Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club

Amazing stuff is happening out there on the Jeremiah Wright front. Obama gave a press conference today in which he further distanced himself from Wright, this time in much stronger language.

In doing so, he is catering to the dark side of America, the warehouse fire media that don’t give a damn about anything but another fire, the right wing having a ball with the soundbites out of context, and all those bigots, racists and haters calling the kettle black, without a clue about the complexity of the story.

Wright himself insists it’s not him they’re angry at, but the black church. I think he’s got that wrong. To me it seems obvious it’s all about Barack Obama. Google “Jeremiah Wright” and you get 910,000 entries. But google “Obama’s pastor” and you get 4,160,000 entries.

And then just look at the first five of those entries.

Entry #1: Obama pastor resurfaces to reignite race row
Entry #2: ABC News: Obama's Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11
Entry #3: a Fox News interview
Entry #4: YouTube - Barack Obama's Pastor his Christianity Jeremiah Wright
Entry #5: Barack Obama Pastor Jeremiah Wright is anti American Racist

Bill Moyers’ interview the other night was on public television. Which means the great mass of American people missed it. They have been getting the YouTube versions, but not the extended version showing Wright’s erudition and the degree to which he grounds his arguments in reason. Whether you agree with him or not, he is grounded in reason.

Fortunately, YouTube works both ways. Not only are the inflammatory segments available out of context, and the bits by Fox News and others, designed to shock and create an image of a man who’s got nothing but trouble on his mind. There is also more of the Moyers interview variety, specifically a presentation at the National Press Club, available at this writing in six segments:

Part 1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lV8x_-Uk2c&feature=related
Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gXnZKUG_ic&feature=related
Part 3 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aM8VU47pKU&feature=related
Part 4 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0fGH86DPag&feature=related
Part 5 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YJW0nevW38&feature=related
Part 6 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWejjxWQWfE&feature=related

Questions from the audience included several which reflect the hostility toward Wright. Watch how he answers them. The man is clearly a master at oratory.

My favorite is his retort to one of the “gotcha” questions fundamentalist literalists like to hit people over the head with. According to scripture, they say, you only go to heaven if you are a Christian.

Watch the Q & A session in which the Q & A go like this:

Q: Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father but through Me.” Do you believe this, and do you think Islam is a way to salvation?

A: Jesus also said, “Other sheep have I who are not of this fold.”

Tell me this man isn’t one clever dude.

He has his fans.

There’s a sermon online by a preacher named Marlin Lavanhar of All Souls Unitarian Church - “Why Jeremiah is Wright” If you’ve got the time, it’s worth listening to in its entirety.

Part 1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yA3aTdFTshY&NR=1
Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wb87yobGRA&feature=related
Part 3 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_bZGUdBNxI&feature=related

And then there is Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest defending Jeremiah Wright in an interview with Fox Network. Note the bias and misinformation in the questions. Pfleger is pastor at St. Sabina’s, a black parish in Chicago, and he considers both Wright and Louis Farrakhan as personal friends.

Part 1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiSutcBArDU&feature=related
Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBKeCIDGvwY&feature=related

Then there's an interview with Jews and others suggesting Wright is not the only one arguing we need a reassessment on Farrakhan
Interview - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvDEQB_Tce8&feature=related

I know that’s a whole hell of a lot more than most people will have time for.

But there is so much more going on here in this story behind the story than most of us are aware of.

I urge you, if you can possibly find the time, to have a listen.

Stick to religion, Jeremiah

The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, according to some people like Bob Herbert in today’s New York Times, is sinking Barack Obama. He’s blowing it with all this talk about the injustices done to blacks by whites historically. The current version of American truth is that we need not to talk about those things but instead accentuate the positive.

In a perfect world, this would be a debate issue, and some people would persuade those who see the glass as half empty to see it as half full, maybe. Or we would take away a few more scales from our eyes and look at racism in America a bit more honestly. Either way, we’d come out on top. Instead, we find ourselves begging people to shut up and not say things that are on the minds of lots and lots of people.

