20 April 2007

Another Travel Destination Off My List

I didn’t figure to discuss religion much on this blog. Religion doesn’t interest me—I don’t really understand what the fuss is all about, and I don’t care to learn. I wouldn’t pay attention to religion at all if it weren’t for the right-wing fundamentalists who are currently attempting to hijack the American political system. That does piss me off. So what interest I do have in religion concerns these machinations of the political-Jesus crowd.

Now I haven’t always been disinterested in religion…..well, actually yes I have. I recall my very first youthful thoughts about religion, it seemed to be a crock of shit. Lots of old white guys making threats—and even as a little kid of 8-9, I never did have lots of respect for authority. My mom always thought I was going to hell, and she told me that continually….. which actually makes me feel pretty good now because she was never right about a fucking thing in her life.

While I don’t buy into the whole heaven/hell dichotomy, I was a Catholic altar boy for a few years. I always wondered if that secured me any chits in case there actually is a heaven. I doubt it, because even when I was up at the altar ringing the bell and serving wine to the priest, I wasn’t paying any attention to the service. I’m still not a detail guy, but during mass then I was thinking about other important life questions: what was I going to do that particular day, lunch, and various baseball quandries. I went through the motions during the service—always wondering if God could actually tell what I was thinking about. But since I never received any signs that this so-called Creator cared about my thought-process, I figured I would continue to ponder the Mets pitching rotation (Jackson or Fischer tonight?) instead of reflecting upon the gospels. It worked fine for me.

Why I am babbling about my altar boy days? Because the Catholics just got rid of Limbo. I really never knew exactly what Limbo was, or where it was. I do know that my Mom and Grandma mentioned that I would be going to some of these places if I didn’t shape up. Obviously, Hell was the leading destination for me and other smart-asses like me. But there were other Catholic eternal travel destinations that were supposed to scare youngsters. Purgatory was somewhere above Hell on the pecking order. I never got a clear explanation for Purgatory either—even though I kept asking. And that really pissed my Grandma off because she didn’t believe you were supposed to ask about these religious matters. It seems Purgatory was a sort of dull way-station where you went if you weren’t quite evil enough for Hell, but really didn’t deserve Heaven on the first-ballot. I always figured I could live with that.

Limbo was something else—it had something to do with babies who weren’t baptized or confirmed or some kind of nonsense. And even though I was baptized, I still got threatened with Limbo on occasion. I was told that it was kind of like Purgatory—except you might have to hang around Limbo even longer. I never knew if the Limboites were actually going to Heaven; whereas the Purgatorians seemed assured of getting admitted at some point. Is it any wonder why I never took this shit seriously?

Anyway, that new German Pope and some other Catholic bureaucrats have now dropped Limbo—it doesn’t exist anymore I guess. Can they do that? Does this mean all the other Popes were mistaken? What happens to the people who were waiting in Limbo—where do they go? I have a few other questions about Limbo:

-If you have Limbo T-Shirt, is it now worth more money?
-Is Limbo near Oz?
-Is there rent control in Limbo?
-Does this mean Purgatory will now be overcrowded?

I will spend some time in the next few days thinking about these questions!

Oh, and speaking of Catholics—these five really deserve our attention. Yes, they are all Catholic, wealthy, and male--and all of them seem to think women are too fucking stupid to make their own medical and reproductive decisions.

17 April 2007

Beware of a Phony Gun Debate

There wasn't much that could have been done to stop the VTU shootings on Monday. So I don't think the massacre will open a new debate on gun control. What I do think will happen, however, is that conservatives will soon begin to accuse liberals of using the murders to initiate a gun control debate--even though that isn't the case. Let me demonstrate how this is done.

At this point, even with the Virginia tragedy, I don't believe liberals are ready to reopen the gun control fight. There are several reasons. First, liberals have a number of other domestic issues of higher priority, like health care, the wage gap, and other poverty-related, economic concerns that must be addressed. Second, liberals clearly need to deal with the wasted and worthless deaths and other disgusting events taking place in Iraq. Third, with possibility of gaining states in the West, liberals and Democrats must think about some tradeoffs to make that a reality. As Machiavellian as it might seem, if 3-4 Western states could be brought into the Democratic electoral vote column, we should think about what would be necessary to bring that about. And it seems as though gun control would not be helpful in that electoral quest. Overall, it doesn't appear to be the right time to push this issue.

Personally, I would like to see this debate reopened. I think every one of those rabid, NRA-types ought to have a handgun shoved up their ass (it doesn't have to be loaded, just shoved). But I still possess a slither of political realism, and I am willing to wait on this issue.

But here is what the conservatives are already doing--and they have the mainstream media helping them. They are going to use the VTU murders to fire up their base.....by warning their mindless minions that liberals are now out to take away their firearms. Liberals are not pressing this issue--but the right-wingers have made the charge anyway. And once the wingnuts have made the charge, the media picks it up (they need something to report) and begins reporting on this new gun control debate.

