Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The difference between us and them...

I just finished reading Paul Krugman's excellent article in today's NY Times, "Noonday in the Shade." It is a shame that there are people for whom the case still needs to be made that john ashcroft is a horrible attorney general, and Paul makes the argument forcefully and convincingly, but reading it just reminds me how deeply entrenched the 'us vs. them' mentality is.

It doesn't surprise me that there are people out there who want to blow things up and kill people. It is a complicated world and there are angry people everywhere who are angry for a thousand different reasons. So it isn't surprising that someone in this country has a stash of chemical weapons and artillery that he wanted to unleash on targets in this country. It is sad, I am relieved that he was stopped, but not really shocking. But it reminds me why I am so annoyed when family and friends make sweeping judgments about 'them.' These days 'them' are Arabs or Muslims (it is assumed that these two groups are one in the same), and they just hate the world and want to blow things up or destroy America. All Middle Easterners (except Israelis) are backwards religious fanatics (about the wrong religion) who are either viewed as sympathetic poor masses who need our intervention and guidance or as jealous crazies who are waiting to get within striking distance so they can attack.

I mean, what kind of monster would blow up an American building (Timothy McVeigh?), or stockpile chemical weapons to use against a US target (white supremacist, William Krar?)? Really though, what kind of evil person could behead someone? I have to admit, even though a beheading only kills one person as opposed to the thousands a bomb can rend in a moment, there is something very visceral and wrenching about this crime. It is so first person and intensive an act that you can't help reacting to it as an observer. And no one in this country would ever do anything THAT horrible. It couldn't happen here.

Or, maybe it could. I can't find anything on the internet about it, but I remember distinctly getting a call from my mother last year while walking around Chinatown. One of my younger sister's childhood friends' brother had been killed. I didn't really know him, but I remember that his sister was always at our house. I figured that it was some kind of car accident, but then the rest of the story: murder, angry friend, decapitated. I don't remember the details except for one; they cut his head clean off. In sleepy rural Alabama. Good Christian white people.

So it didn't make the news, and was handled quietly and didn't really make the news. But not that much makes the news where I am from. It didn't make the news when the Middle Eastern family that had lived there for years and who everyone knew was run out of town by the silent boycott of their gas station after 9/11. It did make the news when a kid from my highschool class "hung himself in the county jail," in about that much detail. It didn't say that he had been a happy well-liked fellow or that in hanging himself he had somehow managed to be badly beaten and cut up.

Us vs. Them really isn't all that different than Us vs. Us. It may not seem like it, but I really do have a mostly positive outlook. It is just that when I look around and acknowledge that shit happens, I realize it doesn't just happen over there; it happens next door.

Monday, June 21, 2004

"Vote your Bible."

A scan through Wonkette today led me to a WSJ article on the christian coalition trying for revival in its influence using gay marriage paranoia as a rallying cry. Big surprise. They as an organization have always been on the forefront of enacting positive change in this country. Here's a little snippet from the article:

>People see that there's something greater at stake here with gay >marriage," says Rev. Dallas Billington at the Akron Baptist Temple in >Akron, Ohio. "It's a crucial time in the cultural war, and I'm >telling people to 'Vote your Bible.' "

'Vote your Bible.' I would love to see even a fraction of the christian coalition vote their bible for a change. If they would stop beating it up against their neighbors heads for a minute and take the planks out of their eyes so they could read it, they would notice that it suggests the their number one calling is taking care of their fellow man. Show me one place in the Bible where Jesus ever even mentioned homosexuality or the like. Now go back and read the passages on poverty and wealth and social responsibility. The whole New Testament is about taking care of everyone.

I challenge the christian coalition to vote their Bibles. They would have to vote for social programs which republicans are always trying to chop away and against all the corporate crap that they seem to think is so wonderful. Yeah, dubya and co. make a big show of their religiosity; if these blind jerks would read their Bibles instead of thumping them they might find the none to gentle words that Jesus had for the hypocritically pious.

Anyone who supports huge tax cuts for the rich while programs for the poor are being cut can not claim the Bible as a guiding influence in their life. If they do they must either be: 1)insincere, 2)unable or unwilling to understand the amazingly simple and clear messages in the Bible (maybe they just haven't bothered reading it), or 3)horrible selfish people abusing a faith of peace and charity for their selfish ends. Unfortunately, all three types have worked hard to trash the faith's name to the point that these are the people thought of when you say that someone is a Christian.

ralph reed needs to go crawl back under his rock. Quit whining about marriages and start organizing to feed the hungry and then you can start talking to me about other social issues. If all you WWJD dorks are really all that concerned about Jesus's marriage advice, then go start yelling at your rank and file about their divorces (which Jesus did say some things about) before you go trying to stop others from forming families.

Monday, June 14, 2004

in our Lord's image...

I have long argued that God is best understood as something of a spiteful, dark comedian. Look at the world like this and suddenly so much makes sense. It certainly explains a lot about the church.

But if you have a chance, you should read Mark Ames piece in the New York Press this week about how spite plays into voting (sorry, guys I am still new to all this and haven't quite gotten the hang of linking to things).

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


Since it seems obligatory that everyone with any type of public forum for their views say something about the late President Reagan, I will try to say something nice and argue that good things can come from republican administrations. I know all the horrible crap, and am annoyed out of my mind when people talk about how great a job he did as a president, but Eric Alterman is doing a better job than I could over at Altercation . He was a great public figure however, and so in this week of his death I will limit my memory of him to how he was portrayed on the Tonight Show and in Bloom County and on Spitting Image. And I don't care what anyone says, I have always loved Nancy.