I’m sticking by Jeremiah Wright. I can’t for the life of me understand why Obama can’t say, “The Reverend Wright chooses to focus on the many things America has done wrong. He doesn’t believe in ‘America, right or wrong’ and neither should you or I. We should instead be working harder than ever to right the wrongs our country has done when it has fallen away from its ideals. Remember, it’s America in its ideal form that draws the world to it, not in the form it has shown the world the past eight years. We’ve done things wrong, and with your help we can put them right. In any case, don’t blame me for what this guy Wright says. I don’t agree with him, but I’ll defend to the death his right to say it!” Have we all forgotten how American that is? To say you’ll defend to the death the right of your opponents and even your enemies to speak out, even though you wouldn’t, really?

One blogger I read this morning suggested that Wright should stay away from politics and stop talking about the problems of black people. He should stick to religion.

I love that. Let’s imagine what that would look like. Wright belongs to a church that owes its existence in part to Jacobus Arminius. It is an Arminian Church, in other words.

Don’t get that mixed up with Armenians with an “e” now. They are known chiefly in America for producing William Saroyan and for being massacred by the Turks and the famous Hitler remark, “Who remembers Armenia!?”

The other kind, the kind who spell their name with two i’s as well as two a’s, are the spiritual ancestors of Methodists and other folk like the original Baptists, who traditionally argued that salvation, in the Christian sense of getting to live after death, comes not from good works, as Catholics and Muslims believe (as well as most Protestants who really didn’t do much homework in their Protestant Sunday schools), but from this thing called “grace.” Favor, actually. God favors everybody, say the Arminians. No, just some people, say the Calvinists.

We have forgotten that Christians used to beat up other Christians over whether they thought they should be baptized as kids, or whether authority should come from a priest or by consensus of the congregation, or whether God chooses to save some people and doesn’t tell anybody who it is.

Followers of Arminius, not wanting to be like the Lutherans who called themselves after their religious leader, called themselves Remonstrants. A mouthful, but not as bad as Melanchthonists, which Lutherans really ought to be called, since Melanchthon was arguably the major author of much of Lutheran theology.

But that’s only because Philipp Melanchthon changed his real name, Schwarzerd (“Black Earth”) into Greek because he thought it was cool. We could actually even be Schwarzerdists or Black Earthists. Fortunately, they still had the custom of women taking their husband’s name when they married and not the other way around. Philipp Melanchthon né Schwarzerd married Katharina Krapp. I learned that in Lutheran Sunday School, I think.

But I digress, and I know you’re dying to hear more about the Arminians. While the Lutherans were off bashing about over their doctrinal differences, the Calvinists and Arminians were going at it full steam further west. Like in Holland and America, where the Baptists and Congregationalists couldn’t agree on whether God chose you because he knew you were going to believe in Jesus the moment you were born, or whether God chose you for heaven on some other basis, and it therefore didn’t matter whether you kicked your neighbor’s ass now and then and stole his chickens.

The Pelagians, of course, thought that Adam and Eve's depravity in wanting to know things didn’t condemn people, like the Catholics and Calvinists believe – they merely set a bad example. Believing that could get you killed after the 6th Century, of course, although the idea became popular among some folk in the American Colonies. Like the Arminians, kind of, but not really.

If soteriology (the study of salvation) is not one of your favorite hobbies, you may possibly be dozing off by this point, but it’s the most important issue you’ll ever contend with, so don’t give me any mouth here.

If you’re not a Pelagian, and sincerely believe deep down in your heart that God got pissed off bigtime at the whole human race because Adam ate the apple, you’ll want to fight over whether Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was enough to satisfy this angry man in the sky. Christians, of course, believe it was. But then comes the question of whether God could break his own laws this way. The answer, say the Arminians, is best explained by Hugo Grotius, an expert in international justice whose work led to the three-mile limit around countries (the distance cannons could fire to protect them), and who left Holland in a box for Paris and later became Sweden’s ambassador to France and died, washed up on shore in Rostock after uttering the last words, "By understanding many things, I have accomplished nothing."

Anyway, what you need to take away from Grotius is the explanation that God, via the government theory of atonement, was able to excuse Adam and still keep his legal system in tact. Christ’s resurrection was impressive, no doubt, but even God, apparently, needed a good lawyer.

