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.