered the age of sexual consent to as low as 12. Why have you ignored that fact in this discussion of pedophilia?

Please don’t mistake me for a defender of the Republican Party. My right arm would fall off if I ever pulled the lever for a Republican candidate. But the issue here is not pedophilia. It’s closetedness, it’s sexual immaturity, and ethically shady behavior including insincerity, hypocrisy, abuse of power, cover-up for political gain and possibly more. If you make this about turning a sexually immature man into a mentally ill man, you help scapegoat some poor sap and make this a problem of individual illness when this really ought to be a story about the abuse of power. Seriously, what’s your best guess about what will happen in time — that Foley will come to be treated as mentally ill? Or that he will come out like so many gay politicians (James McGreevey comes to mind) before him, make a pile on a book confessing his sins (David Brock?), tell us how he has grown, and who knows, maybe even follow Arianna Huffington into the Democratic Party! You will have written a story about something that went up in a puff of smoke and missed a story about power abuse, something that needs our constant close attention.

I think this country suffers terribly from its inability to distinguish between marijuana and heroin and its framing of drug dependency as a crime rather than an illness. Your framing of Foley’s bungle as pedophilia rather than abuse of power is a similar category error.

You’re a good journalist. You can do better than this.


Alan J. McCornick

in response to:

Jim Doyle, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 4, 2006

The scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley's solicitations of a Capitol page points to the difficulty of diagnosing and treating adults who are tempted to act out their sexual fantasies involving children, mental health and law enforcement experts said Tuesday.

And the recent sexual assaults of teenage girls and the slaying of one at a Colorado high school, as well as the killing of five young girls by a gunman in an Amish schoolhouse on Monday, highlight an issue that is equally vexing: how to prevent senseless acts of violence and sexual aggression against minors.

Both types of exploitive behavior toward children can be fueled by sexual orientation, depression, boredom or rage -- or a combination of these elements, experts said.

Undiagnosed or untreated mental illness is a common thread in pedophilia and violence against children. But often, those who need treatment feel stigmatized and don't know where to turn.

"What all these incidents have in common is a focus on minors as the objects of sexual coercion or sexual violence," said Rhonda James, executive director of Community Violence Solutions, which offers sexual-assault prevention, intervention and treatment in Marin and Contra Costa counties.

"These were not impulsive acts. (The gunmen) had to plan this out," she said. "There was probably an erosion of their mental health condition. ... For Foley, he kind of leveraged his power. I'm concerned that no one interrupted his overtures to young pages."

Foley, a Florida Republican, resigned amid news reports of his sexual advances toward a young male page. He is now seeking treatment for alcoholism and could face criminal charges.

Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said there is very little being done to prevent pedophilia and other sex-related crimes from happening in the first place.

"When it comes to pedophilia and other sexual disorders, we're still in the pre-Betty Ford era," he said. "We feel we can send them to prison and nothing else. We treat the alcoholic, even though he can get into a car and kill a family. But we've so demonized the word pedophilia that we don't recognize these individuals as human or deserving of treatment."

Pedophiles, who have a sexual orientation of being drawn toward children, don't necessarily act out their fantasies, and those who do may not have a history of prior criminal acts. Similarly, those who commit acts of extreme violence and sexual aggression against juveniles may not be pedophiles.

There has been little research into the causes of pedophilia.

"Many adults with pedophilia are victims grown older," Berlin said. "Their early exposure has warped their sexual development. Through no fault of his own, the person with pedophilia discovers who he is attracted to. It's not his fault, but he has a responsibility to do something about it."

There are relatively few sexual disorder clinics in the United States.

"You hear all the time where you can go for any other problem, but you virtually never hear where you can go for this kind of act," Berlin said. "Given the stigma we've attached to it, the last thing someone is going to do is ask for help. They may find themselves arrested rather than treated."

Treatment is aimed not at curing sexual disorders but at helping the person stop the unacceptable behavior. Patients are taught to resist giving in to such triggers as depression, to develop a positive support system including family and friends, and to make changes in their lifestyle to avoid situations of temptation.

With pedophilia, there is also medication. The most common drug used is Depo-Lupron, which lowers the patient's testosterone and decreases his sexual activity.

The U.S. Department of Justice has determined that, contrary to public perception, sex offenders generally have a lower rate of recidivism than others who commit serious crimes. But sometimes there are crosscurrents between pedophilia and violence.

Before he opened fire on the Amish schoolgirls, Charles Carl Roberts reportedly told his wife he had molested two young relatives 20 years ago. Police said that Roberts' elaborate gear suggested he might have been planning to sexually assault the girls.

"Not all sexual offenders are equal. Some are radically more dangerous," said San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Taylor.

Of the more than 100,000 registered sexual offenders in California, fewer than 600 are classified as sexually violent predators.

"When you have that combination of violence and sexual disorder, or a history of attacks on strangers, that's the worst of the worst," Taylor said. "These people should never see the light of day."

Taylor attributed Foley's behavior to mental illness rather than pedophilia.

"When people of that age suddenly get into trouble, their brains are not working well," he said. "Foley may have certain issues, but he got to a certain age without having priors. Now he's writing things to the child pages at the House? Regardless of the sexual interest, that is irrational behavior or manic behavior, without heed to the consequences."

Taylor attributed the recent school shootings to mental breakdowns rather than sexual motives. Both gunmen took their own lives.

"We have a mental health problem in this country," he said. "Major mental disorders are not being diagnosed, treated or controlled before something terrible happens."

E-mail Jim Doyle at

Monday, October 2, 2006

An Empire Run by Children

Front page news is the story of Mark Foley’s lust for young male flesh and what it’s doing to the Republican Party. There’s blood in the water and what a shark-feeding frenzy it is. I make no secret of my loathing for the Bush Administration and I’ve joined the Bush bashers routinely with almost every opportunity. This time, though, I want to reflect on what it means to be one of those sharks at lunch. Or, to use perhaps a better metaphor, I feel like the world is following the spotlight to one part of the stage, and missing action of much greater consequence being played out in the dark.

Look what’s happening here. Mark Foley is being institutionalized for having a drinking problem “and other behavioral problems.” A euphemism for pedophilia. To take anything less than quick decisive action at this point would only work against him. But let’s take a look at those so-called “behavioral problems.” The age of consent in Washington, D.C. is 16. Any monkeying around with a 16-year-old is not pedophilia; it’s sex between consenting adults. Even if Foley had actually engaged in sex with pages, and even if we grant that e-mailing messages with sexual innuendos is a form of sexual behavior, the issue is not pedophilia; it’s abuse of power and hypocrisy. But hypocrisy only to the degree Foley is a closeted homosexual and not forthcoming about the fact he misrepresents himself to his rightwing constituency, many of whom would tar and feather him for his sexuality if they could have at him.

Foley is being ridiculed for having stated publicly that he found pedophiles disgusting. This isn’t hypocritical. It’s not even insincere, necessarily. An adult who engages in sexual activity with willing teenagers over the age of consent can be just as readily disgusted as the next guy by adults who engage in sexual activity with unwilling or unknowing nine-year-olds. What this means is that once again we’re back hiding under our beds, hiding from one of America’s more prevalent native monsters – its infantile view of sexuality.