If Jeremiah Wright would limit his sermons to whether atonement is better explained by Grotius’ governmental theory of justice and stop demanding Americans take a more honest look at themselves and their history of injustice, we might still get Barack Obama to be our president.

I’d like that, wouldn't you?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Martian Child – a Response

I’ve got over 80 movies lined up on my Netflix list now, and that means when a movie finally comes and I watch it, I commonly have no idea what prompted me to sign up for it. That’s no matter, since I like being surprised at what comes on the screen. It’s sort of like the old days, when you turned on the TV for a “late night movie” and took what you got.

Nowadays people, me included, usually want to select carefully. “I have only so much time…” Well, with the thousands available – it’s up to something like 80,000 choices now on Netflix, if I’m not mistaken – it does make good sense to filter out the junk. God knows there’s tons of junk. But the other side of that coin is that it’s easy to go whole hog on a limited selection and cut yourself off all that much more from the big world out there. We already live in closed circles of friends and neighborhoods divided by class; we are fussy about food and entertainment and our news sources tell us what we want to hear. Unfiltered intake is for slobs.

If I had known what the film that crossed my path last night was about, I might not have rented it. It's got to have been made by the handkerchief and soft tissue lobby. One of those puppy dog and too cute for words little tyke movies where you’re supposed to be swept up by a desire to hug and protect and feel all warm about the heart when it’s done. Go to bed feeling God’s in his heaven and all.

It sounds like I’m joining the 75% or so of Rotten Tomatoes critics who trashed The Martian Child – for being a saccharine yadayada like I just said. But I’m not. I love that shit. I love being suckered by kids and falling in love with daddies who love their kids. And I love the melodrama of the Simon Legrees these films always have – the bureaucrat who impedes the adoption, the teacher who wants discipline über alles, the social worker who ‘just has a job to do.’ I love watching them all go down in flames as can-you-believe-those-eyes finally comes around and says, “I love you daddy” and love conquers all.

Man, it’s better than sex.

So that’s it. That’s my review. The Martian Child has John Cusack and his sister Joan playing brother and sister, which is kind of fun. And Amanda Peet, for you guys what likes pretty girls. And Richard Schiff for you West Wing fanatics. (Oliver Platt, too, come to think of it.) And of course, first-timer child actor Bobby Coleman, who plays a kid so freaked from having been abandoned that he believes he is a Martian and is seriously in need of watering. There's where John Cusack, playing David Gerrold (renamed David Gordon) comes in. He has lost his wife (wasn't joking about the handkerchiefs) and has love going to waste. And, best of all, he's a science-fiction writer and knows how to deal with Martians.

OK, so much for the happy happy joy joy. Now let me tell you what really pissed me off.

What really pissed me off was the discovery that this sort-of-true story, based on the book by the same name by David Gerrold, is the story of a gay man. And if you know anything about adoption, you know that gays have a habit of taking in kids nobody else will take in.

They didn't change much else. Why, I want to know, did they have to turn David Gerrold into a straight man? So they could find a way to put old friend/new love interest Amanda Peet in the movie? What, you can’t cry for daddy and little boy stories without a maybe mommy-to-be? The real David, from looking at the real Martian child all grown up, seems to have done all right as a single parent. What was gained by erasing the accomplishment? Or the fact that it wasn't his wife who died and left a hole in his heart, but his lover, whom somebody shot in the face.

I loved John Cusack in this movie. His good acting kept this honey on sugar cubes from making you sick. Was it that the filmmakers realized their audience was a PG audience and thought you can't have PG and gay in the same film?

What is it? Fear that the audience “isn’t ready?”

Cusack says (or possibly it was the director) that he hopes what might come out of the movie is the recognition that there are thousands more kids caught in foster kid programs than there are people to take them in. The Martian child was one of the lucky ones. If you really want to get serious about getting these kids out of foster care and into good homes, then get the message out that the job is currently being done to an unusually high degree by gay dads. (Even more by gay moms, but that's another story.)