But really the only reason that I bring up Reagan in this most Gippopornographic of all weeks, is as a spring board for my long held assertion that when the powers-that-be go to hell, pop culture gets better. Just look at the Eighties vs. the Nineties. In the Eighties, everything that could be bad about foreign policy was horrible (do not get me started about Central America), corruption like crazy domestically, the S&L scandal... of course we could go on, but let's show some restraint. But then look at what was happening with music, with TV, with movies, with comics. The tension in the air of just knowing that the official ways of doing things are complete crap seems to just make the art better. At some point everyone just finally says f*ck it and decides that if they are going to be ignored and marginalized they might as while breakdance while it happens. Why should the crazy emperor burning Rome be the only one who gets to fiddle?

But put someone like Clinton in who is actually good at the JOB of being president and not just at looking and sounding presidentialish and pop culture goes straight to mediocre. Happy, well fed people with secure jobs who are accumulating wealth do not make great punk music. Neither do their fat, spoiled children. And they rarely make great hip hop or country either for that matter. No one who is comfortable and satisfied and unthreatened can really put the tension into a song/book/show/painting/whatever that is required for really genius art. Sure, there is plenty of good stuff that came out of the nineties, but when things get comfortable people get lazy and instead of seeing Run DMC and Cindi Lauper videos when you skip school, you see RealWorld vs. RoadRules Challenge marathons. And much as I can get into some lame 90's music, I challenge anyone to convince me that music has not gotten leaps and bounds better since Bush ascended the throne.

So while the collective public may not quite be at its you're-not-the-boss-of-me moment, many of us are and some are doing brilliant terrible things with this anger. Last week the Music for America site had a link to www.bushgame.com and on a whim I gave it a whirl. Holy sh*t!!!!

Just when I needed some little sign of intelligent and fun life out there in the universe, I am given this little gem. Basic gist: Hulk Hogan, a fat He-Man, and Mr. T fight to save America from Bush, Dick, and Voltron. Throw in a few informative side-notes and hysterical dialogue, and don't forget celebrity cameos: Rosie O'Donnell, Christopher Reeves, Howard Stern, the Hamburgler, the Telly Tubbies, R2-D2. Don't ask me why, but anything that involves the Hamburgler will always be funny.

Just a warning: this is not for the faint of heart and you might want to watch more than just the opening sequence before forwarding it off to all your casual acquaintances and work buddies. I am glad they went all out and made it as crude and graphic as these times deserve, but because of the fun and clear way the info in it is presented I secretly wish that there were a parent-safe version to send to my meeker friends and family. I think my dad could really laugh at the humor but would feel obliged to officially frown on any game his son, albeit adult son, shows him which has the Statue of Liberty being bf'd by bush's secretary of compassionate conservatism, Voltron and the line, "Did anyone get those stem cells that leaked out of barbara's vagina?" uttered by our most beloved paraplegic. Oh well, there are other ways to educate your parents and crazy extended family and I needed something just this completely done with all the bullsh*t reverence and deference to good taste and authority. Especially this week.

Friday, June 04, 2004


I can't remember exactly how old I was and I don't care to do the math, but I do remember seeing tanks crushing peaceful protesters on June 4, 1989 in Tianamen Square. I didn't really know all the details about the politics at play and what specifically was being protested or really very much about Chinese history, but the image will never leave me. This was the moment for me when black and white faded into grey.

I heard so many people after 9/11 saying that it had opened their eyes to how horrible people can be, to what aweful things humans are capable of doing to other humans. I heard people expressing shock and horror and disgust that anyone could have done such evil things. I was shocked that it happened, thought it was horrible and was completely disgusted; but I was not suprised that people could or would show such disregard for human life. I had seen it before. I thought everyone else had too.

It isn't only that protesters were killed in Tianamen that stuck with me. The horrible images stuck and haunted me, but what really left me troubled was how little people cared. It was someone else, they could have moved, they should have known it would happen, they are different, they aren't like us, blah blah blah etc. Anything to justify not paying much attention. Anything to not care too much. As a nation we sat and watched, but did we really bear witness to it?

I don't know what is was about that tragedy that hit me so hard. I felt like the Challenger explosion was kind of over-done. It was an accident and awful and tragic, but really the only difference between it and a wreck on the highway was altitude and the number of witnesses. Maybe that is the difference, that Tianamen wasn't an accident. The Chinese government didn't accidentally run people over with tanks, didn't accidentally fire machine guns into thick crowds. Someone pulled that trigger on purpose and not in defense or even revenge and that forever seared into my mind. Ever since no crime has ever shocked me. Grossed me out, made me sad, angry, scared: yes. But shocked? No.

One more thing about Tianamen: it never stuck me as something that 'the Chinese government' or 'Communists' did. It struck me that people did it. It might as well have happened down the street. There were no adjectives in my mind describing the slain or the slayers, they were all just people. I was more horrified to realize that in a different place or time, that could have been me... beneath the tank tracks or behind the wheel. I have been careful to stay out of the way of tanks ever since. And to watch where I park my tank.

Would I not watch the footage of that day if I could go back and change the channel? Would I just turn away and not look again? Whether it is Tianamen Square or 9/11 or whatever opened that painful awareness in each of us, I think we answer that question everyday: do you turn away now? Sometimes you have to, I certainly can't let myself take it all in: awareness IS painful. But I still would watch, still do watch. Awareness may be painful, but ignorance is deadly.