Foley is not psychologically disordered for getting turned on to young guys, for Christ’s sake! He’s feeling what any of the rest of us might feel under certain circumstances. Teachers, priests, boy scout leaders – any adult who works with young people – can discover an attraction for them growing out of close contact. There’s nothing wrong with that attraction and pretending it doesn’t happen keeps us from coming to terms with it. Things go awry, however, if we don’t stick to two hard and fast rules. First, you don’t use your power over a young person to make them do things against their will that they could conceivably come to regret. And second, you don’t break the law. Those rules, it strikes me, are pretty close to absolute, and if you can’t follow them, you ought not to be working with young people. To these rules I would strongly recommend two additional rules, not of law but of professional ethics. You don’t allow yourself to give preferential treatment or otherwise make an ass of yourself, and if your work involves representing the wishes of a particular constituency, you live up to the expectations of that constituency.

Clinton is being trotted out by the right these days for any number of purposes. Bush and Company are now trying to get out from under the failure to capture Osama bin Laden by claiming Clinton should have caught him first. In connection with the Foley case, at least one right winger, Brit Hume, is trying to put a positive spin on the affair by pointing out that Gerry Studds, Barney Frank and Bill Clinton all got away with it, while the Republicans took quick action. Never mind the inaccuracies in that statement. Look at the reminder of what happens to people who have sex and note that while nobody here is talking about sex with kids, we’re focusing on sexual behavior instead of on abuse of power. The reason Gerry Studds and Barney Frank “got away with it” is that their constituents did as I suggest we should do now. They asked whether it was about sex or power, decided on power, saw no abuse, and moved on. Ultimately, that’s what happened to Clinton, as well. Hume’s trumpeting Republican superiority because here, in Foley’s case, they’re nailing him for being sexual, is repeating the same mistake we make when we fill our jails with the drug addicted whom we put in a framework of criminality rather than a framework of illness.

Clinton, by doing the naughty under his desk in the Oval Office, was not guilty of my first two (hard and fast) rules. That explains why the impeachment proceedings were such an outrage. You don’t impeach people for ethical shortcomings, but for breaking the law. Foley, too, has not yet been determined to have broken any laws, and if it turns out that he has, they will probably be technicalities. He, like Clinton, needs to take full responsibility for letting his constituents down, for being unethical, possibly stupid, definitely imprudent, but not for illegal activity. What they both show is how readily Americans can go at people with the full force of the judiciary when what we ought to be doing is remarking on their immaturity and wishing we had elected people to office who were a little bit more grown up.

But here we go again, focusing on sex when the real wrongs being done are hypocrisies involved in grossly inappropriate behavior followed by clumsy and barefaced deceit in covering up the problems. When, oh when, will we ever get to the place where we can allow sex to be just another appetite which, like greed for sugar, carbohydrates and money, does not make us monsters, but simply not-ready-for-prime-time players.

Foley is being labeled by the Christian right (and quite a few others besides) as a sexual predator. I don’t want to take Foley’s side. He appears to have gone over the line in getting sexual. But what is truly offensive is the blame being attributed to his homosexuality. The inability to come to terms with one’s sexuality is a social problem that many homosexuals suffer from, but the problem lies in being out of step with social attitudes toward sexuality and not in sexuality itself. More importantly in this instance is that the lie is being repeated once again that sexual abuse of children is inherent in homosexuality, a lie as foul as the claim that blacks are given to laziness and violence and Jews to greed. If you want to know what gay-bashing looks like, here it is. Couldn’t be plainer or simpler or writ more large. Not to say more simple-minded.

These misrepresentations that minorities regularly have to contend with, like pepper thrown in the eyes, are hurtful and shameful. But the real damage is in the way they cast the light on the wrong issues. It’s not about sexuality. It’s about abuse of power.

Amy Berg has recently completed a documentary film which takes on Los Angeles Cardinal Mahoney for his part in hiding child abusers in his diocese for over twenty-five years. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) will not give her a permit to show a trailer for the movie to general audiences because of the content, even though the content of the trailer is careful about how the topic is presented. The latest incarnation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre will make it into the regular theaters, but Amy’s film may be restricted to art houses. Amy invited 600 members of the community to a showing, including members of the US Supreme Court, the District Attorney and City Attorney, but nobody showed up. They all showed up for Mahoney’s “Red Mass” , however, and Mahoney’s status as member of the ruling class continues unabated. The Catholic Church has moved on. Homosexuals are now being scapegoated for the scandal and hounded out of the priesthood, and scant attention, if any, is being paid to distinguishing between those who preyed on children and those who, in no way different from heterosexual priests who find sexual opportunities with women of the parish, simply broke their vows of chastity and often expressed a sexuality tied to love, compassion and affection. With Foley, too, we’re very likely to go on missing the woods for the trees. We will nail Foley for the wrong reasons and forget the problem is our inability to take sex in stride and curtail the abuse of power.

The Foley story is big at the moment, and there is more than one distraction from what I am arguing should be the main foreground issue. Salon, and even John Stewart have said or implied that the Foley story might be working as a diversion from the bungled terror war and the infinitely more consequential fact that the United States Legislature has just granted the president the power to arrest non-citizens without habeas corpus, to torture prisoners and to try them without revealing their accusers, and possibly even to execute them without due process. The Foley scandal, bad as it is for Republicans, might actually mitigate outrage against this abrupt departure from democratic practices and thus actually improve GOP odds going into the election. I think there’s fire behind that smoke, but I find the idea it’s a Republican plot pretty far-fetched. Still, it’s a distraction.

We need shed no tears for Mr. Foley. Like James McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey who retired almost two years ago after having been outed as a gay man, Foley will no doubt be getting lucrative book offers once he “recovers” from his “psychological disorder.” McGreevey seems to have found his integrity at last. OK, settling down with a gay lover and leaving the homophobic Catholic Church for the gay-friendly Episcopal Church may not be everybody’s idea of integrity, but you have to admit it suggests he is getting his shit together. Foley, on the other hand, has yet to step up to the starting line. Despite his record of supporting gay causes to a degree which has long alarmed many of the extreme right, he once declared, after being outed, that any charges about his homosexuality were “revolting and unforgivable.” If he means getting caught is revolting and unforgivable, that’s his tough luck. If he means being homosexual is revolting and unforgivable, all I can say is “poor baby.” Lining up with arch homophobe Rick Santorum, voting to impeach Bill Clinton, backing Ashcroft’s attacks on civil liberties, and to me most egregiously, voting for the foully mislabeled “Defense of Marriage Act” makes him a self-hating gay example par excellence, the kind of guy Christopher Isherwood once wrote about as the most dangerous of men, the kind that would work faster and harder to punish his own kind to demonstrate for all the world to see that he’s “not one of them.” What a strong argument Foley makes for outing.

There’s where I think the heart of this story lies. People don’t have to demonstrate maturity before running for political office, God knows. Foley isn’t the first child in a man’s clothing to make the laws we have to live by, and he won’t be the last. But as long as we have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy in our military while gay men in Spain can be married in a naval uniform by the mayor of Seville, and as long as we have heterosexuals who divorce at a rate above 50% writing “Defense of Marriage” laws to keep gay people from having their marriages recognized by the state, and as long as men with homosexual feelings hold office by referring to those feelings as revolting and unforgivable, we’re going to continue to trip over our sexual immaturity and lend credence to the charge that America is an empire run by children.

