Thursday, December 30, 2010

The 20th Century - Just Around the Corner

I want to take a moment out to say something nice about the Catholic Church. No, really. I’ve been catholic bashing for years, and although I try at regular intervals to acknowledge that I know it’s a large umbrella organization and therefore includes people with the full range of attitudes on what it means to support a church, I tend to focus way more often than not on what I think are the abuses of the institution – the grounding for homophobia, in particular, but also the manipulation of fear and loneliness to make women submissive, particularly when it comes to sex and birth control, and the twisting of sexuality into an evil and the failure to recognize how this plays into the child abuse story.

Enough of that for the moment. I want to look at some positives.

One biggie, obviously, is the fact that most catholics are only culturally catholic, and not doctrinally. They leave the walking on water stuff up to the literalists and pride themselves on using their heads when it comes to birth control, for example – 80% freely admitting they use it. They stay in the church because it’s home, because mama would have a shitfit if they left, and because they want the right background for their wedding photos and some insurance for the journey to the pearly gates.

Until this piece of news came to my attention, that 80% figure was about it, however. I had trouble finding other examples of how the masses were telling the pope to piss off.

But now, thanks to TFP's website, I’ve got a nice new example. TFP, which stands for Tradition, Family, Property (and doesn’t that say it all) is an organization, apparently founded in Brazil, of arch conservatives in favor of tradition, family, and well, you know… They have branches in a number of catholic countries. Twenty-two, according to one source.

How conservative, you ask? Well, their Venezuelan branch got disbanded for trying to assassinate the pope, apparently for being too liberal.

A quick look at their American branch website shows they’re up in arms over a terrible turn of events. From their perspective, I mean. It seems that 41% of catholic universities in the U.S. have gay organizations. If that wasn’t bad enough, with the damn Jesuits it’s (are you ready for this?) 100%!!!

Georgetown has an LBGTQ resource center. It has a national coming out week and tons of other stuff going on throughout the school year. Notre Dame brought in “pro-homosexual” speakers for a so-called “Stand Against Hate” week. And Seton Hall, America’s oldest catholic college, even has a course taught by one of those homosexualists who has the temerity to say being one is OK.

If this upsets you, you can go to their website and sign a protest against “the social acceptance of unnatural vice” and other bad things.

Or, if you need an excuse to uncork another bottle of champagne, you can celebrate the fact that the Church is lumbering its way into the 20th Century.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

I’m your guy – I believe

Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with perfect hatred.
I count them my enemies.

Psalm 139: 21-22

A couple weeks ago I commented on the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has now certified the appearance of Mary to a little Belgian immigrant girl in rural Wisconsin as “worthy of belief.” Trolling for news on Friday, I noted that The New York Times had finally picked up the story.

Must have been a slow day. After all, it was Christmas Eve and the only other earth-shattering news was the divorce of Ryan What’s-his-name from Scarlett Johansson.

I couldn’t get that story out of my mind as I listened for a while yesterday to two folks quizzing Republican candidates Saul Anuzis, Gentry Collins and Reince Priebus, who are seeking to unseat Michael Steele as chairperson for the Republican National Committee.

The quizzers were Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List and Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage.

On the surface it looked like routine television interviews. But in fact, they were job interviews, and these two ladies were checking credentials. And letting the candidates know when they gave the right answers.

If you were born in America anytime up to the day before yesterday, you know that you can’t tell anything about an American political organization by its name. Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony has top place of honor in the struggle for women’s rights in America. Dannenfelser has pulled off a pretty crafty trick appropriating her name for ends which most women today would consider unequivocably opposed to their interests. Her organization’s purpose is to overturn Roe v. Wade, the right to end an unwanted pregnancy.

The other interviewer, Maggie Gallagher, has done something similar. She has misappropriated the word “marriage” to cover the fact that her organization’s sole purpose is to make sure marriage never becomes a reality for same-sex couples. And just as the candidates line up to assure Ms. Dannenfelser they know the right answers to her questions, they assure Ms. Gallagher they’re on the right side of her issue as well.

Now there is nothing surprising about the fact that candidates interviewed for head of the Republican National Committee should take pro-life, anti-gay positions. What is remarkable is the ease with which two of them, Anuzis and Collins, justifed their choice on the basis of “what the Catholic Church taught” them as children. And the third, Priebus, identified himself as “a 100% Psalm 139 pro-life Republican.”

Anuzis says he believes 90% of Republicans are pro-life. He provides no evidence for this. He also identifies himself with “the American exceptionalism that Ronald Reagan once talked about." "I do think we’re better," he says. "I do think we’re different. I do think we have the kinds of beliefs and faiths…that made us who we are today…the strength of America….” In discussing marriage, he rolls out the “3000 years of tradition argument,” and ties it to his faith, oblivious of how much this serves to identify those uninformed about the history of marriage – or, for that matter, the history of Christianity.

Gentry Collins speaks of his life working with a catholic organization on pro-life. Reince Priebus makes no secret that he’s working directly from religious belief. “Marriage is a gift from God.” This is the same guy who made news recently for accepting a whole bunch of money from a stimulus package and then stomping around on the evils of the stimulus package. No word as to whether hypocrisy is also a gift from God.

I repeat, there is nothing surprising here. But there should be. We should be startled, as much of the rest of the world is, to hear an American political leader make such a loud and clear point of telling a supporter he can be trusted because he takes his lead from the Vatican. It wasn’t that long ago when my father refused to vote for Kennedy because he might do that and we were all a bit ashamed of my father’s retrogressive ways, because we knew Kennedy was culturally but not dogmatically catholic, and had made it plain it was the Constitution, not his church, that would inform his decisions.

But this is the new America, and one gets credibility now at the national level, in the party that will control the Senate for the next two years, from religious devotion. From religiosity, not from spirituality. From adherence to dogma, not evidence of humility.

A brief aside here. Last word is the interview with Priebus would appear to have been time wasted. He’s been bumped as a contender, allegedly for saying one thing and doing another.

But dirty politics aside, the pairing of the notion one should vote to withhold marriage from gays and lesbians because it’s the will of God with the belief that somehow children suffer unless they live with a mother and a father makes you wonder if these people ever read a newspaper. Research widely publicized during the Prop. 8 trial showed that the decisive factor in a child’s mental health is being cared for, not being in so-called traditional families. All three candidates ignore that evidence entirely and jump on the ideological bandwagon in dismissing the judge as an “activist”. The secret's out that activist has been drained of all meaning other than "a judge whose opinions differ from mine," but apparently it still has currency.

What never gets properly exposed in all this “that’s the right answer” religious litmus testing is the connection between the grounding of an opinion in “religious” belief (as opposed, say, to legal argument and judicial findings) and the Republican right. So frightened are we that people will turn on us if we are seen to be anti-religious, that we jump to assure all within hearing we mean no disrespect to religion.

Yet here it is, plain as the nose on your face. Men pulling out their “traditional faith” to get people to put them in charge of the Republican Party. And icing on the cake is their willingness to deliberately ignore or misconstrue evidence and level ad hominem attacks on judges for opinions that run contrary to the religious dogma.

Three Republicans vying for the job of running their party’s National Committee. Three men getting “that’s the right answer!” stamps of approval from two women demanding to see their anti-abortion anti-gay credentials. And those credentials grounded in credibility in that same institution that declares credible the appearance of a lady in the sky who promises to move a tornado around the spot you’re standing on so it will kill other people but not you. Because you asked her in a nice way.

Not that the church can’t be reasonable. After all, they did reason at one point that since Christ was resurrected and ascended into heaven in the flesh, the only part of him that could be had to enshrine in a reliquary must have been his foreskin. Being Jewish, he had to have been circumcised. You can just see the wheels of reason turning around. The only problem is there are at least ten churches claiming to be in possession of the “true foreskin” of Jesus. A problem that could be cleared up, actually, if next time Mary appears we get her to swab her cheeks.

Because we have a tradition of separation of church and state, any American can say publicly, without fear, that Mary appeared to somebody in Wisconsin, and that he’s not making this up because his church told him it really happened. But, thanks to separation of church and state, we can go to bed at night confident this madness will not be imposed on the rest of us.

What a pity this is not true for what these good catholic and evangelical boys have to say about the right of women to determine if and when to end a pregnancy. Or for gay men and women to live in America as equals.

Maybe it’s just pie in the sky, and will never come to pass. But I yearn for a time when candidates assure their voters they are the right kind of folk to head one of America’s political parties because they are smart, honest, hard-working, sensible, cooperative, flexible, generous, compassionate, well-respected, and maybe tall. But not because they can assure you their values are derived from Roman Catholic tradition.

Or any other tradition which gives believing for the sake of believing priority over grounding one’s values in the universal human rights of all men and women, without regard to creed. When nobody prevents them from worshiping the gods of their tribe if it suits them, but they no longer assume obedience to those gods make them better human beings than the rest of us.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

This just in, “Fox Makes You Stupid”

In 2004, the documentary Outfoxed revealed that watchers of Fox News were far less informed than watchers of PBS. Outfoxed was a brilliant journalistic study of bias in the news and of how bias has impacted American politics. Now there’s a new study out, an empirical study done by the University of Maryland, which corroborates Outfoxed’s findings.

36% of people who say they "rarely" watch Fox News (a figure pretty alarming in itself) believe, for example, that Obama was not born in the United States. But of those who say they watch Fox every day, that figure is 63%.

60% believe climate change is not occurring, and they are similarly misinformed about stimulus legislation, health reform, the economy, taxes, TARP and the auto industry bailouts.