In fact, consider these facts from the non-gay non-partisan Urban Institute:
  • More than one in three lesbians have given birth and one in six gay men have fathered or adopted a child.
  • More than half of gay men and 41 percent of lesbians want to have a child.
  • An estimated two million GLB people are interested in adopting.
  • An estimated 65,500 adopted children are living with a lesbian or gay parent.
  • More than 16,000 adopted children are living with lesbian and gay parents in California, the highest number among the states.
  • Gay and lesbian parents are raising four percent of all adopted children in the United States.
  • An estimated 14,100 foster children are living with lesbian or gay parents.
  • Gay and lesbian parents are raising three percent of foster children in the United States.

Meanwhile, three states, as well as a number of religious organizations like the Catholic Church, have a ban on gay adoptions. Religious bias comes with a financial cost. If there were a national ban on gays and lesbians adopting kids, foster care could cost from $87 to $130 million more than it does, and costs to individual states could range from $100,000 to $27 million.

The real cost, of course would be that even more kids would be added to the 100,000 now looking in vain for a family to love them as their own.

If the makers of The Martian Child wanted to avoid this topic because it was too political, they might have thought a bit more before making this choice. It’s one of those issues where choosing not to engage is every bit as political as choosing to engage.

One little bit of trivia here, to end on. The man who adopted the throwaway kid and wrote the book about his experience, this David Gerrold fellow? He’s the science fiction writer who wrote "The Trouble with Tribbles" for Star Trek – the most widely viewed episode in its long history.

Man, I’ll bet a whole bunch of kids wouldn’t have minded having him for a daddy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pulling a Nader

One of the more troubling debates I’ve had in the past eight years has been over whether Ralph Nader should have run for president. On principle, the answer is, “Of course, he should.” Particularly if you agree that he is a voice of sanity in a political system that is corrupt, dirty and dysfunctional.

It makes it harder to sleep at night, but I have come down on the other side. I think we have no choice but to accept politics as dirty and get real about how elections are won, and do the best we can with the imperfect instrument. When you consider the very strong likelihood that we would never have attacked Iraq if Gore had won, and if you think the argument holds water that Nader greased the skids on which Bush rode into office, well…

If you do buy that argument, I think you have to see Hillary Clinton in the same light. Watching her totin’ guns (metaphorically) and tossing back a whisky and a beer (in fact) to impress Pennsylvania voters she’s one of them and not a champagne-and-brie elitist San Franciscan (why does that always translate into fag?) is enough to make you want to dump your cookies onto the sidewalk.

I hope and pray this is just another media jackoff and it will all pass and Obama will not be hurt. As E. J. Dionne says in this morning’s paper, it was a bad slip to use the words bitter and cling to refer to the bitter folk of the rust belt who cling to traditional verities like religion and the fear of outsiders instead of kissing ass and telling them as politicians are supposed to do that he likes to kill deer as much as Hillary does and tie one on afterwards.

What did he do that was so wrong? He told the damned truth yet again. Brought out into the open the fact that America’s industry has been hollowed out and the working folk of Pennsylvania (and Michigan and Indiana and all kinds of other poor-and-getting-poorer places) are stuck in a downward spiral and ignored by both the Bushes and the Clintons and their globalized economy reasoning. The man was trying to outline the problem. E. J. Dionne put his finger on it. He was too much social analyst, too little politico.

OK, so I’m a champagne-and-brie fag from San Francisco, so I’m mouthing off, you might say with considerable justification, from the wrong side of the tracks here. But what’s giving me serious heartburn these days is the verve with which Hillary is providing Republicans with what they will need to win the election. She’s pulling a Nader.

Nader, at least, had his heart in the right place. Like Obama, too much good guy, too little politician, he at least had principles. Hillary, it seems, in her damn the torpedos desperation, has none other than a faith that a pyrrhic victory is better than none. If she doesn’t win the nomination, she seems to be saying, it might as well go to McCain.

I know she’s caught between a rock and a hard place. I know she has to fight hard and maybe dirty to win. But hard and dirty should not have to amount to stupid. It should not mean destroy the democratic party and its very likely presidential candidate in the process.