October 2, 2006

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thoughts on Elfriede Rinkel

I’ve been thinking about the story of Elfriede Lina Rinkel, the 83-year old woman just deported to Germany for hiding the fact that sixty-two years ago, in 1944, she left her factory job to become a guard at the concentration camp at Ravensbrück.

How’s this for a CV?

born: 1922
went to work at Ravensbrück: 1944, age 22
went to US: 1959
married German Jewish refugee Fred Rinkel: 1962, age 39,
Fred dies: 2004, age 88
dirty secret discovered: 2006

Behind those major events in her life, Elfriede lived 44 years with a man people knew as “the love of her life,” a Jewish man who had trained in Berlin for a career as an opera singer, before the Nazis cut that short. In San Francisco, he worked in a tie shop and as a singing bartender. There is a gravestone in Colma with both their names on it.

"I never talked about this with my husband,” she said. “There was nothing to talk about. You don't talk about things like that, never. That is the past."

One can only imagine what information passed between them during the nearly half a century of their intimate relationship. She evidently knew all about how he was hounded out of their homeland, and found his way to Shanghai and eventually to San Francisco. He, on the other hand, apparently never had a clue that all the while his wife was hiding her past as a dog-handler at Ravensbrück the last ten months of the war, one of 958 women employed at a facility infamous for medical experimentations on women and public beatings which occasionally led to death.

So what’s the story behind the story? Did she marry Fred and donate to Jewish charities to atone for her crimes? Or simply because she fell in love with him? How can one live out a life of such loneliness, and possibly guilt and fear, that keeping such a secret must represent? Or is the question how is one capable of such denial? Why did she take the job at Ravensbrück? Apparently not out of any feelings that it was a good job, but because it paid more than her previous job as a factory worker. Why did she not refuse? One is hard pressed to argue she didn’t know what was going on, but was it really a question of distancing? Of “just doing her job,” the often expressed explanation for one’s participation in making the wheels of the Third Reich go round?

How is she taking the exposure of her dark little secret? She shows no remorse, insists she never hurt any of the prisoners, never used the dogs on them, only watched to see they didn’t run away. One would have to know more than I do about how the camp was run to understand the ring of that story, or how she has reconstructed the events of her life as a guard to keep her conscience from eating her alive.

It’s easy to judge this woman on surface details – the fact that she understood what she had done is evident from her decision never to apply for U.S. citizenship. Any exploration of her past might have scared up the information she wanted hidden. Because it is not yet clear whether she has broken any German laws, and is still a German citizen, she was able to make her way back to Germany to live with her sister near Mönchengladbach. There is nothing in the works as yet, but according to a spokesperson of the agency that prosecutes war crimes in the Cologne area, and has the authority to proceed, the possibility of that is open.

She was tripped up because we have entered the computer age when bits and pieces of information can be assembled by agencies such as Homeland Security and the Special Investigations Office of the Justice Department. Since 1979, they have won cases against 102 people who took part in Nazi persecution and deported 62 of them.

As a child I acquired the attitude of horror and disgust at the revelation of Nazi atrocities in Germany that marks the post World War II American mainstream culture in which I grew up. Missing from my history classes was any effort to draw parallels with the Americans who stood by and watched the genocide of the American Indian and the enslavement of Africans in their midst. All attention was focused on the land of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, and the question was always, “How could this have happened in such a civilized land?”

The scales are fast falling from American eyes on how this could have happened as we are now daily exposed to ways in which people have been kidnapped and tortured under the guise of fighting terrorism, the Geneva Conventions have been labeled quaint holdovers from a more innocent age, and most Americans, politicians and their constituents alike, show little inclination to bring the war in Iraq to a halt – despite the fact that consensus has pretty much been built around the claim it has increased terrorism and hatred against the United States, not decreased it.

The two German authors probably best known in the United States are Günter Grass and Bernhard Schlink. I met Günter Grass in 1963 when he came to talk to a group of us at the SS barracks in Berlin where I was stationed. It was now the home of the American occupiers of the city, and Grass was touted, thanks to his novel Tin Drum, which had made such a splash when it appeared five years earlier, as a representative of the new denazified Germany. In 1999 he received the Nobel Prize for literature. I was still living pretty much with the good German/bad German framework under which I was raised.

If that framework were still intact, he might have slipped dramatically back into the bad German category after the shocking revelation last month that he had hidden his membership in the Waffen SS all these years, while flinging mud at his countrymen who had not managed to keep their past sins a secret. That framework gave way years ago and was replaced by an awareness of the power of peergroup persuasion, the concept of zeitgeist, the understanding through life experience that we are far more likely to bumble our way through life one day at a time than become heroes, and the realization that the current American culture war is not a battle between red states and blue, Republicans and Democrats, or even conservatives and liberals, but between those whose black and white thinking cause them to condemn tout court people living with human complexity on the one hand and those with a more compassionate take on the human race, on the other. Benedict XVI, incidentally, has suffered the same abuse for his youthful association with the Nazis, although Hitler Youth membership is a considerably less alarming skeleton in the closet than Waffen SS membership. For all the reasons to oppose this man, his following the pack as a youth, it strikes me, should not be one of them.

The second-best-known German author, at least to American audiences, after Günter Grass, is Bernhard Schlink, possibly due to his being featured on Oprah. Schlink’s most famous novel is The Reader (Der Vorleser), a powerful story about a young man who falls in love with Hanna Schmitz, a woman much his senior who turns out to have been a concentration camp guard. No doubt the parallels are being drawn all over the place between Hanna and the case of Elfriede Rinkel. In the fictional version, at least we have details sufficient to justify condemnation of the woman. In Elfriede’s real-life scenario, we are left to speculate, and that provides a Rohrschach test to identify at least three types of personalities: those with a greater willingness to throw stones; those who feel as Agent Eli Rosenbaum, the man who ended Elfriede’s last years in hiding, apparently did, that there can be no statute of limitations on Nazi war criminals; and those – probably the majority of us – who want to get on with our lives, avoid selecting one evil to prosecute while so many others still stand, and allow a lonely old lady to mourn her husband and find some quiet at the end of her life.

The power of Schlink’s novel lies in the complexities of character and motive. Hanna, who liked to be read to, both by concentration camp victims and by her young lover years later, turns out, was illiterate, and found the challenge of swimming against the current of Nazi values beyond her capacity. We get to wonder now whether Elfriede, or anybody else, should use innocence or ignorance as an excuse. Although morality is not entirely a function of education, moral action often is. When we learn that more than 30% of those who watch Fox News believe Bush administration statements which are demonstrably false, in contrast to only 11% of those who watch PBS, it is not too big a stretch to understand how morality is not simply about knowing right from wrong, but about knowing how to identify what is right from what is wrong and how to avoid believing only what you want to believe. I am referring to the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as well as Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaeda.

The plethora of recent evidence of human folly as so many of us line up behind one ideology or identity or another should give us pause in our urge to judge the Elfriede Rinkels of the world. Like Günter Grass, who has split the world in two between those who say his story is one of hypocrisy and those, like the Polish mayor of Gdansk (Danzig), where Grass was born, who refused recently to withdraw the city´s recognition of his lifelong contribution to democracy in his present and former homelands, Elfriede will have her detractors and her defenders.