Because each of these issues reflects the Republican Party platform so closely, the conclusion of the study is that the misinformation by Fox is deliberate. That Fox is a Republican Party propaganda machine is no secret, but telling the news with an ideological slant is one thing and calculated lies are quite another. The 2010 election outcome is a direct result of this manipulation of information, and we have turned ourselves over to leaders catering to a deliberately misinformed public, a chicken and egg story of a downward spiral.

Have a look at the study and see for yourself.

Lest you think the left is no better, and this is simply the pot calling the kettle black, note the sources on which this study is based. And the evidence for the facts on which the conclusion is based. It is very sobering information. Go to the World Public Opinion website, click on the pdf site, and check it out.

Note that there is an issue about which democrats appear to be more misinformed than Republicans. They are willing to believe the worst about the American Chamber of Commerce. But other than that, the weight of misinformation is entirely on the other side.

On the side of the political party who will take over Congress on January 3.

And away we go…


Thursday, December 9, 2010

A letter to President Obama

December 9, 2010

Dear Mr. President:

Now’s your chance to bring back some pride and dignity to the Democratic Party and to millions of Americans. While so many of your dreams (and ours) are crumbling before our eyes, there are still things you can do.

You’ve made a fool of yourself by believing that compromise was the way to go. You thought you could govern from the middle, but you underestimated American greed and the willingness of your political opponents to hold those in need – and the American economy – hostage. The democrats are leaving you like a sinking ship. I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t win the primary in the next election.

I understand your reasoning behind the tax cuts capitulation – at least those dependent on unemployment benefits will keep their heads above water a while longer. You may have sold your children’s future to keep the wolf from the door, but we see your logic, even though we totally disagree with you on the bigger picture.

I can’t tell you how it pains me to see you get blamed day after day for things beyond your control. You deserve better.

At least you tried, you tell us. Maybe history will show you were right to make the decisions you did, but right now the Republicans smell blood in the water, and people are calling your administration Bush’s third term. They’ve got you right where they want you. You failed to stop torture. You failed to stop two ongoing wars. You failed to close Guantanamo. And gays and lesbians see you as missing in action when it comes to their civil rights. All because you thought you could work with that bucket of warm spit that is the United States Senate.

Please, Mr. President, get real about the people you’re up against. I watched your press conference the other day and heard you defend your position and speak plainly about being held hostage. I know there’s a fighter in there somewhere.

But it’s one defeat after another. Today Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell went down in flames – the latest casualty of the Senate’s cowards and bullies. Despite overwhelming support for getting rid of this disgusting policy of forcing gays and lesbians in the armed forces to lie about who they are – from the military leadership, from the troops themselves, from the majority of the American people – despite all that, the Senate has pissed in the soup yet again.

The legislative branch of government has become dysfunctional. When the American voters come to their senses, one day we may elect legislators who can fix it. But since there is no end in sight of rule by the superrich for the exclusive benefit of the superrich, we have only you and the courts to count on.

You have the power as Commander-in-Chief to issue an executive order to get the military to stop discharging gay men and women. The courts are there ahead of you. It’s not only the right thing to do; it will give your supporters like me reason to want to stay behind you. A small thing, when compared to health care, the economy, war and the environment, perhaps. But it’s something you can do, and something that will really matter.

Please, Mr. President. Fix this mess.

Yours truly,

Alan J. McCornick
2734 Ellsworth St.
Berkeley, CA 94705


Eat your heart out, Fatima

Eat your heart out, Fatima. Cry your eyes out, Guadalupe. The United States of America rules!

While all you folks were fussing around about whether the Leona Helmsleys of this country should continue to be able to give twelve million dollars to their dogs when they die, while almost thirteen million of America’s children live below the poverty line … Or about why our bridges fall down, our educational standards drop, and our grandchildren get saddled with ever more debt … you may have missed what has been hailed by some as the most important event in America’s history.

The blessed Virgin Mary’s appearance in Green Bay, Wisconsin really happened.

It took a hundred and fifty years, but it is now official. The Mormons will tell you Jesus Christ came to the United States, and now the Catholics will tell you no he didn't, but Mary did.

Mary appeared to a little Belgian immigrant girl, and since then people have been throwing away their crutches right and left.

I know, I know. You sceptics are wondering why there has never been a case of a missing limb growing back, why she doesn't seem to care a whole lot about the thousands of kids who still needed their crutches when they left, or why Mary makes these miracles only for those with enough money to get to rural Wisconsin for the display of her power to persuade Papa (the one in heaven, not the one in Rome) to change the laws of nature because she asked him to. But you don't wear a pointy hat, so I know I don't have to take you seriously.

I can’t tell you how much better I feel today.

It’s always bugged the shit out of me that the United States could not compete with Mexico, Portugal and Poland when it came to certified apparitions.

Know how many kids from families earning more than $85,000 a year will finish college? - Only half. (But that’s the good news. The bad news is if your parents earn less than $35,000, your chances are one in seventeen.)

But why dwell on the fact that Russia, Canada, Israel, Japan and New Zealand all turn out more college graduates, when we now kick ass apparition-wise.

All you cynics out there need to pull your socks up and look on the bright side.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Showing Off in Baroque

If you know the great counter-tenor story of Carlo Maria Broschi through the film Farinelli, you know it’s about the castrato, Carlo, and his ambitious composer brother, Riccardo. Although the story takes great liberties with history, it is probably true that Riccardo dreamed of being up there with the baroque rivals of his age, Handel and Porpora, but didn’t seem to have what it takes. In the film, Riccardo uses his brother Carlo, both for his ability to attract women (whom Riccardo then finishes off) and to showcase his music. He claims he writes only to further Carlo’s career, but Carlo is a good enough musician – he’s a harpsichordist as well as singer – to tell the difference between real creativity and compositions consisting largely of trills and ornaments to pander to the crowd.

Anyway, one of the great show-off pieces for the voice from Farinelli is Riccardo Broschi’s “Son qual nave.”

Here’s soprano Simone Kermes doing it at the Schwetzinger Festspiele 2010 with the Venice Baroque Orchestra. If this lady ever gets tired of singing, she’ll be a great bronco rider. She’s already got the dress for it.

And here is the Farinelli version, supposedly in counter-tenor, but actually, it’s the voice of coloratura soprano Ewa Malas-Godlewska, digitally blended with counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin’s voice. No matter. It’s one hell of a presentation.

And did I say show-off? You want to see show-off? Take a look at Cecilia Bartoli having at this piece:

And for those of you who like going off on a tangent, here’s a little video about Malas-Godlewska, sopranistka, and the American Derek Lee Ragin, in the studio having their voices massaged for the film. It’s in Polish, unfortunately, but don’t let that stop you.

And for a tangent on a tangent – here’s Handel’s famous “Lascia qu’io pianga” (Let me weep), the only piece in the film that is exclusively Malas-Godlewska’s voice:

But back to “Son Qual Nave”

Here are the words:
Son qual nave ch’agitata
da più scogli in mezzo all’onde
si confonde e spaventata
va solcando in alto mar.
Ma in veder l’amato lido
lascia l’onde e il vento infido
e va in porto a riposar.
My Italian is limited at best, but no matter. With a little help from Google Translate, I think this means something like:

I am a restless boat.
Those rocks in the middle of the waves
Confuse and frighten me.
I plough through the high seas.
But when I see my beloved beach
I leave the treacherous wind and waves
And go into port
And rest.
I leave it to you to make the connection between this poetry and bronco busting.

Or did I get that wrong and Simone Kermes is simply singing the title song from “Oklahoma” and her voice is being dubbed by some Polish lady?


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rest in peace, Maria Hellwig.

Maria Hellwig, let me guess, was probably not on your radar.

Let me tell you about Maria.

Germany, Austria, and Switzerland may have given us Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Mozart. And Humperdinck. And Franz Xaver Schnyder von Wartensee.

But they also gave us the cuckoo clock. Which, no coincidence, rhymes with schlock.

I grew up on this schlock. My grandmother would listen to it for hours.

Maria Hellwig was the kind of woman she would want me to carry around with me, if one carried music around with oneself back in the day. “If you’re ever out in the world and don’t feel safe, go to where people are singing,” she would say. She had Maria Hellwig in mind.

I was barely into my teens before this music began to give me the willies. It’s so over the top saccharine. The words are Ur-banal. Dumm as a cowflop. Ridiculous is a step up. But I could never shed it completely, because trashing it, given my grandmother’s love of the genre, always made me feel like I was kicking a cat.

As in other modern countries, folk music has become best known in its Hollywood variation, with phony nostalgic happy happy joy joy setups, oh, let’s sing and dance and be gay (the old gay, not the new gay, of course). Japan has its enka, Poland its polka. And the German nations the waltz and the yodel. Well, the southerners among the Germanic folk, anyway.

There’s music to make you cry, music to make you swoon, music to make you get up and dance. This is music to make you realize it is possible to lose your cookies and have a laughing fit simultaneously.

Take equal parts country music, Lawrence Welk, and honey. Mix in a blender and pour over sugar cubes and eat with a spoon. Chocolate sprinkles add a nice touch.

Alas, it’s fading away. Maria Hellwig has died at the age of 90 in Ruhpolding, near her birthplace, Reit im Winkl (ride in the corner) close to the Austrian border. Her passing is a serious setback to modern-day German folk music. Not a death blow - this kind of thing, like swamp gas, always rises again. But a profound loss to a whole lot of people.

Have a quick look (you probably will not want to dwell.) Here are three glimpses at Maria doing her thing. The first is a song called

Wenn’st niemand mehr zum Reden hast” (When you don’t have anyone to talk to)

The second is “Wenn wir auch nicht jünger werden” (Even though we’re not getting any younger) . It gives you an idea of the fun-loving rhythm-challenged folk who make up her audience. (Watch the whole thing, especially the part where a fan gets his confetti tangled in her hair.)