As all sorts of people have pointed out in the past couple days, for any Clinton, especially a Wellesley/Yale Clinton with an income of over $100 million in the past seven years, to call the son of a single mother who made his start in the streets of South Chicago an elitist, makes her look wildly hypocritical. Pretending to be happy with guns after her husband worked so hard to control them shows that she actually is hypocritical.

She claims that Obama is looking down his nose at the poor rural sods of Pennsylvania. He should not do that, she says. He should embrace them as equals and not suggest he is any better than they are. And she, in her Annie Oakley persona and her whiskey with a beer chaser doesn’t appear to understand that she’s right about these deerhunters. They aren’t stupid. They can see through her act. And which democratic presidential candidate, I wonder, will they see as the greater condescender?

And all McCain has to do is sit there and watch her do his job for him. “Like she says.” “I’m with that lady.” Right. The Republican, whose party has just had eight years widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots of America, will now be able to say, “Don’t argue with me – my information comes from your own Hillary Clinton!”

And we’ll have four more years of Republican administration. More conservatives in the courts. More religion in the schools. More bailing out of corporate America. More long-as-it-takes troops in Iraq. More tax policies like Alabama’s, where the poorest 1% pay 11% of their income on taxes on things like milk and groceries and the richest 1% pay 4%. More tree chopping in the national parks and oil drilling off the coast. More, more, more of the same.

Of course, she could pull it off. She could win the nomination with these tactics. And the election.

For me that feels an awful lot like putting your entire retirement income up against a toss of the dice.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Pope is Coming, The Pope is Coming

I had a love affair in my head with old Papa Giovanni, the 23rd. I loved his homely face. Looked into it and imagined I was seeing a truly spiritual man. Followed his visit to the Regina Coeli prison in Rome with admiration, and had a dream once I was sitting on a patio next to a swimming pool in Castelgandolfo talking about whether it is necessary to be catholic to be saved.

I think I was in love with the man. I was twenty years old and really screwed up sexually and lost and clueless and very much drawn to the Catholic Church – although sufficiently grounded in Protestantism to ever quite make the jump. I have wondered long and hard how it is one can fall in love with a roly-poly old grandfather type, but that is a topic for another day.

I was in Rome in 1960 and ran into a priest at the American College who managed to get me a ticket to Easter Mass at the Vatican, and I somehow got in right up close, just to the left of the altar. In front of me were a gaggle of Irish nuns who swooned every time he looked our way. When he elevated the host in our direction, one of them actually fainted and fell off the bench she was standing on. I was grateful to have Giovanni back in full view.

That was before Vatican II, and I had no clue what was coming, both in my life and in the life of the Church. I would come out as gay and come to look upon the Church with ever more hostility, as homophobia in the world around me lessened and as the Church hardened its stand. I began to read Hans Küng and people like Gary Wills who were resisting orthodoxy and papal authoritarianism within the church, but insisting the church still merited their love and affection. And horror stories, like Michael Walsh’s book on Opus Dei, angry histories like Susan Zuccotti’s Under His Very Windows on the failure of the Vatican to do the right thing for the Jews, or the story of Edgardo Mortara, the little Jewish boy kidnapped by the same pope who launched Vatican I and declared himself infallible. And more sober accounts of crisis like Peter Steinfels’ A People Adrift.

My celebrity fascination didn’t stop with John XXIII. I was at a gay pride march once in San Francisco with a contingent from Santa Cruz. After the parade we all gathered around a table in a coffee shop, about thirty of us, heady from the experience of the parade, almost elated. For some reason the conversation got around to John Paul II, possibly because he had just been made pope.

Without thinking, I said, “What an interesting man!” I didn’t get past those four words. Somebody immediately jumped down my throat, and the rest jumped in after. I never in my life saw a crowd turn like that. The pope! Not even the antichrist could generate such venom.

It was groupthink of the first order. I wonder how many of these men, if I had been having coffee with them alone, might have gotten to the point of separating out the man who fought both nazism and communism, who was interested in theater in his youth, and who later would be raced to a hospital after being shot in Vatican Square by some nutball Turk. But I never got the chance, so great was the hostility, and I was never quite able to regain my standing in the group thereafter.