At present, it is a matter of degree. Only those with a zero tolerance for human folly and an inhumanly rigid code of justice can fault the pope. Grass, too, while he may never regain his moral voice, was probably more about being a macho kid than a sinister racist. Elfriede, ironically, is the hardest to defend. And yet she may be the most innocent of all three.

To the split between conservatives and progressives, the red and the blue, the open minded and the closed, we may now add the standoff between those for whom a respect for justice and the memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust is a primary value, and those who feel it should come second to pity for a lonely, depressed, and tired old lady.

And yet… it would be nice to hear her say she’s sorry.

September 26, 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006

Holy Inquisition, Robin

Holy Inquisition, Ratzi, what were you thinking!

I thought you had some savvies. My Lord, what a blooper! To tell all the world that Muslims were prone to violence! Boy, I’ll bet you’ve lost some sleep over that little slip of the tongue.

Hope you at least got a chuckle over the fact that some were so incensed that you should suggest some Muslims could get violent that they took to burning the churches of your oldest rivals, the Greek Orthodox brothers. (Nobody’s chuckling over the killing of Sister Leonella.)

You represent so much that is medieval. You’re patriarchal, arrogant, anti-modern. Some of your party line stances (the notion of infallibility, reduction of all sex to reproduction) are silly; others (your tendency to excommunicate the most compassionate and creative of your priests) stupid and self-destructive; still others (the assertion that there is something wrong with homosexuality) stunning in its irrational hurtfulness. And your practice of circling the wagons to protect child abusers rather than the abused makes a mockery of your claim to be a Christian organization. You’re really quite a piece of work, Mr. R. There is much in your ways to throw people into the camp of anybody who wants to have a whack at you.

This time, though, there is irony in the fact that you should now be twisting in the wind for forgetting you’re no longer an academic but a politician. It makes you human somehow, this fallibility which we are all subject to. I’m fighting off a feeling of considerable sympathy for your plight. I know you didn’t mean to say that Muslims are bad folk. You’ve eaten crow over the Church’s long history of anti-Semitism; I know you want to look for the good in Muslims as well.

But let me suggest something. If you’re going to make history by being the very first pope to say he’s sorry for stepping on his tongue, could you give some thought to what a real apology looks like?

Your spokesman, Cardinal Bertone, tells us that Your Holiness “sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful.”

Honey, that ain’t no apology.

I thought the Japanese couldn’t be beat for issuing apologies which are not apologies, but man, you could give them some lessons. “Could have sounded offensive!!!” Are you on drugs? That’s right up there with “Things have not necessarily worked out to our mutual satisfaction” – my favorite Japanese apology of recent times.

No, dear. An apology goes like this. “I made a mistake. I did something wrong, and I can see that now. I wish I hadn’t done it. I will try not to make that mistake again.” You know what I mean. It’s what you guys with your confessional booths call contrition.

“I’m sorry you took it the wrong way,” like “I’m sorry you’re such a jerk” is not an apology. Admitting to the world you got caught with your cassock down is not an apology.

You know what I would do if I were you and I had fallen into the trap of forgetting how to be diplomatic for a moment? I’d say something like this:

“Look, fellahs. You Muslims, like us Christians and those Jews, have your good guys and your horse’s asses. Some of you, like some of us, do more than talk the talk of Jewish justice, Christian love and Islamic peace. You walk the walk as well. And some of you don’t. My mistake was to quote somebody who confused Islam with the Islamists who pervert it, the folk who misread the Koran and run out and kill and maim. I should never have implied that represents true Islam. After all, our Scriptures are full of suggestions that God wanted us to slay our enemies the Philistines (i.e., you guys), so I should not have been so quick to throw stones. Forgive me for focusing on the ass of the elephant instead of the head. That was stupid of me. Let me say here and now I think it’s a major world tragedy that those of us who love God are so far apart and that we don’t work harder together to solve the problems of war, poverty and injustice. Accept my apology. And please give me a chance to show you I meant no harm. Give me a chance to make up for my insensitivity.”

That would be an apology.

But you could never do that, could you. You are a prisoner of Vatican cake-and-eat-it-too power-think. You want to suggest you made an apology but not actually deliver one. That way your dignity and authority are not threatened and you can make those you offended look like ungrateful wretches for continuing to be pissed off.


Just when I was beginning to soften and develop a touch of sympathy for you and that Neanderthal institution of yours.

Everybody back to your seats. False alarm.

September 18, 2006

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Bob and Rose - A Film Review

I just rented a British made-for-TV DVD the other night called Bob and Rose, which is probably not on very many people’s radar any more. It was written about five years ago by Russell T. Davies, the man who created Queer as Folk, and will be even better known to select audiences for his revival of Dr. Who. I don’t know how Bob and Rose played in Britain, but unlike Queer as Folk, it didn’t seem to make much of a splash outside. It played on America’s Logo Channel, which many have criticized for being a dumping ground for not- ready- for- prime- time GLBT-themed productions. That may be American provincialism speaking – it did win best drama, best actor and best actress awards at the Monte Carlo TV Festival, and several British comedy and indie awards. Also keeping it obscure is the possibility that American and other non-British audiences find little to connect with in the Manchester local scene.

But it may also be that the subject matter still strikes too many mainstream people as bizarre. It’s about a totally gay man (a “Kinsey-6”) who falls in love with a woman and the effect it takes on their separate networks of friends and family. Whatever the reason, it’s a pity. It’s sweet and sensitive and funny and should be seen, if not for all the usual entertainment reasons, for the fact it takes the discourse over homosexuality and gay identity a step ahead of where most gay people themselves would probably want to take it.

When Anne Heche “married” Ellen DeGeneres, the world of popular culture and society watchers was surprised to hear her say, “I’ve never fallen in love with a woman before; I don’t think I’m a lesbian; I just happened to fall in love with Ellen.” And when the two broke up some time later, Anne went back to being a normal heterosexual woman and quickly paired herself with a man again.

To hear the talk on such goings-on is to realize how completely we tangle ourselves in the webs of the categories we create. In this case, we have gay, straight and bisexual. Anne moves from straight to bi to straight again. Ellen remains at gay from start to finish. But when you look at what you’ve got with the labels gay and straight and bi in this case, you soon see they are not very useful categories at all. Why, for example, do we have a category for bisexual but not for somebody who is straight all the way all the time except for one period in her life? Or do we create a new subcategory of bi and call it “person-triggered homosexual” as opposed to “gender-triggered homosexual”? That, in turn, will only raise the question of whether a “person-triggered homosexual” differs in any significant way from a “person-triggered heterosexual.”

And that brings us to the argument made by folk who want to eliminate the categories of gay/straight/bi altogether. Which brings us back to the topic of civil rights and the politics of identity. If there were no homophobia, no religious activists seeking to withhold gay rights and turn back the clock on social recognition of gay partnerships, there would probably be a fairly rapid falling away of the borders between gay and straight and bisexual. Who would give a wuss?

Which is what the story of Bob and Rose is all about. And why England, like much of continental Europe, is many years ahead of the U.S. in providing a safe and secure place for its gay citizens to live and prosper. As an American, I watched Bob and Rose with a sad awareness that America continues to fall farther and farther behind the other democracies it once thinks it led.

In the telling of the story, Davies hits all the activist buttons he hit in Queer as Folk. Gays are good people, most of them, except when they’re not. Funny people, for the most part. Their straight friends have easily as many hangups – more actually, when you see how often gays take things in stride that straights stumble over. But there are friendships across the divide. And there are loved ones, mothers in particular, who go to the wall for their gay children and take on the hero roles in the gay community.

