Is this the best they’ve got to offer?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the non-existent list of snake oil salesmen whom I hold mostly in contempt.

Even though there are far too many of them to list, per se, Bill Donahue, of the Catholic League, is certainly a prominent member.

(Side note: after a preliminary review of their website, I have to ask, does the league have any members other than Mr. Donahue?)

I don’t recall exactly when I did it or how I got on their email list, but I don’t deny that I gave them one of my email addresses, so now I occasionally receive fundraising emails from them.

And I got a doozy of an email from them yesterday. The content of this email is also, unsurprisingly, on their web page.

I concede, up front, that I don’t find the arguments against the continued legality of abortion very compelling. It’s one thing to think that an abortion isn’t a viable option for any particular occasion. It’s something completely different to say it’s such a bad idea that it needs to be criminalized.

But apparently Bill Donahue engaged, via email, with the Satanic Temple, and the Satanic Temple came off looking more reasonable and intelligent than those who engaged them.

The key part of this conversation is captured below for posterity (although you can see it, too, in the link above):

Screen Shot 2018 11 17 at 12 20 37 PM

Um, Bill, it’s not a baby. Depending upon where, in the greater gestational period it is, it could be a blastocyst, a zygote, an embryo, or a fetus. It only becomes a baby after it’s born. And the dividing line between fetus and baby is much clearer than, say, the line that will divide that baby from being a toddler, or an adolescent, or an adult, or a senior citizen. Unless you’re trying to argue that the unborn are identical to the elderly (maybe you are; I don’t know), the Satanists have a simple, reasonable position that you’re not even bothering to engage on matters of fact.

It’s too bad that the “make a donation” button in the email goes to the Catholic League. I’d rather donate to the Satanists after that exchange.


More evidence of Movieguide’s inhumanity

Movieguide really is a website I love to hate. I’ve written before about them, most recently in reference to an article they published in response to an article published in Teen Vogue. This time I’m writing about an actual movie they reviewed.

The Front Runner has just opened to a wide release. By all outward appearances, this movie, about the 1988 presidential campaign of Gary Hart and the way journalism changed forever as a result of his actions, is mediocre at best. I’m not sure if I want to see it.

Still, I was curious to see how the evangelical Christian movie review site would treat the movie. It really is an exercise in seeing what you want to see. The first paragraph has a line that sums it up nicely:

THE FRONT RUNNER has a strong pagan worldview with lots of strong foul language, offset somewhat by the fact that the movie paints Gary Hart in a very negative light.

Wow. It’s a given that they wouldn’t like the historical figure who is the title character of the movie. But their dislike of another aspect of the movie is “offset” by the “negative light” in which he’s shown? I question how negative that light really is and that might be enough to get me to see the movie eventually. (After all, this is the same website that praised the anti-racist message of BlacKkKlansman while simultaneously objecting strongly to the implication that Donald Trump is racist. News flash: he is.)

Then there’s this observation of something bad about the movie, in the “dominant worldview” subsection:

title character is unfazed by his daughter’s claim she’s a lesbian and is traveling with a female friend who’s her lover (though the other girl’s father is upset)

That’s right, boys and girls: the correct response your parents should show if you come out as gay, is for them to get upset and to object to your “claim”. So much for any claims that their religion is one of love.

We can’t really be surprised that Movieguide dislikes this movie, not on artistic or aesthetic grounds but on its content. We can, however, lament the fact that people take them seriously.

I don’t have much sympathy

Soon-to-be ex-congressman Ryan Costello (R-PA) posted an interesting tweet the other day. This tweet explains why he chose not to seek re-election, but at the same time, it earned him scorn from Donald Trump in his press conference the other day.

I have to admit it: even though I’m thankful that Rep Costello is angry about this, I have a hard time feeling overly sympathetic towards him.

I get it. When he signed up for public service, he did so with the honest belief that his views fit in nicely with the conservative vision of the Republican Party. And in that regard, he felt distraught, disillusioned, and angry that someone like Trump could become his party’s standard bearer. Surely he hoped, despite the evidence to the contrary, that somehow, there could be a moderating influence, if not in policy then in civility, on the man who now, for better or for worse, is the face of the GOP.