And the third, my offering for the pièce de résistance of music to commit suicide by (especially if you know this is the same neighborhood that produced Mozart), here she is, with her daughter Margot, in front of her very own “Cow Stall” Restaurant and Café, singing that great paean to the three German speaking nations, Austria (where they say Servus), Switzerland (Grüezi) and Germany (hallo), “Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo. ”

Holleroihi, by the way, is how you put a yodel to paper.

I’ve Englished it for your listening pleasure.

Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo

Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Gute Laune sowieso
denn Musik macht alle froh.
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo.
Servus, Gruezi und Hallo

Wir singen heute von schönen Ländern
von Österreich, Deutschland und der Schweiz
von unserer Heimat und uns´ren Nachbarn
und grüßen herzlich allerseits.

Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Gute Laune sowieso
denn Musik macht alle froh.
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo.

Die einen jodeln
die andern singen
und jeder freut sich auf der Welt
weil uns doch Deutschland
das schöne Österreich
und auch die Schweiz so gut gefällt

Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Gute Laune sowieso
denn Musik macht alle froh.
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo

Und keine Berge und keine Täler
und auch kein Fluss trennt mich von dir.
In alle Länder, die ich hier meine
bin ich verliebt, drum singen wir:

Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Gute Laune sowieso
denn Musik macht alle froh.
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo

Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Gute Laune sowieso
denn Musik macht alle froh.
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo
Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo

And in English...

Hello (in Austrian), Hello (in Swiss), and Hello (in German)
Servus, Grüezi und Hallo
(yodel yodel)
Good spirits in any case
because music makes everybody happy.
Servus, Grüezi und Hallo
(yodel yodel)
Servus, Grüezi und Hallo

We sing today of beautiful countries, of Austria, Germany and Switzerland
of our home and our neighbors
and say hello to everybody all around.

Servus, Grüezi und Hallo
(yodel yodel)
Good spirits in any case
because music makes everybody happy.
Servus, Grüezi und Hallo
(yodel yodel)
Servus, Grüezi und Hallo

Some yodel
Others sing
and everybody is happy in the world
because we like Germany, the beautiful Austria and also Switzerland so much.

Servus, Grüezi und Hallo
(yodel yodel)
Good spirits in any case
because music makes everybody happy
Servus, Grüezi und Hallo
Servus, Grüezi und Hallo
And no mountains and no valleys and also no river can separate me from you.
With all the countries I speak of here
I am in love, so let´s sing:

Servus, Grüezi, und Hallo

(repeat till the cows come home)

I rest my case.

You rest, too, Maria.

You were a lovely lady.



Monday, November 1, 2010

Voting in 2010

My phone has been ringing off the hook. Martin Sheen called me. So did Leonardo di Caprio. I forget now what they wanted of me. I remember, though, that they already had it. It was nice to hear their voices, anyway. I tried to get a word in edgewise and ask them if we might get together for coffee, but they just kept on talking and hung up when they were done. I found that kind of rude, but I’ve got a tough skin.

I’m glad they’re on the right side. Which is to say the left side. I just went through my sample ballot and voter information pamphlet in preparation for voting. Usually I vote for the main folks and don’t bother with dogcatcher, but this time I decided I needed to line my actions up with my attitude that people who don’t vote are responsible for letting the foxes back in charge of the henhouse. The paper this morning already announced as fact that we will now have John Boehner running the House instead of Nancy Pelosi.

If that’s the case, it will mean Americans will have reached a new low in stupid. This guy is almost perfect sleaze, and leader of such tricks as blaming democrats for the bailout which was Bush’s idea, and saying it hasn’t worked when it has, blaming democrats for a healthcare program which was basically the Republican plan, and a whole host of lies and misrepresentations. We need to get ready for such things as tax relief for the richest Americans so that the need to pay for basic services will be shifted to the middle class. But since the middle class doesn’t seem to care all that much, what’s wrong with that idea?

Think I’m kidding? David Sirota’s column this morning cites a survey done by some Harvard guys recently showing Americans believe the richest 20 percent own 59 percent of the wealth, when, in fact, they own 84 percent of the wealth. But that’s OK, too. After all, they’re smart, and someday if I work hard I’ll be rich and I won’t have to pay taxes either. That’s because America is still the best land of opportunity in the world, no matter how much the democrats try to make it socialist. They can’t fool us. We’re voting Republican.

I went to a conference on the Tea Party at UC Berkeley last week. Didn’t learn much new, but it was nice to see a bunch of academics getting into the nitty gritty of the movement. Problem is, when somebody asked the question at the end of a long day of talks, “What do we do about it?” there were no answers, other than to vote.

Keith Olbermann had a lovely rant the other day on the Tea Party, a 19-minute, 33 second special in classic Olbermann form. Have a look if you can.

Looks like this is what’s coming. Nothing left to do but lie down in the road and let the tanks roll in over us. Just went to a Tea Party site (in Fremont) to see their recommendations and note that they are supporting Prop. 23. That’s the move by Texas oil companies to suspend California’s air pollution control law, AB 32. Not only is the money coming from oil, the line is it is to save California jobs, when in fact the opposite is true. Future jobs in the green industries would be shut down by this bill. You’ve got to wonder what the hell the Tea Partiers are thinking. Oh… Right.

Anyway, as I said, I’m looking at all the candidates and issues this time around with more care than usual. I know most of this is of little or no interest except possibly to my neighbors who, most of them, would largely concur, making this just one more case of preaching to the choir.

It took much less time to make up my mind. Mostly, I simply sought out the guys that I trust and let them show me the way. Not in all cases, but in most. Often, as when the entire city council, liberals and conservatives (or what passes in this town as a conservative), throw their weight behind an issue, it becomes a no-brainer. I did dig a little further to see what, if any, arguments I could find on the other side on a couple contentious issues, like the marijuana legalization proposal

In any case, here’s how I’m voting and why.

1. Partisan offices: Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsome, Debra Bowen, John Chiang, Bill Lockyer, Kamala D. Harris, Dave Jones, Betty T. Yee, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Nancy Skinner. Unless I can find a reason not to, I always vote a straight democratic ticket. My arm would fall off if I voted Republican, and giving a vote to the Peace and Freedom, Green, American Independent or Libertarian candidates, much as I would like to in some cases, strikes me as throwing my vote away at a time when Republicans have gone totally obstructionist, and ceding any power to Republican candidates only helps them on their way. As long as things remain polarized, I’m voting straight Democratic when it comes to politicians.

2. Judicial offices: Judges are another story. Here I have to say I’m influenced by the fact that in Iowa there’s a move to get rid of their Supreme Court justices who voted for same-sex marriage. Never mind they all voted for same-sex marriage, the ones being targeted are the ones up for approval after their first year. Mean. Nobody is considering what other thoughtful decisions the justices have made; they are being attacked for this one decision. That makes me want to go along with the appointments, and assume the vetting process done before they were appointed separated good justices from bad. But there’s no good reason for that assumption and we’re back where we started, making choices on a partisan basis.

So what to do? Do I just go right down the line and vote against anybody appointed by Republican governor Schwarzenegger? Or do I consider that they are likely to be moderate Republicans – no tea party type would rise to this position – and take the trouble to poke through the record of each of them?

A good rule of thumb, I think, is to find out what the Judge Voter Guide has to say about these appointments – they love the word “activist judges” to refer to anybody they find too far to the left – and vote the other way.

I started with Peter J. Siggins. Now here’s a guy, Republican, who illustrates the dilemma of partisan voting. The guy has a sterling record. He was appointed by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a democrat to make democrats proud as well as Diane Feinstein. Recognized by California lawyers as lawyer of the year, and recognized by the Western States Attorneys General as exceptional. He is not recommended by the 2010 Christian Voter Guide despite the fact he is actively involved in Jesuit education, and the Judge Voter Guide, which finds him insufficiently conservative. So I’m giving him a yes.

Then there’s James R. Lambden, another Republican. What’s the yes, but? He left the Boy Scouts after thirty-five years as a Scoutmaster when they launched their anti-gay discrimination policy. That alone should do it for me, but the Judge Voter guide is against him, so that’s a vote in his favor. Also, he’s about to head up the California Voter Access Commission, which seeks to bring justice to more people who can’t afford it. Sounds like a Republican I can support.

And that’s it. Some or all of the other Republicans may have good things going for them, but I’m saying no to Kathleen Banke, Robert L. Dondero, Martin Jnkins, Timothy A. Reardon, Terence L. Bruiniers and Henry Needham, because I’m hoping Jerry Brown gets elected and will come up with somebody more likely to piss off the folks down at the Judge Voter Guide.

For Superior Court Judge, I’m voting for Victoria S. Kolakowski over John Creighton because Kriss Worthington, Tom Ammiano, Dennis Herrera, Mark Leno and Nancy Skinner all endorse her as well as a whole bunch of gay organizations such as the Harvey Milk Club, Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, Equality California, which I worked for briefly.

For State Superintendent of Public Instruction, google “Endorsements” for Larry Aceves and then for Tom Torlakson and you’re flooded with names – dozens and dozens and dozens. Both seem like good guys. Aceves has the edge, apparently, on school reform. They both reject the “Race to the Top” bullshit. They both say the system is badly broken. Aceves seems to have the greatest number of school principals behind him, and he has the San Francisco Chronicle and LA Times behind him, but I’m voting for Tom Torlakson because I know more of the endorsers. I suspect these are both good men.

When it comes to City of Berkeley candidates, I am following the recommendation of Kriss Worthington and other local people I trust and voting for Townley, Webster, Blake, Stephens, Dodsworth and Harr for Rent Stabilization Board Commissioners and Wilson, Daniels and Hemphill for school directors.