Bob (Alan Davies – no relation to Russell T. Davies, as far as I know), a Manchester schoolteacher, falls in love with Rose (Lesley Sharp, known for her role in The Full Monty), a secretary struggling with a good man boyfriend she doesn’t love and a mother in need of her mothering. Bob’s mother is the mother of gay dreams, a woman who organizes protest marches for gay rights and lives a life of 110% support for her gay son. His father is another story. Resigned to having a gay son, he comes alive with the discovery that this gay son has taken to a relationship that may well last with a woman who might provide grandchildren. And as Bob’s former gay lover remarks, “here they all are, out campaigning for their gay children, and all it takes is for one of us to fall in love with a woman to show it was all a sham.”

He’s wrong, actually. Bob’s mother takes a while to warm up to Rose, and the story plays with the reversal of the usual disappointment when mom discovers her son’s sexuality. She cried when she first learned he was gay; now she’s about to cry upon learning he is not. But he is. But I’ve said that.

Queer as Folk was instantly celebrated in Britain, America and no doubt elsewhere for its open enthusiastic celebration of gay sex. It has been referred to more than once as gay soft-porn for its shots of gorgeous nude bodies rolling in the lofts and backrooms. It’s more gay soap-opera than porn, however, and so is Bob and Rose. The situations are highly contrived. The acting is terrific, so you don’t mind the absurd coincidences and the situations, like Mother’s discovery at the altar that the man she is about to marry is a crook, which go way over the top. Or the absurd quick and easy rehabilitation of a bad-guy character just to make a happy ending all around. Queer as Folk pretty much stays with full approval of the young frantic barhopping crowd, with occasional suggestions that there might be love elsewhere. Bob and Rose makes plain that it’s not about “might;” it’s virtually certain that love will be found in relationships and not in meat markets, and it’s not about hierarchies of relationships, gay and straight; it’s about knowing real love when you see it in any of its many forms. Canal Street in Manchester has evolved from where it’s at to where it really isn’t at, actually.

Despite the pressure of gay chauvinism in Bob’s network and more than a little homophobia in Rose’s, and two friends from hell on Bob’s side working full time to sabotage their relationship, it grows and lifts them above the crowd.

What you’re left with is a story written by a gay man of a romance between a man and a woman that anybody, gay or straight, could only wish for themselves. The all too common gay take on the film, as evidenced in the blogs and reviews, that this is some sort of sell-out to heterosexuality, is quite mistaken. It doesn’t take long for it to sink in that you’re looking through a window on a world where gays are normal and ubiquitous and homophobes are idiots and creeps, and that the real goal for the gay community maybe ought to be letting one’s attitudes catch up with one’s principles. If you’re really for liberation, for freedom of association and approval of any and all healthy human relationships, and not just for a zero-sum game of gay rights, where I get back at your disapproval by out-disapproving you, you should want to be at Bob and Rose’s wedding and hope they invite you at least to baby sit, if not become aunts or uncles to, their kids.

August 5, 2006

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Time to Lie

Lots of talk about The Big Lie going around. Mr. Goebbels gets the credit for the turn of phrase. Obviously he didn’t own it. If he did, the United States of America would be paying whopping royalties these days. Look at the polls which indicate huge numbers of Americans believe that Bush did a bang-up job with the Katrina disaster, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Saddam’s arsenal, that the reason we went to war in Iraq was that Saddam wouldn’t let inspectors in, that the Al Qaeda operatives now in Iraq were there all along, that tax relief for the rich has left lower income Americans better off, that no child is being left behind in American schools. This sinister administration has discovered an important truth. Lying works. You just gotta keep it up, and eventually people will believe you.

If you have any inclination toward depression, this evidence of homo erectus dysfunction ought to pitch you into the darkness. Thank God there are crazy people running around like Cindy Sheehan, who has just bought property in Crawford, Texas, the better to function as a thorn in the side of the Liar-in-Chief.

My vote for the day, though, for best Big Lie has to do with something called the DADT policy. That’s “Don’t ask/don’t tell” and it refers to the army’s policy toward gay people in the military. If you don’t tell us you’re gay (i.e., if you lie and make efforts to act as if you’re not), then we won’t ask. Not what I learned to do in Sunday School when they told me helping somebody else lie was lying too.

The problem with this policy showed up recently in the discharge of this guy from Tennessee named Bleu Copas. Love the name, by the way. Ain’t hard on the eyes, either, for that matter. But I digress.

Bleu’s blues started when his commanding officer, one Lt. Col. James Zellmer, got an e-mail saying, “I want you to get this guy Bleu Copas out of the army because he’s gay. And if you don’t, “I will inform your entire battalion of the information that I gave you.” Signed, John Smith.

Well, what’s a light colonel to do when faced with such a threat? Break the “don’t ask” rule, obviously. “Well, are you gay?” he asked Bleu. “No,” answered Bleu, lying as he was supposed to to follow the “don’t tell” rule.

But John Smith didn’t let up, and eventually investigators called Bleu in and interrogated him. “Are you gay?” “Do you know any gay people?” “Are you involved in community theater?”

Bleu saw the writing on the wall, got a lawyer, and eventually decided to accept an honorable discharge, knowing he and probably friends of his would suffer if he tried to swim upstream on this issue.

I read about him in a gay newspaper from Eastern Tennessee, where Bleu appeared and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” at some function. Apparently this guy’s got musical talent. And patriotism. Sort of like these priests defrocked by the pope for their work for the poor in Latin America against fascist governments which the church wants them to support instead. Seems lot of them remain loyal catholics. A sweeter gentler kind of dysfunctional homo whatever.

So this is maybe not the happy ending Bleu Copas wanted to his army career, but he’ll be all right. Wish I could say the same for this place called America. It loses one of the men it trained at the Defence Language Institute to speak Arabic. And Bleu, curiously, turns out to be only one of fifty-five such skilled people. Out of 300 “linguists” discharged for the sin of being born with urges to express affection in ungovernmental ways.

Arabic speakers? Do we need those guys? Apparently not. Do we need to worry about the thousands of taxpayer dollars it took to train them? Apparently not. And do we need to worry this guy is losing his job because of a slander (oh God, please let me live to see the day when being called a Presbyterian is a slander)? Apparently not. By an anonymous patriot? Apparently not.

If anybody is to blame here, it’s probably the victim. Shouldn’t have tried to serve his country and risk ticking off some closet homosexual expressing his self-loathing. God knows I’ve known dozens of those. Best guess, though, about the identity of John Smith is that he is a jilted lover.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you’re gay and you make love with somebody you should do like the preying mantises do and eat him up after coitus.

Makes as much sense as all this other crap in this Era of the Big Lie.

July 28, 2006


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lakoff on Freedom

George Lakoff spoke at the Congregational Church last night to a larger than usual crowd. The Congregational Church offers its space to Cody’s Bookstore for what has turned into a series of lectures on politics, religion and the culture wars, which puts the church at or close to the center of progressive politics in this country. Lakoff is turning out to be one of the more articulate voices of that center, as attested to by the much larger than usual crowd. And his position as one of Nancy Pelosi’s advisors. Clearly the word is getting around that the man is on to something.