So I understand his feelings as he prepares for a not-undeserved retirement.

We all have a psychological blind spot for the worst in us and our friends. That said, the history of the Republican Party is filled with men and women whose sense of self and authoritarian tendencies made Trump all but inevitable.

I’m tempted to go back as far as Lincoln on that point. After all, he did quite a few things that were, at best, constitutionally questionable and he knew it. The emancipation proclamation itself is proof of this: in order to free the slaves from the rebelling states, he had to treat them as property subject to forfeiture.

But I’m more thinking along the lines of Senator Joseph McCarthy, a man who, if we’re being our most polite when describing how he traded rumors and hearsay for an increasingly frightening amount of power, we’d say he got a bit ahead of himself.

Or Richard Nixon, a man who, had he not been consumed by his lust for power and belief that he was above the law, arguably could be remembered more fondly than he is. He may have been a crook, but he was able to engage our greatest enemies on the world stage, founded the EPA, and, after he left the presidency, was a respected statesman.

Take George W Bush, who lost the national popular vote and barely won the electoral college vote, but governed as though there were no opposition. This included naming as his Attorney General a man who had just lost a senate race to a dead man.

What about Rep. Joe Wilson, who stood up during a speech as President Obama was outlining his health care vision and shouted “You lie!”? This was both inappropriate for its timing, but also for the decorum.

I could go on. Sarah Palin. Strom Thurmond. Jesse Helms. Mitch McConnell. Horrible people, every one.

The Republican Party has been uncomfortably cozy with the so-called “Religious Right” since the 1970s (or as I like to think of them: the Christian moral equivalent of the Taliban). And if there ever was a group of people comfortable with authoritarian rule, it’s the Religious Right.

Voltaire once allegedly pointed out that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. The Religious Right is neither religious nor right. (Or to use a term no longer in vogue, they’re neither moral nor, thankfully, a majority). If they were either religious or moral, they wouldn’t be fawning over a president who defies every teaching Jesus ever made.

So Rep. Costello, I don’t blame you for your anger. But given the fact that your party has, practically since its founding, been devolving into the entity that would give us Trump, I have a hard time feeling much sympathy for you.

Scientists, they ain’t

About a month ago, the administrators of the Rapture Ready bulletin board announced that they were shutting down their site and merging with Rapture Forums. Rapture Ready had been declining in use for a while, and a disastrous software upgrade earlier this year pretty much sealed the fate of the former board.

So I naturally set out to familiarize myself with this new website. Although many of the same people post on both forums, RF has a very different feel and tone to it than RR. As I personally couldn’t be comfortable in either place (much like the discomfort I always felt in churches during my college years), I may not be the best one to judge the people who do consider it a haven.

Particularly instructive is the thread they have going on right now about the still-unknown person or persons who, over the past few days, constructed explosive devices and had them delivered to multiple prominent democrats.

After a few postings that linked only to news stories of the various bombs, the first original posting asks, simply “Perhaps this is a diversion created by the Democratic party?” This was immediately followed by someone “fixing” that post by striking out the Democratic party text and appending “Satanic forces of Hell” to the line.

Seeing as how we don’t know who constructed or sent the bombs, anything is possible. Let’s concede that. But let’s face it: not all possibilities are created equal. This is more likely than, say, a five year old who discovered the workbench of one of his or her parents. Or a pig named Napoleon.

Then there’s this comment from an administrator of the forum: “I can’t help but wonder if the “get violent” chickens are coming home to roost for the demoncrats?

Who’s telling people to get violent? Are they really conflating Rep Maxine Waters, who advised people to confront Trump administration officials in restaurants with Donald Trump, who literally told people to “rough up” protesters at his rallies? Are we really trying to argue that the people who want to pass simple legislation to curb gun violence are as hateful as those whose immediate reaction to such proposed legislation is to defend the guns at all costs?

Yes. Some people on all sides of an emotionally charged debate can get violent. The venomous snake is most likely to strike back when it feels cornered. And it’s true that unless and until we at least know the motivations (if not the identities) of the person or people who sent the bombs, we can’t possibly know if they’re on the left or the right.