Joel Young
is endorsed by just about everybody, good guys and bad guys, for AC Transit District Director, and nobody has anything bad to say about Andy Katz for EBMUD Director, so they get my vote.

Now to the main reason for voting, besides keeping billionaire Meg Whitman from buying her way in to the governor’s seat and Carly Fiorina, Sarah Palin’s endorsement from taking Barbara Boxer’s seat. That’s the State measures – the referenda issues.

I’m voting

Yes on 19 to legalize marijuana for two reasons - even though it's badly written, it's the camel's nose in the door. Once we get used to the idea of decriminalization we can tinker. The other reason is the argument I've heard for decades - it's time we freed up law enforcement for more important things [and thanks to my friend Dustin who is concerned a badly written law may actually do more harm than good. He put me back up on the fence over this;

No on 20 (see 27 below), which would redistrict the congressional districts;

Yes on 21 to add an $18 vehicle licence surcharge to pay for state parks and wildlife programs;

No on 22, which would prohibit the state from borrowing funds from Peter to pay Paul. I don’t like the smell of this, but both the People for the American Way and the San Francisco Chronicle are against it, so I suspect there’s something wrong with it;

NO NO NO NO A THOUSAND TIMES NO on 23 – which would allow Texas oil to trash California green energy;

Yes on 24, to bring in $1.3 billion in taxes, countering a previous Republican type no tax effort responsible for bringing the state to financial ruin;

Yes on 25, to change the 2/3 majority requirement for budget issues – the reason the California legislature has become totally dysfunctional;

No on 26, because it would make a 2/3 vote necessary to slap a fee on businesses that cause harm to the environment, obviously a Tea Party notion of a good thing. Bankrolled by oil, tobacco and alcohol; and

No on 27. Both 20 and 27 have to do with how districts are drawn in California. Currently there is a move to take that power out of politicians’ hands, since they, both parties, work to gerrymander the state, and put it in the hands of a citizen commission. Problem is, 20 and 27 seem to be at odds, nobody knows what the citizen commission would do, and how the current plan is working – so I’m voting no on both, effectively saying leave things alone here.

On Alameda County measure F, I’m voting yes to slap a $10 fee on vehicle registration to build streets and roads. Why would people say no to fixing the roads? They’re a mess. And why shouldn’t the money come from car owners and not the public at large?

Finally, I’m voting yes on H – money for schools; yes on I, ditto; no on R, the mayor’s downtown development plan that isn’t a plan at all, but a chance to overturn the previous downtown development plan which he didn’t like; yes on S, a small tax on medical cannabis, because nobody I know has come up with an argument against this, and yes on T, which would allow for cannabis collectives but keep them away from schools – because my friend Karl and the mayor, whom he can’t stand, both say so.

There. That’s the end of probably the longest thing I’ve ever written which I expect absolutely nobody to read.

It might have made more sense if I’d done this earlier, and given people a chance to challenge some of my choices, but I didn’t get around to it.

Why do I feel I've just come off eight hours of jury duty?


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Seeing Things

It’s a truism that what we see in the media is not so much “the news” or “the events of the day” as it is somebody’s idea of information that might entertain us or give us a reason to go tsk tsk. Especially now, when we can pre-select our news sources and confirm, for example, that people are no damn good and the world is going to hell, if that’s what we expect the news to be. And we see in the news not so much what’s there, anymore, objectivity not being what it once was, as what we assume some “producer” of the news has determined will make them a profit. After all, since we are committed to the notion of a free press, we can’t very well have a committee of wise men and women deciding what information we should be fed. Barring rule by wise and wonderful philosopher kings, we’re pretty much at the mercy of producers of news stories making calculated guesses on what will sell.

This means it’s a fair question, when you open your newspaper or turn on a TV news program, to ask, "Who benefits from the choice of this particular news item over another? And what, if anything, in this story is worth my time?" Often, as when the media tell us so much about how Americans say they are going to vote, for example, and so little about the truth value of candidates' assertions, I am tempted to think there is no reason to follow the news at all. In fact, I’ve stopped completely watching the local evening news with all their warehouse fires and 'if it bleeds, it leads' stories. But sometimes a look at what’s wrong with the world may actually serve a purpose. The question is always what purpose.

Take the story that came out of Arkansas this week about a school board member who posted a rant against gay people on Facebook. And not just a rant. An illiterate rant, and that meant that to the large audience of people who would fault him for his homophobia was added a second large audience of people who wondered how such a dunce ever got elected vice president of a school board.

Clint McCance is his name, and his school district is in rural Arkansas. He’s from Pleasant Plains, a town of 138 male and 133 female residents. There is little doubt the notoriety he has received since his homophobic rant was “outed” last Wednesday in the pages of the Advocate, the gay publication of record, has shaken him up pretty bad. It wasn’t long before the story went viral, and before Anderson Cooper was making hay of it, and religious and civil organizations all over Arkansas, including the school board itself, were gathering to distance themselves from this yokel’s point of view.

A simpleton has been revealed to be a simpleton. It’s hard to see why that should be a news story. But Clint McCance happened to shoot his mouth off at just the wrong moment in American social history. Because the story of gay student suicides has become the topic du jour of late, it’s national news when a school board member says he would wear a purple shirt in solidarity with the victims of gay suicide and their families only “if they all commit suicide.”

I have to admit I was glued to the computer screen the two days Anderson Cooper gave to this story. On the first, he lambasted this crude fellow. On the second day McCance actually agreed to come on his program and use that occasion to resign from the school board. It was at this point when I began thinking this could well seen as a story about Anderson Cooper, particularly if you read the gay press and the constant commentary from gays that this guy ought to come out as gay once and for all. Normally, I ignore such talk as irrelevant. This time, I began to wonder.

But let me stick with this as a story about a homophobe from Arkansas, for the moment. And start with a brief excursion. Too much is being made, I think, about the fact this guy is on his local school board. First off, it's a school board in a small town. Of the 271 citizens of Pleasant Plains, how many are eligible voters? And how many actually vote for school board candidates? I'm pretty sure Clint McCance, or practically any local boy like him, could pretty much elect himself, if he got his family and friends into the act. One news story I followed made mention of the fact that the religious right has a national plan to take over the country one school board at a time, and this could well be part of that plot. But conspiracy speculations aside, it could also be explained away as just one of those things that happen in small towns. Idiots get elected to public office, just as they do in any size town when nobody else wants the job and the electorate turns a blind eye.

Unless you live in a bubble of enlightened men and women, sheltered from the kinds of people now coming out of the woodwork to vote for Tea Party candidates, you already know lots of Clint McCances. Men in their 20s and 30s with the bravado of a post-pubescent bully sounding off about how them gays ought to kill thereselves. It’s only if you’ve never watched an anti-gay rally that the line “they should get AIDS and die” comes as a surprise.

Watch the first and particularly the second Anderson Cooper day interview with McCance, and watch the guy squirm. He understands on some level that he did something wrong and owes people an apology. But in his apology is a wealth of information about where his head is. He used the wrong words, he says. His words were "over the top."

Really? The wrong words? Then why, when asked if he would really throw his own kids out of his house if they turned out to be gay did he actually say he could not predict what he would do in the future? And why, when asked if he would use words like queer and faggot again did he have trouble with the word no?

As the interview goes on, your sense of pity and revulsion increase, because it becomes increasingly clear he is apologizing for getting caught, not for being wrong-headed. This alleged apology is like watching a house burn down.

If you listen carefully, you will hear him defend himself, thus negating even his attempt at an apology, by saying he still holds to his religious beliefs – which beliefs are clearly that “people like that” ought to pay for their sins.

That’s the real story, as far as I’m concerned. Not that a not-ready-for-prime-time not-very-well-educated yokel has made an ass of himself and been forced to apologize. Not even that the apology isn’t an apology. But that here, in the middle of America, a deeply held American social value is being revealed, a belief founded on an understanding of Christian scripture that gays are flawed and that revulsion against gays is a completely natural response.

That's not new. What is new is that Anderson Cooper and others are demonstrating the revulsion I feel in listening to this guy, and that even on CNN somebody with that slant on the story is capturing a good half hour of prime time air time. Also new are suggestions coming from the likes of Max Brantley, editor of the Arkansas Times that Bible belt Christianity is not an innocent bystander in this drama.

What we're watching here is not the shedding of homophobia. That's a ways off yet. At best, if McCance's humiliation serves as a deterrent to others, what we're getting is the message, "it's OK to be homophobic, but be sure you don't hurt anybody with it." Here in this neck of the woods, the message of tolerance is arriving, brought by the culture in which the national media live. In other words, Anderson Cooper isn't just giving us the news. He's turning the lights on intolerance, and in so doing, he is acting as agent of a subset of American society in which tolerance has already been replaced by acceptance. The McCances of America can come along, if they wish. Or they can find the middle ground between acceptance and intolerance, which is tolerance.

Also working simultaneously with media culture's acceptance is Christian tolerance, a spectrum of attitudes from "love the sinner, hate the sin" - only barely across the line from where McCance sits at the moment, to begrudging acceptance, barely across the line from full acceptance. McCance can go a little way into tolerance - into the "bring the gays to Jesus" camp, for example. Or he can travel a great deal further.

He can also slide back, once the lights are off, and join those, like the first six people to respond to McCance’s facebook trash, who find his revulsion perfectly natural. The story is not really about him. It's really more about the media itself and how it serves as an agent of change.

Or so it seems to me.