Lakoff was pushing his latest book, Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea. There are several good reviews of it on Amazon , and a negative one by Publisher’s Weekly, so let me review his talk and not the book itself.

If you’re still reading, it’s likely you know Lakoff’s contribution as a cognitive scientist to an understanding of the lay of the land in American political thought. He is known in academic circles for his study of metaphor. Like Chomsky, he is a linguist who has turned his attention to politics. Unlike Chomsky, though, his work in politics is still part of his work as a linguist. His work as a cognitive scientist has found its way out of the ivory tower and into mainstream politics.

The book that marked this turn in his career in the mid-80s is Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, a book which was followed by the more accessible, Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, which contained a foreword by Howard Dean, and has been described as a “pocket manifesto” for the left. Both books contain Lakoff’s core idea, that the reason the country has fallen into the lap of the right wing is that they have hit on the secret of “framing” issues in a way that plays to America’s fears and ambitions, while the left continues to act in the mistaken belief that a rational discussion of the issues is the way to go, a decision which leaves them in the dust.

Some reviewers have complained Whose Freedom? is recycled thought. If you've read him carefully, that's true. He evidently thought there was a call for a shorter and clearer example of his basic thesis that there are two opposing conceptualizations of freedom and they must be understood if we are to see why we are constantly talking not to each other, but past each other. Patricia de Jong, the host and introducer of Lakoff actually complained of the difficulty of reading Moral Politics, and I have no doubt there is work to be done to find a way to reach the widest possible audience..

In a nutshell, for those of you still unfamiliar with Lakoff’s thought, he posits that an understanding of metaphor is important to understanding our behavior. We tend to think in terms of fundamental metaphors. In the case of politics, the chief metaphor for government is that of the family. All nations do this in the age of the nation-state. We talk of the “Fatherland” or “Motherland,” we build institutions like “Homeland Security,” we think of “fraternity” alongside “equality” and “liberty.”

What has happened in America, Lakoff says, is we have split into two camps on the basis of our notion of how the national family should be conceived and run. Two notions of parenting. On the one hand there is the strict authoritarian father. His job is to hold the family together, guide it and protect it. In this image, the world is a hostile place and for the family to be safe, it needs to obey the father. Mother too. All members of the family need to be punished when getting out of line because this is serious business. The family gets ahead through hard work and sheer willpower, and by being smart and recognizing accomplishments. This patriarchal view of the universe is the one adopted by the right, and it explains, among other things, what was explained in Thomas Frank's What’s the Matter with Kansas? – the reason why the poor often support issues against their economic self-interest.

The left is working on a different model, that of the nurturant parent. While the strict parent model is gendered male, the nurturant parent is not gendered. There can be one or more parents of either sex. In the strict parent model, decisions are made by “the decider,” while in the nurturant parent model, they are made collectively as much as possible.

Cause and effect are seen differently. In the strict parent model, causes are simple, people are bad or good, good people must fight evil people, people succeed because they work hard, criminals get punished and hard work is rewarded. In the nurturant parent model, cause is complex and systemic. Problems must be understood through negotiated meaning and worked out collectively. The former sees reward and punishment as obvious responses to situations; the latter speaks instead of compassion and longer-term group harmony.

I’ve spent this much time on Lakoff’s thesis because it is the heart of all of his talks these days. And just one last comment before I talk about the talk. Lakoff’s new book originated from a careful study of Bush’s second inaugural address, where he used the word freedom more than 40 times. Lakoff calls that speech a work of art. It starts with the universal understanding of freedom, which both sides share, and by the time Bush leaves the universal ground concept on which we all agree for the right wing strict parent model of freedom, he has his audience hooked.

Lakoff is a good public speaker. He is a model of articulateness – the skill of saying the most in the best way with the fewest words – and he has an impressive ability to grasp the real question behind the actual question from his audience. And it’s obvious he has taken on some sort of guru status, at least to this Berkeley crowd.

I can only wonder if he is up to this. People want him to spell out all the steps to taking back the government; he insists on elucidating the cognitive theory which democrats need to understand to come up with their own steps, and thus, ironically, illustrates the dilemma he articulates between short clear answers and complex understanding. The democrats are at a disadvantage because their notion of what counts requires elaboration. To the left freedom has a history of endless expansion of liberties, from suffrage limited to landowners to all men, from men only to women, from whites only to blacks. It requires negotiated meaning. The republicans, on the other hand, can work off deep-seated emotions of fear and anger and express themselves convincingly in bumper-sticker, sound-bite, brevity, because they have staked a claim to the semantic territory.

“How can we do what they do?” one questioner asked. “There is no shortcut,” Lakoff answered. The ground must be re-seeded. You can’t work with sound-bites if the concepts referred to are no longer there. Once people have defined freedom as the authoritarians (another word for “strict parents”) have, it’s all over.

Lakoff gave an example of this “authoritarian” definition of freedom. The new pope, Benedict XVI, a billiant philosopher, well-schooled in Jesuitical reasoning, according to Lakoff, has reached the conclusion that a woman who has an abortion is limiting her own freedom.

Benedict is coming from Aristotle’s notion that all things have “essences.” The essence of a tree is to grow tall (so you can climb it), grow leaves (so you can shade yourself with it), and to be made of wood (so you can burn it and warm yourself from it). The essence of a woman is to give birth. If a woman has an abortion, she is working against that essence. Freedom is defined as going with the flow of your essence, in Aristotelian terms. Ergo, a woman committing an abortion is giving up her freedom.

In Bush’s view, the essence of a democracy is the freedom to grow and prosper. Limitations on that growth, whether against the freedom of the marketplace or in almost any kind of government regulation, works against that essential freedom.

Liberals, progressives (the labels are always problematic) come from a different definitional starting place. Freedom, to them, involves responsibility not to limit the freedom of others. Government regulation is necessary against robber barons, unscrupulous business practices, etc. And when the two talk, and use words like freedom and liberty they are usually unaware they are working from different concepts.

What needs to be done, Lakoff insists, is we have to appeal to the mass of people currently satisfied to allow the strict authoritarian notion of freedom to sit unquestioned in the subconscious. We have to revitalize concepts such as commonwealth before we can begin to hope people will revitalize a sense of responsibility and civic duty. To the right, the left’s notion of freedom is license – undisciplined self-interest. To the left, the right’s notion of freedom is license – undisciplined self-interest. We don’t disagree on the problem. We disagree over the need for a single paternal force in bringing discipline back into our lives.

Everybody knows the power to control the topics in a conversation is as important as having facts at your fingertips. When you control the topics, you can work to your own strengths. The right knows how to speak to the average citizen’s fear of license by tweaking their revulsion of abortion and unwanted pregnancy as well as newly evolved definitions of family. Once there, it has no trouble getting them to associate drugs with criminality rather than illness; it fits the simpler causal model of a bad man doing bad things rather than the systemic causal model which requires a more complex interpretation of significance. And it is able to define immigration as a problem of lawbreaker immigrants (single actors doing bad: breaking the law) rather than a problem of the unlawful employment of immigrants (multiple actors doing good: expanding the economy) and the consumption of the service of immigrants (i.e., all of us – and how can we possibly blame all of us?)

The left too, has a fear of license. It’s just that their focus is on the license of those in authority. What has to happen is that the left has to learn to talk to the fear of license on the part of the average person and redirect it to seeing the solution as greater social responsibility, not more unfettered freedom to move against the common good.