The conservatives then throw up their hands, act surprised, and then blame liberals for exploiting the situation. They have been doing this for years--liberals understand it, it's their own conservative voters who are too damned stupid to have figured it out yet.

In graduate school we used to call this a "straw-man" argument: when someone falsely manufactures a case just so they can shoot it down. There must be a better word for it. If anyone has a better term for what Rove and his right-wingers do on a consistent basis--please leave it in the comments section.

Let's not fall for this. Spread the word, write, blog--do whatever you have to do to let the public know that while liberals are concerned about gun violence, we aren't reopening this gun debate just now. It's simply conservatives trying to use fear (as usual) to scare their own terrified constituents and wrangle some additional money out of them.

16 April 2007

To Those Defending Poor Don Imus

Yesterday (Sunday) I received a email post from my friend and frequent Books and Bait contributor Chet Brinkley (see that full post below). Mr. Brinkley wrote that as a civil libertarian and strong advocate of the first amendment, he finds himself "torn" over what to think about the Imus firing. After mulling over Chet Brinkley's sentiments, I opened the Sunday New York Times to see that Frank Rich was at least partially defending Imus in his Sunday column. And then today in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, columnist Syl Jones added some incisive anti-Imus commentary--some of which I will quote in this post.

Since this issue hasn't dissipated yet, I thought I would offer my own perspectives here today. I can find absolutely no sympathy for Imus on any grounds whatsoever. Chet Brinkley was impressed that even after CBS fired Imus, "he and his wife still wanted to apologize to the Rutgers team." Here are my answers to some of the extremely lame Imus defending that has gone on during the past few days.

#1: on the general topic of free speech--Imus did not lose his free speech privileges! This is very important to remember. Don Imus is sitting in his fancy New York apartment right now, or walking the streets of Manhattan (and he's probably wearing that dumbass cowboy hat too). He is not in jail, he is in no legal trouble, and his employment opportunities are, frankly, pretty good. Don Imus is not Eugene Debs, or Emma Goldman, or Margaret Sanger (all paid the price for their speech and actions). He got fired from his job because he's a fucking racist idiot. After cleaning out his desk, and picking up his inflated paycheck, Imus can still say anything he wants. He can go on TV, write an editorial, give a speech, publish a blog.....he remains totally free to be the bigoted and chauvinistic bastard that he was on the radio. He hasn't lost his free-speech rights at all.

#2: it's about the government--The critical part of the free speech issue is when it is imposed by the government. It's the government that can take away free speech rights--not CBS news. What we need to be concerned about is government censorship--the right to speak out against the Bush war-machine, the right to protest, online freedoms, and absolute music, art, and literature freedoms.

#3: Jackson and Sharpton--Bringing up these guys is nothing but a red-herring. Mr. Brinkley quotes Kansas City Star sportswriter Jason Whitlock who manages to get in a short quip against Jackson and Sharpton. The fact that the national media marches out Jackson and Sharpton every time there is race issues really tells us more about the national media than anything else. These two gentlemen don't speak for all African Americans. And if I was one of those conspiracy buffs (like my good friend Ratso Rizzo), I would say that the national media only uses Jackson and Sharpton to turn public opinion against African American issues. But I won't say that. In fact, it doesn't matter what Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton say--if you dislike these gentleman, it has nothing to do with the issues at hand.

#4: the weak-ass rap argument--Mr. Brinkley writes in his post, "As a white guy, I'm out of touch with the black experience. But I don't think it serves anyone well to condemn whites for using hateful and bigoted language while "rewarding" artists in the black community for using it with impunity." I think this is simply silly! There are many black organizations and individuals trying to deal with these rap/hip-hop race and gender issues. In the meantime, what should white America do? Are we allowed to all perform our best Strom Thurmond impersonations just because black rap artists use racial slurs in their music. The connection makes no sense. As Syl Jones writes in his editorial, " If you can't understand what's wrong with a white man piggybacking on the problems of an African American subculture of disrespect and blithely importing it into a nationally syndicated radio and television broadcast, what do you understand?"

#5: the even weaker-ass "chilling effect" argument--Frank Rich wrote in the Sunday Times that firing Imus will have a "chilling effect on comics who push the line" as well as on political talking-heads like Bill Maher and Ann Colter. Again, this is simply silly. Chilling is such a severe word when Imus didn't lose his free speech rights. Furthermore, Frank Rich is demonstrating his insider status here. Maybe there will be a slight effect on some of the inside-the-beltway types, but who else will be influenced......my guess is no one.

#6: this is also about women and gender--Some have forgotten during the past week that Imus not only made a racial slur, but he also showed his true chauvinistic colors. At the same time he made his now infamous statement on the Rutgers women's team, he said something about the Tennessee players being "cute." I think his clear disrespect for women should have earned him the ax.