We all see in these news stories what we are prepared to see. Some will see a bad boy becoming good through an apology. Some will see what a backward place Arkansas can be. Professional linguists will argue that thereselves is merely a dialectal variant of themselves and some in the hoi polloi will insist that it’s perfectly normal to write can’t as cant on a facebook page, since editing is not expected any more. But I see in this story how far we still have to go before gays and lesbians are freed from the fearful ignorant authoritarian literalist Christianity that no longer disparages Jews, or women, or blacks, as it once did, but is still the main source of American homophobia. That form of Christianity (thank God there are others) is still an integral part of American culture, and the reason why we are engaged in a cultural civil war.

So after beginning this reflection with a bit of media bashing, I feel obliged to speak for the other side. Nice job, national media. Even when your story appears at first sight to be just another tsk-tsk-aren’t-people-awful story. Even when the story is a topic of the hour story and not a treatment of historical moment. When the media hold a mirror up to society, as Anderson Cooper did in this instance, sometimes there is more going on than simple profit making. Sometimes it’s like airing out a stuffy room.

If you see it that way.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Departures - A Film Review

Departures is the story of a man forced by financial hard times to become a noukanshi, a person whose job it is to prepare the body of the deceased, in the presence of the deceased’s family, for placement in a coffin before cremation.

The film is a total immersion experience in Japanese sensibility, a crash course in the whole range of culture, from the sublime to the ridiculous. To most Westerners (and possibly most other Easterners as well) Japan is a place of unexpected juxtapositions, and what director Takita Yojiro, writer Koyama Kundo, producer and lead actor Motoki Masahiro and others have come up with is consistent with that image. It is the rankest sentimentality up next to the wisdom of the ages, snowflakes and wild geese flying across the sky and Ave Maria on the cello up against exaggerated facial expressions and slapstick humor and one of the most profound life-affirming messages ever portrayed. A comedy about death. More specifically, a comedy about the dignity of death.

It doesn’t matter that most Japanese today are unfamiliar with the practice. Japanese and others familiar with Japan will recognize in the tradition a distinctly Japanese way of channeling pain and grief into dignity. The Japanese skill at turning a mundane object into an art object through wrapping (even books are wrapped in their own paper cover) is merely extended to the human body.

How many people other than the makers of Departures could take on not only death as a theme directly, but the taboo of the dead body? One false move, and this could have been a disaster. But there isn’t one false move. What in less capable hands would be maudlin, even grotesque, becomes a work of art. Westerners are left to wonder why their dead are either turned over to strangers to be manipulated like silly putty, or whisked away and forgotten, while there are people on the planet who seem to be able to transform their loved ones like ikebana flowers into objects of unexpected beauty. How often does one come away from a peek into alien cultural practices with the conviction that they do it better?

The film works because the tone is exquisite, the eccentricities of the characters come across as universals, and the predictability of the story line is compensated for by the power of the emotions so brilliantly portrayed. A five-star movie.

released September 2008 in Japan
original title Okuribito (the “Send Off Person”)

starring: Motoki Masahiro as Kobayashi Daigo, Yamazaki Tsutomu as Sasaki Ikuei, Hirosue Ryoko as Kobayashi Mika, Yo Kimiko as Kamimura Yuriko, Yoshiyuki Kazuko as Yamashita Tsuyako, and Sasano Takashi as Hirata Shokichi.


Saturday, October 2, 2010


Here's the Finnish national anthem, sung by the Vocaloids.

And here’s the Estonian national anthem, sung by the Estonian president, Thomas Hendrik on a visit to Canada. Notice the subtlety. How they first sing it loud and then they sing it soft and then they sing it loud again.

You may notice a similarity in the two melodies. But that's only because the two countries have the same melody for their national anthems.

Which was written Fredrik Pacius, who set to music a poem, entitled Maamme, in Finnish. Except that he wrote it in Swedish, of course, and in Swedish it’s Vårt land. Not the best choice of words, when you consider that Pacius was German and in German v is pronounced like an f.

Which makes you wonder if this guy maybe had a chip on his shoulder, possibly because he allowed Alla Pugacheva to talk him into using her hairdresser.

Here's a picture of the guy, showing both his hair and his Napoleon complex, as well as a picture of Alla Pugacheva of "A Million Roses" fame (see previous blog entry.)

Why the hell the Finns used a song composed by a German when they could have used Finlandia, that magnificent piece by Sibelius, their national folk hero and, I would venture, much better composer.

Could it be because, when he got older, his hair went where Pugacheva and Pacius’s probably should have gone? Here’s Sibelius before and after.

And here’s a particularly lovely rendition of the Finnish/Estonian national anthem, played by Jimi Hendrix.

Sorry. Just kidding. It’s not by Jimi Hendrix, but by Jämmi Hendrik, no apparent relation, although I can't guarantee he's not related to Estonia's president.

Another question driving research is why the Estonians had to go and name their version after the world’s leading terrorist. It’s called, “My Fatherland,” or, in Estonian, “Mu Isaama.” I’m sure that’s pure coincidence (but what do I know) but it does suggest that there may be a curse on this little ditty, if it inspires both fear and fart jokes.

And the unfortunate fact that in Chinese Runeberg is pronounced "Looneybird."

Listen for yourself to this Chinese man giving some background on the author. It probably explains why, when the Chinese introduction is translated into English, the nice lady tells us his name is Johan Ludvig and leaves out his last name altogether. They then play the anthem and leave out the words. The ones written by Runeberg. They don’t make any mention of the fact that Runeberg (with a Swedish name, please note) apparently wrote it first in Swedish.

The Finnish and Estonian languages are quite similar, but since I know neither language, I can’t tell you how and to what degree. I do know that, in Estonian, kuulilennuteetunneliluuk means "the hatch a bullet flies out of when exiting a tunnel” and that the longest word in the Finnish language is epäjärjestelmällistyttämättömyydellänsäkäänköhän, but since neither of these words has anything to do with their national anthems, this is probably not very helpful.

You can tell that Finns and Estonians are very close by the number of comments on the YouTube site by Finns saying that the Estonians stole their anthem and, by the way, are all whores. But one doesn’t judge a country by its YouTube commenters.

Much better to judge the world by the lovely young people who sing their national anthems cacaphonically, each in their own tongue (Estonian – keel; Finnish – kieli).

Which makes me wonder if we couldn’t get the Israelis, who appear to have stolen their national anthem from the Czechs (and hidden it in a minor key) to share it with the Palestinians. Pretty much all else has failed. A Hebrew/Arabic version sung simultaneously is certainly worth a try, wouldn't you say? With somebody of Toscanini's calibre directing, of course.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Out of Latvia

One of the many paths I tread on lightly from time to time that I’d like to pursue more seriously in some future reincarnation is the sociology of knowledge. I am fascinated with the way information gets passed on, who picks it up, how and why. How is it, as Foucault documented in Madness and Civilization, that what some people consider crazy, others consider perfectly normal? How do scientific paradigms shift? How did homosexuality go from being a behavior to an identity, from a sin to an illness to a source of pride, as attitudes shifted and categories were shuffled?

The other day, I got into a fun exchange with a bunch of friends over Wagnerian opera. Most of my friends, like me, find him too ponderous to take in large doses. We want our music more readily digestible. But we also end up having to admit there’s more than a little there there, if only we had the patience to give it its due. I have to remind myself regularly that I once hated the same Richard Strauss I now think wrote some of the most beautiful music ever written.

That discussion opened the door to all sorts of exchanges about musical preferences. People began sending me YouTube pieces to listen to, and I spent an entire day following up on their suggestions.

What a glorious way to get from morning to night. I used to take time to do that when I lived in Japan, not just visit old friends in music, but set myself up for musical surprises. I think it’s a habit I need to get back into.

After listening to some exquisite pieces (Barber’s Adagio for Strings, for example, and Wagner’s Liebestod, from Tristan and Isolde), I began branching out to some less lofty old friends. I love Russian folk songs and the silliness of Max Raabe and Japanese enka, (provided it’s sung by talented professionals – the lesser karaoke versions can drive you to join the NRA.) And of course there are all those sucker pieces out there, like Schlafe, mein Prinzchen, Schlaf Ein.

I found myself thinking back to that time a dozen or so years ago when I went to a concert with Taku’s mother and got blown away by music I had thought belonged in the same category as Lawrence Welk. Most Japanese popular music had left me cold. There is a Japanese way of being cute that is like bamboo under the fingernails, and the dumb costumes and the coyness and the reedy voices of untalented skinny people… You know what I mean. I just wasn’t interested.

But Mama had been accompanying me to opera and I owed her the favor of letting her show me some of her turf in return. And that’s how we ended up at a Kato Tokiko concert. For the whole story on the impact of that evening, see .

First thing I did at intermission was buy all her albums so I could over time learn many of her songs. Kato Tokiko is no longer an obsession, but I go back to her from time to time.

Yesterday, after playing all day with music of all stripes, I suddenly realized I might get some of the questions about the origin of Kato Tokiko’s signature piece, "A Million Roses."

I had started digging twelve years ago, but getting information was hard. Today, now that the internet has opened up the world, that is no longer the case. There was a wealth of information on how this song had come to be and how it had made its way around the globe.

And what does this have to do with the sociology of knowledge? Well, it turns out that alongside the question, how did this song become so popular in places like the Soviet Union and Japan, there is another question I wanted answered – how is it that a composer like Raimonds Pauls, the composer of the original melody, can be a household name not only in Latvia but all over the former Soviet Union and absolutely unheard of in our part of the world? The answer to that has to be at much political, I suspect, as cultural. But maybe not. In any case, I decided to see what I could find out.

As it turns out, for Pauls to be Latvian means he was also a citizen of the Soviet Union. Which means he spoke and worked in Russian. Which means that in addition to being a jazz musician from Riga, he was able to make the political connections that would enable him eventually to become Minister of Culture. In fact, he was at one point in line to become President of Latvia, if he had not turned the job down to continue with his music.