For me it’s kind of like the commentary about what a fine fellow this George W. Bush is. How much he makes you feel like one of the boys, teases you, makes you want to kick back and have a beer. And then he goes and puts a country through a paper shredder, opens it up to terrorism while claiming to be the world’s only true leader against terrorism, does a Mugabe-like job on the U.S. economy, the environment, human rights...

There is a difference, though, for me. I can’t stand the sight of Bush. Don’t like his looks. Don’t like his style. Don’t like anything about the man, but I fall in love with Angelo Roncalli (John the 23rd), develop an arm’s length respect for Woytila, and for the life of me, I can’t help looking at Ratzinger and seeing a kindly professor.

I am surrounded by friends who grew up in catholic schools and see their childhood indoctrination as pure poison. I live out every day wishing the ground that is eroding under the gaybashers would erode just a little faster. I know Catholics, Mormons, and Evangelicals all argue one should “love the sinner, hate the sin” and think that stance suffices to distance themselves from the bashers. But they’re wrong. They remain powerful enablers.

One does well to be cautious of those who see sin in you you know is not there, especially when they organize into an institution, which then gets control of the press, the schools, the minds of those who live by bumper sticker principles. Ideas regarding birth control, the role of women, homosexuality, are social constructions – cultural conceits which evolve over time. This man coming to town wants you to believe this is not the case.

The New York Times headline reads: “Hard-Liner With Soft Touch Reaches Out to U.S. Flock


Has anybody noticed the world has changed, and the metaphor of the loving shepherd tending his sheep has given way to words like sheepish, herd mentality and like sheep to the slaughter? The metaphor doesn’t work well any more because the culture has changed. The dichotomy of the authoritarian father/shepherd and the innocent child/lamb is yielding, if oh so slowly, to greater individual responsibility for one’s own beliefs and actions. It’s a lonely place. But it’s an adult place.

Turn the tables.

Love the man. But don’t let the doctrine destroy your appreciation of the absurd, your embrace of the imaginative, your admiration for wisdom in diversity, or your love of life.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Wheels, They Grind Exceeding Slow

Came across several news items in the past couple of days which suggest marriage equality is on track. Just moving agonizingly slowly.

Least encouraging, but not entirely unsatisfying, is an interview in the latest Advocate with Barack Obama. The interviewer asks him if he shares the view of so many that civil unions are sufficient, that gays don’t need to push for marriage. Barack’s answer is right on. He references Martin Luther King’s “justice delayed is justice denied” quote. “I’m very mindful of Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, where he says to the white clergy, "Don’t tell me to wait for my freedom." He then goes on to remind people that Kennedy did not push to repeal the anti-miscegenation laws, suggesting things have to take their time.

So what is it, Barack, I want to ask. Now would be nice but maybe later? Even though later means not now? "Not now” is always a very bitter pill when you sense the time has come at long last.

But reading through the tone he takes in the interview, I am persuaded once again Obama is the man for the job. This would appear to be a good sample of his skill in not giving you what you want and making you appreciate he has other fish to fry. No small feat.

There was good news in New York recently, where an appeals court vacated a law passed last year which barred New York from recognizing same sex marriages registered out of state. This puts New York in the running for full marriage equality as they have in Massachusetts. And neck-in-neck with Iowa, where it has been approved by the legislature but is currently hung up in court. And possibly Connecticut, where a decision is imminent. And hopefully California, where the decision is due in early June.

Spitzer had introduced a marriage equality bill into the New York State Legislature, where it passed the Democratic controlled Assembly but failed to be taken up by the Republican controlled Senate.

Meanwhile, here in California, we read the good news that Arnold the Governator has come down on the side of marriage equality this time by stating clearly that he would oppose a state amendment to outlaw same sex marriage in the constitution. Such a constitutional amendment, if passed (unlike on the national level, it requires only a majority), could potentially overrule a Supreme Court decision that gays have the right to marriage, if they come to that decision. The misnamed “family defenders” are out in force already, not waiting for the decision.

But so are the marriage equality folk, God Bless.

Damn, it would be nice to have this struggle behind us.