The great move in our society from mainstream churches to Pentecostal (what we used to call “holy rollers”) and Baptist bodies where people wave their arms and sing and cry ought to make it clear something is going on, and it isn’t rational thinking. We are dealing with fear, and frustration, and anger, and confusion. Lakoff (the previous comment is mine, not his) illustrates this with a criticism of John Edwards – a good man still hung up on talking economics to people who are no longer listening.

So much for the thrust of Lakoff’s argument.

The highlight of the evening for me came from another direction. Apparently unaware that George Lakoff is Jewish, a woman stood up and asked, “Everybody’s talking these days about toxic religion. Can you give any advice to a Christian like me who wants to get people to focus on the message of Jesus’ love in the New Testament, rather than going on endlessly about an Old Testament God?”

George Lakoff didn’t miss a beat. “You know,” he said. “If your are raised as a religious Jew, you get used to the idea that your time studying the Torah will be spent reading one single line followed by sometimes dozens of pages of commentary. Self-contradicting commentary. The good schools try to include everything ever written of note on the subject. You never come out of a study of the scripture thinking there is only one literal way to read it. Quite the contrary.”

“Let me give you an example,” he said. And he told the story of Abraham and Isaac. Most people, he said, use that story to illustrate what a wonderful obedient servant of God Abraham was, to be willing to sacrifice his beloved son on demand.

“That’s not the way I learned it,” Lakoff said. “I came to see Abraham as an idiot. God comes to Abraham holding the knife in his hand and says, “Shmuck! What’s the matter with you? That’s not the way it’s supposed to go! Can’t you think for yourself? Must I do everything for you? Send an angel down to stay your hand? Geesh!”

Wonder if the good Christian lady got the point. It’s not really about Jewish vs. Christian values. The battle is over whether Enlightenment values should prevail or the values of the patriarchial authoritarians, religious or otherwise. Whether one fits the abrahamic tradition into an enlightenment context or the other way around.

July 20, 2006

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Lefty Religion

I went to hear Robin Meyers pitch his new book last night, Why the Christian Right is Wrong. I might have let it pass as one of now dozens of books on the same topic, all preaching to the choir, but I noted that on the Amazon reviews, the book was endorsed by my three favorite Christian preachers (no, I’m not swinging your member in the tea, as they say in Russian): Bill Moyers, John Shelby Spong, and Desmond Tutu.

Listening to Meyers was like taking a shower on a hot sticky day. First time in memory, I whispered to my friend Jerry, I’ve sat in church and enjoyed a sermon. The guy is a professor of rhetoric and wrote a book on persuasion, but he’s clearly pulling off a sermon when he gets up to talk. And you don’t mind a bit. Finally, a Christian who sounds like one, puts the Beatitudes above the Ten Commandments and leaves you thinking maybe we don’t need lions anymore. He didn’t manage to convert me in ninety minutes – I still think religion is the problem, not the solution, but if anybody ever does convince me otherwise, it will be the likes of this guy.

I’m like the Jew who wants the synagogue he never attends to be orthodox. I want the church I have no use for to be populated by good guys. I want to believe Christianity is something other than the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the shed America keeps its military tools in.

Meyers represents something quite interesting. Leftists tend to be overwhelmingly secular because those who fear difference and change have staked out the right, stolen Jesus just as they have the flag, replaced New Testament love with Old Testament righteousness, substituted the worship of the golden calf of literalism for the search for God in everyman, and given religion a very bad rep indeed. Soft and mild Methodists and Presbyterians have moved over and let angry and shrill Pentecostals and Southern Baptists become America’s default churches.

In Japan, when one of the graduate students at my university wanted to do a master’s thesis on culture and religion, the eyeballs rolled on the faculty in my department. “You take him!” said one of my colleagues. “I have absolutely no use for religion!” My Japanese partner and main squeeze has similar views. “Damn! Another book on religion! What’s the matter with you!?”

Everywhere I look the more thoughtful people I know have come to see religion as something for people who simply haven’t grown out of the need for Santa Claus, for people who tend not to read very much, people easily manipulated by this gang of liars and thieves currently driving America into the ground and using them to help them do it.

The religious right has moved in and sucked the air right out of democracy. The Catholic Church has managed to leave the reforms of Vatican II out in the rain to rust – I just heard the number of American nuns is down from over 180,000 a couple of decades ago to under 6000 women under fifty in the present day. The same trend holds for priests. Not because of a lack of Catholics, but because the church is in the hands of the direct spiritual descendants of Vatican I, the line drawn from the anti-Semitic anti-ecumenical Pius IX, who ramrodded the absurdist doctrine of papal infallibility. Catholics stuck in Vatican I are stuck in a culture that loathes democracy as a modernist aberration, insists on blind obedience and holds like a dog with a bone to the patriarchal hierarchy. It’s a place where progressives struggle to stay above water while authoritarians ride around in yachts.

Because they do, and because the evangelicals have put their fight over who gets into heaven on the back burner and joined forces with them against sexual liberation, together they’ve created the critical mass essential to bringing about a government of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation. Small price to pay, this necessary evil means to moral righteousness.

I’m hardly alone in watching this all come down on us, obviously. The books pour off the presses these days. I’ve just worked my way through a bunch of books by Catholics trying desperately to get back the church of John XXIII – Garry Wills’ Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit; Why I am a Catholic; What Jesus Meant, Michael Walsh’s book on Opus Dei, David Gibson’s The Coming Catholic Church, Peter De Rosa’s Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy, Jason Berry and Gerald Renner’s Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, Eamon Duffy’s very impressive history of the papacy, Saints and Sinners, and Hans Küng’s The Catholic Church: A Short History. I make no attempt to be representative; these are merely books that have crossed my path.

Among analogues on the Protestant side, besides the Meyers book I just mentioned and those by John Shelby Spong (The Sins of Scripture; A New Christianity for a New World; Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism), there are Charles Kimball’s When Religion Becomes Evil, Bruce Bawer’s Stealing Jesus, and without saying anything directly about the current culture wars, absolutely anything by William Sloan Coffin, who just died this last April, but especially, Letters to a Young Doubter. Also Jon Meacham’s American Gospel, a book far less harsh and more neutral on the topic of religion in America, yet clearly not comfortable with the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells, who have the ear of the current administration.

Non-Christians take a much harsher look at religion as America’s poison. I’m thinking of Esther Kaplan’s With God on their Side, Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, and Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. Less hostile, but equally clear on the dangers of weakening the separation of church and state are Rabbi James Rubin’s The Baptizing of America and Noah Feldman’s Divided by God.

When I was working with the U.N. in Saudi Arabia, a group of students asked me once whether I was protestant or catholic. “Neither,” I answered. “YOU’RE A JEW???” they shouted, ignorant of the fact that if I were I wouldn’t have been allowed to live and work in their country. “How can you have no religion?” they asked. “How do you keep yourself from killing someone?”

Somewhere between the Japanese (and modern European) “Only screwballs believe in religion” and the Saudi “without religion we’d all kill each other” lies the American belief that religion is a fact of life and inescapable political reality. If those of us on the left want to side with the Europeans (and Japanese and others) in dismissing religion, we have no way of joining forces with the Christians and Jews who want toxic religion purged from the body politic as much as we do.