Somewhere along the line he began a friendship with the Russian popular singer, Alla Pugacheva (pronounced –chova) and worked with the well-known Russian poet, Andrei Voznesensky, to create a second version of his popular Latvian song, "Dāvāja Māriņa" ("Mara has given"). In the original Latvian, written by dissident Latvian poet, Leons Briedis, the song was about a woman bewailing the fact that the mythical Latvian goddess Mara, although she gave her a child, failed to give her the luck she needed to go with raising the child. It’s a melancholy theme, a folk song, with a simple melody in which the notes move up and down the scale much of the time only one step at a time.

Curiously, when the song moved into Russian, Voznesensky made it a dramatic love song about an artist who sold all that he owned, his house and all his paintings, to buy a million red roses to lay out in the square outside the window of an actress he had fallen in love with. She looks out the window, thinks it’s some rich fool and leaves town. The artist lives on in poverty, the woman barely retains the memory of the flowers.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. Because Pauls was not only a composer, but a political figure, his standing in the Soviet bloc countries meant he was able to take his show on the road, enabling the people of all the East bloc countries to become familiar with him. There is a Polish version, where the red roses become white roses and at least two Finnish versions. Finland, while not in the Soviet Block, is just across the water from Estonia and from St. Petersburg, and this suggests it is well within the Russian cultural sphere. Although, come to think of it, it might have entered from Latvia, since the words are not a translation of the Russian version.

But how, I wondered, did it make the leap all the way to Japan, where anybody over 50 and a whole lot of younger people as well can hum the melody for you. I took note of the fact that Kato Tokiko was born in Manchuria during the war to parents with a love of things Russian. She toured the USSR in 1968 and has included places like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Vietnam and Cuba as well as western countries in her concert tours. During the 60s, her husband was jailed for protesting the Vietnam War, and it’s pretty clear her intent is not to be limited by Cold War boundaries. Not pro-Russian, in other words, necessarily; just not anti-Russian. My guess is not that she took the song for political reasons – there is absolutely nothing I can see about the song that is political – but simply because she was familiar with Alla Pugacheva and/or Pauls, and was open to adapting it. She (I think she wrote the words) kept the starving artist story of the Russian version, and so successful was she at this that the song became her signature piece.

Since Korea and Vietnam, like China and Taiwan and other places in Asia, have long since begun absorbing Japanese popular culture, it’s not surprising that the song has become a success in its Korean and Vietnamese versions, as well.

On YouTube, I managed to find dozens of versions of the song, far more than any sane person might want to take in. I don’t recommend you go down the entire list of what I managed to come up with, but I think you might enjoy, as I did, noting how when the song traveled across cultural boundaries, it took on new color.

Originally a folk song, the kind of music sung by people with too much hair, it has been taken up by rock music singers, Korean girls with traditional instruments, a Japanese shakuhachi player, and a Latvian rap singer singing to half the population of Latvia, with the masses joining him on the choruses. And all the while, nobody on this side of the planet seems to be remotely interested. Just not on the radar.

And this “return” to Latvia – if that’s what it is – raises the question of how political it is for this many people to be gathered in one place, singing in Latvian a song written by a Latvian poet on the outs with the Soviet power structure that made it round the world (but only in the eastern hemisphere) because it went into Russian. Particularly since the original song is based on Latvian mythology and has nothing to do with a million roses given by some lovesick artist. Politics and culture intersect here, with Vietnamese, once hostile to everything Japanese, now taking in the song, one assumes, because they (like many Japanese) believe it is Japanese, the Japanese taking it in because of a love of things Russian, the Poles and Finns, once hostile to the Russians, taking it in presumably because it is Russian, the Russian version written by a Russian Soviet citizen whom Khrushchev once humiliated in public for being disloyal, and the song finding its way back home into a modern rap version, sung by a rapper wearing a jacket with Latvia written across it (why?) – in English.

I’m listing the versions in no particular order. Because some of you will not have a day to give over to this obsession of mine, I have limited the fifty or so versions I have managed to collect to a mere fifteen. If you don’t have the time or the interest to do the whole pile, at least have a look at Kato Tokiko’s version, to see where the Asian leap began, and at the Korean version, for pure loveliness, and the Latvian rap singer version, just to see how the song made its way back home to be transformed into a form its composer probably never conceived of when he wrote it back in 1981. Oh, and tap in quickly (but don’t stay, if the bubbles get to you) to see the original Russian version, hair and all.

“Don’t miss” versions:

1. A 1989 Kato Tokiko version, sung at a gallop (the way I think comes across the best)
2. A 1983 Alla Pugacheva Russian version, where there’s a race between the bubbly musical arrangement and her hair for attention (the hair wins) (two minutes or less of this will probably do)
3. My personal favorite: The “IS (Infinity of Sound) girls” singing a Korean Version: (The first couple of minutes are worth watching for a look at the instruments, but if you don’t speak Korean you may want to skip to minute 2:25 where the song begins. It may grab you slowly, and perhaps not at all, but I think it is definitely worth listening through to the end.)
4. The original Latvian version
5. A modern rap version by the Latvian rapper, Ozols

There are a couple other performances of the Japanese versions I would recommend:

6. Kato Tokiko (not in her best voice) singing it to a lovely shakuhachi accompaniment:
7. Ito Yukari, singing a revised version of the lyrics, at half speed

And if you’re the in-for-a-penny, in-for-a-pound type, and have an appreciation of the absurd (and, in some cases, a strong stomach), there’s:

8. A Finnish version (with Swedish subtitles), sung by well-known Finnish singer Vera Telenius
9. A Vietnamese version, with dancing inspired by Alla Pugacheva’s hair
10. A Japanese Women’s Chorus version
11. A sing-along karaoke version, in Japanese with Roman letters
12. A Helsinki street musician’s version
13. How about a Japanese animation dancer in a velvet dress on a balcony by the sea?
14. A Polish version, "Milion białych róż," maybe, if you prefer white roses?
15. A Russian rhumba version by the vocal group Cosmos
16. Alla Pugacheva, updated in 2002, singing it at Kato Tokiko’s gallop speed, with Pauls at the piano looking bored out of his gourd, and hair suffering from yet another viral attack – but you can get an idea of how the song has worked its way into the Russian consciousness.

Some time ago, in another “musical surprise” session, I became aware of how big a role choral music played in the Estonian consciousness, with Estonia's "To Breathe as One" festival getting some 37,000 performers, singers, dancers and musicians on stage, and an audience of 200,000. Now this footnote to a song I got to know in Japan has brought me into another of the Baltic nations. The deeper I go, the more rewarding I am finding the trip. Before signing off here, let me just give you a small taste.

Here’s Raimonds Pauls doing a group sing. (Hang in there on this one – it gets better as it goes along)

And here’s that young group of talented singers called Cosmos you saw doing "A Million Roses" in Russian in #15 above. Turns out they’re Latvian. Listen to what they can do.

And here they are doing an invitation to Latvia

Silver tongued devils.

I’m on my way.

Appendix A
Russian version, as sung by Alla Pugacheva
Music by Rolands Pauls and lyrics written by Andrei Voznesensky for Alla Pugacheva
(with English and German translations of same)

Жил-был художник один
Домик имел и холсты
Но он актрису любил
Ту, что любила цветы
Он тогда продал свой дом
Продал картины и кров
И на все деньги купил
Целое море цветов

Миллион, миллион, миллион алых роз
Из окна, из окна, из окна видишь ты
Кто влюблен, кто влюблен, кто влюблен и всерьез
Свою жизнь для тебя превратит в цветы

Утром ты встанешь у окна
Может сошла ты с ума
Как продолжение сна
Площадь цветами полна
Похолодеет душа
Что за богач здесь чудит
А под окном чуть дыша
Бедный художник стоит

Миллион, миллион, миллион алых роз
Из окна, из окна, из окна видишь ты
Кто влюблен, кто влюблен, кто влюблен и всерьез
Свою жизнь для тебя превратит в цветы

Миллион, миллион, миллион алых роз
Из окна, из окна, из окна видишь ты
Кто влюблен, кто влюблен, кто влюблен и всерьез
Свою жизнь для тебя превратит в цветы

Встреча была коротка
В ночь ее поезд увез
Но в ее жизни была
Песня безумная роз
Прожил художник один
Много он бед перенес
Но в его жизни была
Целая площадь цветов

Миллион, миллион, миллион алых роз
Из окна, из окна, из окна видишь ты
Кто влюблен, кто влюблен, кто влюблен и всерьез
Свою жизнь для тебя превратит в цветы

Миллион, миллион, миллион алых роз
Из окна, из окна, из окна видишь ты
Кто влюблен, кто влюблен, кто влюблен и всерьез
Свою жизнь для тебя превратит в цветы

English translation:

There once was an artist
He had a cottage and canvases
But he loved an actress
who loved flowers
He sold his house
Sold his paintings and his shelter
And with all the money he bought
a sea of flowers

A million, million, million scarlet roses
From the window, from the window from the window you see
One who loves you so intently that he will
turn his life into flowers for you.

In the morning you wake and stand at the window
Maybe you’ll think you’re still dreaming
The area is full of flowers
Your soul trembles
What millionaire is playing this trick?
But beneath the window, barely breathing
Stands the poor painter.

A million, million, million scarlet roses
From the window, from the window from the window you see
One who loves you so intently that he will
turn his life into flowers for you.

A million, million, million scarlet roses
From the window, from the window from the window you see
One who loves you so intently that he will
turn his life into flowers for you.