#7: and don't use the term PC around here-- What does "politically correct" really mean? Let me tell you using a wonderful quote from Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon, "PC is a term that is used to declare insults aimed at the less powerful groups protected, while doubling up the social punishments for even legitimate (if humorous) criticisms of the powerful." PC is an excuse for the white, male frat-boy types to criticize anyone they please and laugh about it--it also "allows" them to label themselves the victims of an oversensitive society. What assholes!

#8: Imus only apologized because he finally went too far/he got caught--Did I even have to mention this one? Isn't it obvious?

#9: finally....and most importantly--free speech is here so "we the people" can criticize the government--I agree with Brinkley, Rich, and others that absolute free speech is important. But we need to reflect upon what it is for--free speech was not originally intended to allow the majority (white males) to say anything they want against minorities. They can do that already--and they have always had the political power to do that. Imus is just piling it on. Let's not forget that black female college athletes aren't the enemy; and rap singers aren't the enemy. No hip-hop artist is going to take away my habeas corpus rights.....but I know someone else who will. The enemies, the people we need to fear, are in the government (specifically the Bush administration). They can take away our rights.

I understand that even though Imus is a small-fish, we still don't want to go down that first amendment slippery slope. But Imus didn't lose any rights and he's not worth defending.

On That Imus Moron, Part II

post submitted by Chet Brinkley

In the wake of CBS’ firing of that moron Don Imus, I find myself torn. I’m an advocate of the first amendment as well as affirmative action and other efforts to uphold the civil rights of all people. I’ve never listened to Imus or Howard Stern or any other of the so-called “shock jocks,” though I have a pretty good idea of the kind of verbal swill they spew.

Imus’ comments about the Rutgers team were disgusting, to be sure. And in targeting young women who came one game away from the national championship rather than some politician or celebrity whose job description in the 21st century (unfortunately) includes being maligned or “satirized,” Imus clearly crossed a line that should not have been crossed. But then again, he and his ilk make a living stomping all over that line on a regular basis. So why now? Why this? Part of it is that African Americans enjoy far more economic clout than sixty years ago when Jackie Robinson broke through the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Their collective outrage hits advertisers where they live, so networks have to respond differently. In addition, tens of millions of parents with daughters took his comment very personally.

Kansas City Star
sportswriter Jason Whitlock offered another perspective:

Thank you, Don Imus. You’ve given us (black people) an excuse to avoid our real problem…While we’re fixated on a bad joke cracked by an irrelevant…shock jock, I’m sure at least one of the marvelous young women on the Rutgers basketball team is somewhere snapping her fingers to the beat of 50 Cent’s or Snoop Dogg’s or Young Jeezy’s latest ode glorifying nappy-headed pimps and hos.

It’s embarrassing. Dave Chappelle was offered $50 million to make racially insensitive jokes about black and white people on TV. He was hailed as a genius. Black comedians routinely crack jokes about white and black people, and we all laugh out loud.

I watched the Rutgers news conference and was ashamed. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke for eight minutes in 1963 at the March on Washington. At the time, black people could be lynched and denied fundamental rights with little thought. With the comments of a talk-show host most of her players had never heard of before last week serving as her excuse, Vivian Stringer rambled on for 30 minutes about the amazing season her team had…

We all know where the real battleground is. We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us than some old white man with a bad radio show. There’s no money and lots of danger in that battle, so Jesse and Al are going to sit it out.

I’m in no position to make the kind of statement Mr. Whitlock did, but the civil libertarian in me has a problem with Imus being fired for saying some stupid and offensive thing, no matter how stupid and offensive. When University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill compared World Trade Center victims to Nazis, colleagues came to his defense—not because they agreed with him, but because they didn’t want to make any concessions to the right of free speech. Churchill resigned as chair of the university’s ethnic studies department, but remained a professor.

While Imus is not an academic and his audience doesn’t exactly break the brain bank, this country has created a market for (and the Supreme Court has defended as free speech) this kind of scurrilous, scatological, crap (and I’m talking about hip-hop as well as shock jocks). And the outrage that follows in the wake of a particularly offensive salvo can indeed come off as opportunistic. Are we truly so weak and so fragile that we cannot defend ourselves or simply ridicule weak-ass comments such as those drooled by Don Imus?

As a white guy, clearly I’m out of touch with the black experience. But I don’t think it serves anyone well to condemn whites for using hateful and bigoted language while rewarding “artists” in the black community for using it with impunity. I’m not saying that black athletes today should suffer in silence the way Jackie Robinson was forced to 60 years ago. But I think all of us could seek to emulate some of the dignity and class he displayed. We at least got a glimpse of that when, after CBS fired Imus, he and his wife still wanted to apologize to the Rutgers team, and they still wanted to meet him, and chose to forgive him. That forgiveness doesn’t give Imus his job back, but just might give him a chance to earn some self-respect—or at least some self-restraint.