I’ve been struggling for so long to find ways to reach across the chasm to the fundamentalist right so I don’t lose the thin thread of connection to a couple of family members. It’s taken me a long time to let go. All this time I’ve blamed religion when it turns out it’s closed religion that I can’t talk to. Open religion is not the problem. And if you take closed/open as the operant word, it’s not even religion that’s the problem. It’s closed-mindedness. And if you can open your mind around that, as I’m trying to, you can stop saying religion is the problem. Your categories shift from religion bad and secular good to closed and hopeless (including religion toxic) and open and friendly, even helpful (including religion non-toxic).

Which brings me to the question of preaching to the choir. The secular left can do a whole lot more to help bring religion into the political mix, if we can learn to spot non-toxic religion and join their choirs. That way they’ve got folks to preach to that are not automatic yeah-sayers, and we’ve got people to keep us honest in our convictions by bringing in some alternate perspectives.

So enough of beating the Pat Robertson dead horse, I say (preaching to myself more than most of you, who have not taken much time to think of him at all, I’m guessing) and let’s go to church. If that's going too far, I know a local Congregational Church where you can at least go to interesting lectures.

Whether we read books like Phillips’ American Theocracy or Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming in order to whip our anger white hot over what’s wrong with America, or whether we read to find sympathetic allies like Meyers, I think it’s time to relax the resistance to the religious folk among us. And listen to the morality that stems from the kinds of folk who listen for the voice of God instead of claiming to speak in it.

But what I was after when I sat down just now was to give you a sense of this guy Meyers.

Here’s the speech he gave at Oklahoma State which made such a splash on the internet that they called him from New York and convinced him to expand it into a book.


A Minister Fights Back on Moral Values

Dr. Robin Meyers' Speech during the 11/04 Peace Rally at OK University

As some of you know, I am minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, an Open and Affirming, Peace and Justice church in northwest Oklahoma City, and professor of Rhetoric at Oklahoma City University. But you would most likely have encountered me on the pages of the Oklahoma Gazette, where I have been a columnist for six years, and hold the record for the most number of angry letters to the editor.

Tonight, I join ranks of those who are angry, because I have watched as the faith I love has been taken over by fundamentalists who claim to speak for Jesus, but whose actions are anything but Christian. We've heard a lot lately about so-called "moral values" as having swung the election to President Bush. Well, I'm a great believer in moral values, but we need to have a discussion, all over this country, about exactly what constitutes a moral Value—I mean what are we talking about? Because we don't get to make them up as we go along, especially not if we are people of faith. We have an inherited tradition of what is right and wrong, and moral is as moral does. Let me give you just a few of the reasons why I take issue with those in power who claim moral values are on their side:

When you start a war on false pretenses, and then act as if your deceptions are justified because you are doing God's will, and that your critics are either unpatriotic or lacking in faith, there are some of us who have given our lives to teaching and preaching the faith who believe that this is not only not moral, but immoral.

When you live in a country that has established international rules for waging a just war, build the United Nations on your own soil to enforce them, and then arrogantly break the very rules you set down for the rest of the world, you are doing something immoral.

When you claim that Jesus is the Lord of your life, and yet fail to acknowledge that your policies ignore his essential teaching, or turn them on their head (you know, Sermon on the Mount stuff like that we must never return violence for violence and that those who live by the sword will die by the sword), you are doing something immoral.

When you act as if the lives of Iraqi civilians are not as important as the lives of American soldiers, and refuse to even count them, you are doing something immoral.

When you find a way to avoid combat in Vietnam, and then question the patriotism of someone who volunteered to fight, and came home a hero, you are doing something immoral.

When you ignore the fundamental teachings of the gospel, which says that the way the strong treat the weak is the ultimate ethical test, by giving tax breaks to the wealthiest among us so the strong will get stronger and the weak will get weaker, you are doing something immoral.

When you wink at the torture of prisoners, and deprive so-called "enemy combatants" of the rules of the Geneva Convention, which your own country helped to establish and insists that other countries follow, you are doing something immoral.

When you claim that the world can be divided up into the good guys and the evil doers, slice up your own nation into those who are with you, or with the terrorists—and then launch a war which enriches your own friends and seizes control of the oil to which we are addicted, instead of helping us to kick the habit, you are doing something immoral.

When you fail to veto a single spending bill, but ask us to pay for a war with no exit strategy and no end in sight, creating an enormous deficit that hangs like a great millstone around the necks of our children, you are doing something immoral.

When you cause most of the rest of the world to hate a country that was once the most loved country in the world, and act like it doesn't matter what others think of us, only what God thinks of you, you have done something immoral.

When you use hatred of homosexuals as a wedge issue to turn out record numbers of evangelical voters, and use the Constitution as a tool of discrimination, you are doing something immoral.

When you favor the death penalty, and yet claim to be a follower of Jesus, who said an eye for an eye was the old way, not the way of the kingdom, you are doing something immoral.

When you dismantle countless environmental laws designed to protect the earth which is God's gift to us all, so that the corporations that bought you and paid for your favors will make higher profits while our children breathe dirty air and live in a toxic world, you have done something immoral. The earth belongs to the Lord, not Halliburton.

When you claim that our God is bigger than their God, and that our killing is righteous, while theirs is evil, we have begun to resemble the enemy we claim to be fighting, and that is immoral. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.

When you tell people that you intend to run and govern as a "compassionate conservative," using the word which is the essence of all religious faith-compassion, and then show no compassion for anyone who disagrees with you, and no patience with those who cry to you for help, you are doing something immoral.

When you talk about Jesus constantly, who was a healer of the sick, but do nothing to make sure that anyone who is sick can go to see a doctor, even if she doesn't have a penny in her pocket, you are doing something immoral.

When you put judges on the bench who are racist, and will set women back a hundred years, and when you surround yourself with preachers who say gays ought to be killed, you are doing something immoral.

I'm tired of people thinking that because I'm a Christian, I must be a supporter of President Bush, or that because I favor civil rights and gay rights I must not be a person of faith. I'm tired of people saying that I can't support the troops but oppose the war.

I heard that when I was your age—when the Vietnam war was raging. We knew that that war was wrong, and you know that this war is wrong—the only question is how many people are going to die before these make-believe Christians are removed from power?

This country is bankrupt. The war is morally bankrupt. The claim of this administration to be Christian is bankrupt. And the only people who can turn things around are people like you—young people who are just beginning to wake up to what is happening to them. It's your country to take back. It's your faith to take back. It's your future to take back.

Don't be afraid to speak out. Don't back down when your friends begin to tell you that the cause is righteous and that the flag should be wrapped around the cross, while the rest of us keep our mouths shut. Real Christians take chances for peace. So do real Jews, and real Muslims, and real Hindus, and real Buddhists--so do all the faith traditions of the world at their heart believe one thing: life is precious.

Every human being is precious. Arrogance is the opposite of faith. Greed is the opposite of charity. And believing that one has never made a mistake is the mark of a deluded man, not a man of faith.

And war—war is the greatest failure of the human race—and thus the greatest failure of faith. There's an old rock and roll song, whose lyrics say it all: War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

And what is the dream of the prophets? That we should study war no more, that we should beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Who would Jesus bomb, indeed? How many wars does it take to know that too many people have died? What if they gave a war and nobody came? Maybe one day we will find out.


July 9, 2006