The meeting was short
The train took her away in the night
But in her life there was
This song of roses beyond reason
The artist lived alone
He endured many hardships
But in his life there was
An entire square of flowers

A million, million, million scarlet roses
From the window, from the window from the window you see
One who loves you so intently that he will
turn his life into flowers for you.

A million, million, million scarlet roses
From the window, from the window from the window you see
One who loves you so intently that he will
turn his life into flowers for you.

German translation

Eine Million purpurner Rosen

Es war einmal ein Künstler,
Er besaß ein Häuschen und Gemälde.
Aber er liebte eine Schauspielerin,
Eine, die Blumen liebte.
Da verkaufte er sein Haus,
Verkaufte seine Bilder und seine Bleibe,
Und mit dem ganzen Geld kaufte er
Ein ganzes Meer aus Blumen.

Eine Million, eine Million,
Eine Million purpurner Rosen
Siehst du vom Fenster aus, vom Fenster aus,
vom Fenster aus.
Wer verliebt ist, wer verliebt ist,
Wer ernstlich verliebt ist,
Der verwandelt sein Leben
Für dich in Blumen.

Morgens stellst du dich ans Fenster,
Vielleicht hast Du den Verstand verloren,
Wie die Fortsetzung eines Traumes,
Der Platz ist mit Blumen gefüllt.
Die Seele erstarrt:
Was für ein Reicher lässt sich hier so gehen?
Und unter dem Fenster, kaum atmend,
Steht der arme Künstler.

Eine Million, eine Million,
Eine Million purpurner Rosen
Siehst du vom Fenster aus, vom Fenster aus,
vom Fenster aus.
Wer verliebt ist, wer verliebt ist,
Wer ernstlich verliebt ist,
Der verwandelt sein Leben
Für dich in Blumen.

Die Begegnung war kurz,
Der Zug führte sie in die Nacht hinaus,
Aber in ihrem Leben war
Das Lied der Verrücktheit nach Rosen.
Der Künstler lebte bis an sein Ende allein,
Der Arme machte viel durch,
Aber in seinem Leben war
Ein ganzer Platz aus Blumen.

Eine Million, eine Million,
Eine Million purpurner Rosen
Siehst du vom Fenster aus, vom Fenster aus,
vom Fenster aus.
Wer verliebt ist, wer verliebt ist,
Wer ernstlich verliebt ist,
Der verwandelt sein Leben
Für dich in Blumen.

Appendix B
(Partial) Finnish version
rewritten by Vera Telenius

Taas ruusut käy kukkimaan,
Tuoksua täynnä on maa.
Mietteeni sinne taas vie,
Missä on ruusuinen tie.

Nuoruuden rakkaus on
Kaunis ja koskematon,
Katseet ne kertovat vain,
Katseestas onnen mä sain.

Miljoona, miljoona, miljoona ruusua,
Tuoksua, tuoksua, tuoksua rakkauden,
Muistoja, muistoja, muistoja tuoksut tuo;
Tunteen ja katseen ensirakkauden.

Tunteen niin kaihoisan saan,
Ruusun kun nään hehkuvan.
Syömeni kultaa se on,
Tunne tää arvaamaton.

Tuskaa ei lauluni soi,
Vaikka sua saada en voi.
Paljon mä sain kuitenkin:
Ruusuisen tien muistoihin.


Maailma suuri ja maa
Kauaksi voi kuljettaa.
Ruusuissa piikkejäkin,
Joskus ne pistävätkin.

Appendix C
(English translation of Korean version)

Way in the past I came from a star far away
Heard a small voice telling me
Go give love and return.

Only when loving
Will flowers bloom will the million flowers bloom
Only with sincere love
Will roses of love bloom.

Without hate, hate, hate in our hearts
Love giving lavishly, lavishly
Will we have millions millions millions of flowers bloom
And I will be able to return to my beautiful longed for land of stars.

Many tears of anquish have been shed, what is true love
Many tears of anquish have been shed what is true love
There were so many people separated it was a very sad world.

After many seasons had past
After he gave of his all
Like a light suddenly
That love embraced me.

Without hate, hate, hate in our hearts
Love given lavishly, lavishly
Will we have millions millions millions of flowers bloom
And I will be able to return to my beautiful longed for land of stars.

Now if all should leave me
Love will remain
The one that came to me from that star
Waited so long
Being together with him
many more flowers will bloom
Becoming one we will return to the eternal star.

No more hate no more hate
Only giving lavishly of love
Will the million clusters of flowers give bloom
And I will be able to go to the longed for and beautful land of stars.

Appendix D
(Original Latvian Version – first verse and chorus only)

Kad bērnībā, bērnībā
Man tika pāri nodarīts,
Es pasteidzos, pasteidzos
Tad māti uzmeklēt tūlīt,
Lai ieķertos, ieķertos,
Ar rokām viņas priekšautā.
Un māte man, māte man
Tad pasmējusies teica tā:
Piedz. (Chorus)

Dāvāja, dāvāja, dāvāja Māriņa
Meitiņai, meitiņai, meitiņai mūžiņu,
Aizmirsa, aizmirsa, aizmirsa iedot vien
Meitiņai, meitiņai, meitiņai laimīti.

Appendix E
(Latvian rap singer Ozols’ version)

Dāvā man to ko tu vari iedot
Piedod man par to par ko tu vari piedot
Bet atgriežoties atpakaļ pagātnē bērnībā
Saku tev taisni sejā tur viss nebija kārtībā
Tu kaut kur es arī kaut kur
Vai tā kāds savā starpā attiecības uztur
Skatoties pa logu ārā gaidot tevi atpakaļ
Tāpat kā toreiz man šodien sāpes nāk atpakaļ
Šī nav pirmā nakts un šī nav arī pēdējā
Es sēžu viens zaudējis ticību visam savā istabā
Kāds tomēr nebija savos uzdevuma augstumos
Bet tā ir mana pieredze un es no viņas neatsakos
Tas nebija paaudžu konflikts tā bij vienaldzība
Un tas ka es šodien par to runāju tā nav atklātība
Tas ir atskats pagātnē un mūsu saistības
Mūsu prieks mūsu sāpes mūsu attiecības

Piedz. (Chorus)

Dāvāja, dāvāja, dāvāja Māriņa
Meitenei, meitenei, meitenei mūžiņu
Aizmirsa, aizmirsa, aizmirsa iedot vien
Meitenei, meitenei, meitenei laimīti

Un tagad es šeit viens
Un apkārt nav neviens
Seko vēl viens sitiens
Tas asāks kā dūriens

Tagad šodien šeit tāpat kā tur toreiz
Es pārvarēšu šīs sāpes un tās mani neuzveiks
Es nenosodīšu šeit absolūti nevienu
Un no šīs pieredzes es mācīšos tikai vienu
Nenomest malā tos ko nedrīkst nomest
Šķirtās mātes es ar jums un jums nedrīkst pārmest
Šī pasaule nav godīga pret jums vēl joprojām
Un pārāk daudz mēs viens otru šeit nosodām
Bet šī vienaldzība pret mani kas tev līdzi nāk
Tevi no manis ar vien vairāk spēj attālināt
To visu varēja mainīt bet tu to nemainīji
To visu varēja pagriezt bet tu uz kaut ko gaidīji
Tu daudz sāpes radi tu nevari noliegt to
Bet es esmu ar tevīm neskatoties ne uz ko
Mūs daudz lietas šķir bet daudzas arī vieno
Tu man es tuvākais cilvēks tev jāzina to

Piedz. 2x

Dāvāja, dāvāja, dāvāja Māriņa
Meitenei, meitenei, meitenei mūžiņu
Aizmirsa, aizmirsa, aizmirsa iedot vien
Meitenei, meitenei, meitenei laimīti

Appendix F
(Japanese translation of Russian version)

百万本のバラ一人の画家が住んでいた. 彼は家とカンバスを持っていた. でも、

Appendix G
(Japanese song version, as sung by Kato Tokiko)


窓から 窓から見える広場を



窓から 窓から見える広場は


窓から 窓から見える広場を

Appendix H
(Japanese song version, in romaji)

Chisana ie to kyanbasu hoka ni wa nani mo nai
Mazushii ekaki ga joyuu ni koi wo shita
Daisuki na ano hito ni bara no hana wo agetai
Aru hi machijuu no bara wo kaimashita

(Chorus 1)
Hyakumanbon no bara no hana wo
Anata ni anata ni anati ni ageru
Mado kara mado kara mieru hiroba wo
makkana bara de umetsukushite

Ano asa kanojo wa makkana bara no umi wo mite
dokoka no kanemochi ga fuzaketa no da to omotta
chisana ie to kyanbasu subete wo utte bara no hana
Katta mazushii ekaki wa
mado no shita de kanojo mite ita

(Chorus 2)
Hyakumanbon no bara no hana wo
anata wa anata wa anata wa mite’ru
Mado kara mado kara mieru hiroba wa
Makkana makkana bara no umi

Deaii wa sorede owari joyuu wa betsu no machi e
Makkana bara no umi wa
Hanayaka na kanojo no jinsei
Mazushii ekaki wa kodokuna hibi wo okutta
Keredo bara no omoide wa kokoro ni kienakatta

(Chorus 1)
Hyakumanbon no bara no hana wo
Anata ni anata ni anati ni ageru
Mado kara mado kara mieru hiroba wo
makkana bara de umetsukushite

Appendix I
(Polish translation of Russian version)

Milion pąsowych Róż

Żył sobie jeden malarz
miał domek i płotna
zakochany w aktoreczke był
ktora kochała kwiaty

sprzedał on swoj dom
spryedał obrazy i krew
i za wszystkie pieniadze kupil
cale morze kwiatow

Milion, milion pąsowych róż
i z okna widzisz ty
kto y miłosci ogromnej
swoje zycie dla Ciebie

zmienił w kwiaty

Wstajesz rano przy okne
moze oszalałaś czy co?
moze to dalsza czescsnu
widzisz za oknem pełno kwiatow

chłodnieje dusza
co za bogacz tu cudaczy
a dod oknem ledwie żywy
biedny malarz stoi

Milion, milion pąsowych róż
i z okna widzisz ty
kto y miłosci ogromnej
swoje zycie dla Ciebie

Spotkanie było krótkie
w nocy ją pociąg zabrał
ale w jego życiu była
pieųśń tamtych róż

Przeżyl malarz wiele sam
wiele biedy zniósl
ale w jego życiu był
caly choryzont kwiatów


Monday, September 13, 2010

Small steps worth taking note of

Sometimes there is social progress that is easy to miss.

Some poor shlep was doing a powerpoint presentation on the importance of giving blood at a high school near Pittsburg the other day, and mixed up some gay porn shots with the shots intended to encourage blood donation. That’s what grannie might call an oops.

Some parents are outraged. They think it was a big oops. The idea that high school kids had never seen porn before in this day and age would seem to argue for a not so big oops, but let’s not quibble over size.

Of course even people who are not afraid of or embarrassed by porn would still support the majority of people who think there’s a time and place for everything and pornography at a high school assembly is pretty indefensible.

I came across this little news item on the Advocate website. A major gay news source. Included in the article was a video in which a guy tells the reporter that it was “all guys” and a parent refers to it as “male pornography".

So where’s the social progress?

Well, start with what gays would call “the straight press” – an AP article on a Pittsburg television news source.

Nowhere in the article does the fact it was gay porn come up. The problem, in other words, is the inappropriateness of porn of any kind, and no effort is being made to single out special condemnation for gay porn.

Now tell me you don’t see the social progress in that.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Recuse your own damn self

The minute the San Francisco Chronicle published the fact that Judge Vaughn Walker was gay, the question of whether or not he should recuse himself from Perry v Schwarzenegger was brought front and center. Never mind that it’s the folks who didn’t like the judge’s ruling who are now going for the judge’s throat. And that folks like me, who have strong personal reasons for supporting the judge’s decision, will jump to his defense. It’s always good to stand back and have a look at who is judging us. Always good to ask whether the job is being done fairly. And always good to question the motives of everybody involved in the discussion. Talk is good if people don’t stop thinking and listening as they engage in it. The challenge here is, as always, to separate the good talk from the nonsense.

I’ll be honest with you. When I heard the judge was gay, I breathed a sigh of relief. At least he won’t buy into the “mentally disordered” thesis, and quite possibly he will let his own life experience influence his decision. I bought into the view that it’s good to have women on the Supreme Court because women might just have different biases from the ones men have, biases which might be enough, in a pinch, to push a case favoring the interests of women.

That was my first, my gut, reaction.

It was followed almost immediately by a sense of panic. “Oh no,” I thought. He’s a Republican. Appointed by Reagan and rejected by democrats and liberals until he finally made federal judge under Bush Senior. The man screams “self-loathing homosexual.” He’s going to decide against gay rights and the world is going to get to say, “See, even the gays themselves know they have no right to ‘special favors.’”

I carried that sense of dread for some time. And I remember the exact moment when it lifted. I was following the trial carefully and when the pro-Prop. 8 side brought in the argument that marriage was for procreation and I heard Walker say he had just married and 80-year-old to a 90-year-old and he doubted they had procreation on their minds, I jumped out of my chair. This guy is not only reasonable; he has a sense of humor. We may just be OK.

Turns out we were. His decision came down with all the nuts and bolts firmly tightened, all the t’s crossed, all the i’s dotted. It was a brilliant summation and the complete absence of evidence to the contrary suggests it’s going to be hard, if not impossible, to overturn without a strong argument that anti-gay animus has a legitimate state interest. Not to say Scalia and the boys might not go that way. At least they’ll have their work cut out for them, thanks to Vaughn Walker.

It also turns out that the anti-gay rights people were mirroring my thinking process in reverse, from Oh good he’s a Republican to Oh damn he’s gay.

Think about how often you hear people say we have to elect more Republicans, more Democrats, more women and minorities, more whatever. We all think like that. We all buy into the view that our identity will seep into our politics. If you are Jewish, who would you rather see representing the State Department, a Jewish American or an Arab American? If you are a foe of any and all abortions, who would you want to represent you on the Supreme Court, a judge who follows what he calls “traditional” Catholic teaching or a judge who tells you church and state must be kept separate? We all lean in the direction of getting our way by any means necessary. When judges go our way, we accept the decision as good fortune. When they don’t, we worry aloud about the objectiveness of the judiciary.

When a friend wrote recently raising the issue of Walker’s objectivity, I responded:

And Justice Thomas should recuse himself every time a racial issue reached the Supreme Court so only the white people could decide, since we know white people are the only objective people.

And Judge Ginsberg should recuse herself every time a Jewish issue reached the Supreme Court so only the Christians could decide, since we know Christians are more balanced than Jews.

And when a black man is killed by a white man, there should be only whites on the jury. Same reasoning as above.

And when a woman kills her husband who has been abusing her, there should be no women on the jury, because we all know women are emotional and cannot put reason and a sense of fairness ahead of their emotions.

Shall I go on?

The friend took my sarcasm in stride, bless her heart, and I felt the issue was now a settled no-brainer. We could move on to other things.

But then, in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle, there’s this claim by law professor John C. Eastman, who takes the charge against Judge Walker to a higher level. Eastman argues it’s not only that he’s gay, but that he may well be in a gay partnership and might benefit personally from having his right to marry back. That, Eastman says, is precisely the kind of vested interest that argues for recusal.

Setting aside the curious facts that Eastman is working not with facts but with innuendo, and with the fact that the recusal demands are being made after the decision, not when the allegation of Walker’s sexuality first came out, a cynic might wonder whether Eastman would have written this article if the judge had been an adherent of a religious body, or if, like Eastman, he taught at a Christian college? Would it have been OK if the judge had been a gay man who spent his time cruising the bars night after night for new flesh to rub up against? A guy with no interest in ever getting married? A bisexual happily married to a woman who has sex with men on the side?

Would it have been OK if the judge had never met a gay person in his life who wasn’t closeted and reached the conclusion that gay people were too fragile from years of oppression to be allowed to marry just yet?

In short, should we have tests to see what judges’ views are on anything and everything to do with the cases before we let them get involved?

Or should we proceed as we always have, trusting that informed people out in the world, as we certainly want our judges to be, tend to have opinions on most things of importance. And they also have a commitment to enforcing the law which is subject to close scrutiny, and if found wanting, they can be impeached. Their degree of objectivity is on record, and if it turns out to be a good record, then we trust that they are more likely than not to be applying their standards in the case at hand. The first thing Eastman should have done before suggesting bias on Walker’s part is examine the three decades of Walker decisions. Curious that no mention of his record was mentioned.

I’m not faulting Eastman for raising the question, even if it comes late and isn’t without bias itself. I’m suggesting that Walker worked on the same honor system all judges are expected to work on. He would have recused himself if he had doubts about his own ability to be objective. The proof is in the decision, not a word of which includes the kind of baseless assertions which characterised the defence’s case.

Furthermore, Judge Walker’s decision was not made in a vacuum. The claim of the uninformed that he “single-handedly overturned the will of 7 million California voters,” ignores the fact that it’s precisely the job of a federal district court judge to overturn the will of voters if he determines logically and carefully and openly and with documented evidence that the voters have not acted within the framework of the Constitution. Not only should he not be faulted for doing his job; he should be commended for doing such a good one. Which is what the American Bar Association just did. And as the democratic politicians running for office in the next election in California just did. And as the republican governor of the state just did.

It’s hard enough to fight off the waves of ipse dixit claims, claims from those folks who make a “because I said so” assertion and expect it to stand while a counterclaim based on facts and evidence should be swept away. Now these same folks are sending in the troops for the ad hominem attacks.

America’s Culture War is a war on multiple fronts. The right of same-sex couples to marry has multiple dimensions. One set of questions is philosophical. How do we prioritize religious traditions in a secular state? How do we know which of our traditions are worth maintaining and which have lost their foundation through new knowledge and the reframing of values? Another dimension is moral. How do we treat minorities? How do we prevent the tyranny of the majority? Still another is political. How do we grant power to judges? How do we interpret the Constitution and retain a balance of power in our three branches of government?

The issue at hand is the legal dimension. How do we assess and enforce neutrality? How do we assure that the law functions as it should when a significant portion of the public seems to have forgotten what they once learned in civics classes? Or never learned because we no longer teach civics in schools? How do we know when the law is working? Which leads us back to the philosophical questions. How do we conceive neutrality? How do we know which of our religious leaders (if any) to listen to for advice on the meaning of life? And which legal professors to listen to when the law is open to interpretation and cases are not about justice necessarily but about the rules of process?

I admitted at the beginning that I have no more objectivity here than those attacking Judge Walker ad hominem. I don’t have the kind of certainty those of fundamentalist religious faith claim to have.

What I do have is a conviction that people who engage in discourse with an open mind, and a lack of fear over where they might end up, reach better conclusions than those who start and end with ideology. I, for one, will not fling things at Professor Eastman for asking questions. As long as he doesn’t mind my asking things like why he appears so often on Fox News and less often elsewhere. Or why he clerked for Justice Thomas. Or why he focused on Walker the man rather than the legal decision itself. Or whether the fact that it is a Christian college that pays his salary affects his opinions?

In the meantime, let’s hear it for ongoing open-ended discussion. And for our secular American legal system and its conservative judges who on occasion make liberals happy when they think that's what the law requires of them.