If history is any guide, my money is on the right. Just like the people already willing to buy into the hateful rhetoric on a website like Rapture Forums.

The drama is distorted to what they want to hear

Generally speaking, there are two types of art, without regard to the medium in which it was produced.

There is the work that has staying power. The stuff that, either for its content or production values, persists through the years, if not centuries or millennia, continuing to inspire and intrigue its audiences. We still talk about the Mona Lisa because of how intriguing it is. You don’t need to be an art historian or connoisseur to spend hours staring not only at her face and wondering what she was thinking, but also at the nuance of the background.

Then there’s the work that, for whatever its merits, appears to be more of of a reflection of the time in which it was created. If it persists at all into the present day, it’s as a curiosity, not intended to be observed except in the context of the times in which it was created. A lot of so-called “pop art”, like Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans can fall into this category. Almost all conversations about pop art begin with a discussion of the 1960s and early 1970s for context. In a future when Campbell’s ceases to exist, what, if anything, will people think of this work?

I mention this because I’ve been thinking a lot about the music of Phil Ochs over the past couple of years. And I’m not the only one, when you consider, for example, this article in the Washington Post. Note the date on that article. January 24, 2017. Four days after Donald Trump took the oath of office as president of the United States.

Phil Ochs was a protest singer, taking many of his topics directly out of the headlines at the time. Indeed, his debut album was a play on the famous tag line of the New York Times: All the News that’s Fit to Sing. Just look at the track listing of that album. If you don’t know the songs, could you tell me who Lou Marsh or William Worthy were?

(For the record, they were an innocent bystander killed in gang violence and a journalist who couldn’t go to Cuba to work on a story because of US State Department guidelines, respectively.)

Yeah, it’s fair to say that a lot of Ochs’s songs fall into the second category of art.

That’s what makes the songs of his that fall into the first category all the more impressive: create a piece of art about a specific event and then have that art take on an added meaning over and above the event. Which brings me to his magnum opus, a line of which is quoted in the title of this essay.

The song is called Crucifixion, and loosely inspired by the assassination of John F Kennedy, the song is about so much more than that. There is a well-documented anecdote of Ochs playing the song for Robert Kennedy in 1967, and Kennedy burst into tears when he realized the song was about his brother. Little did either one of them know at the time that barely another year would pass before the song could be claimed to be about another Kennedy.

About two years before Ochs died, he got into a disagreement with Bob Dylan, culminating in the latter kicking him out of his car, yelling, “you’re not a folk singer. You’re a journalist.”

As if that were a bad thing. We need journalists more than ever, to call out the lies and partial truths that those who wield power might try and tell us. And a very important journalist was recently silenced.

In the process of trying to spin Jamal Khashoggi’s death in the best possible light, the Saudi government is claiming that he died in a fight. In a sense, I don’t doubt that this is a true, albeit extremely misleading, statement. Put it this way: imagine that you’re walking into a place you believed would be safe, only to learn quite abruptly, that it’s a trap of some sort. Wouldn’t you try to fight your way out? I’d be surprised — and maybe even a little bit disappointed — if there hadn’t been a struggle of some sort.

Then there are the smears cropping up in conservative circles. We’ve seen things like this before. Think Trayvon Martin. Or Eric Garner. Or Michael Brown. Or Tamir Rice. Or Philandro Castile. The list goes on. But the playbook is always the same. Find someone who was unjustly killed and pick out something, anything, that could make them come off as something less than an absolute angel in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable. Shift the narrative away from the injustice and hope that people forget the real issue.

It’s why they’re trying to portray Colin Kaepernick as unpatriotic for kneeling during the national anthem. They don’t want to talk about what’s really going on.

The drama is distorted to what they want to hear.

We can all be guilty of things like this. It’s a part of confirmation bias. But Donald Trump is a monument to this bias. All he ever wants to hear is that he’s doing great, that his friends and allies are right and everyone else is wrong. It’s why he thought he could go to the UN and repeat the talking points he covers in one of his rallies.

We see this over and over again. The crown prince of Saudi Arabia denies involvement in Khashoggi’s death? Trump says he believes him. Putin denies meddling in the 2016 election? Trump says he believes him. Kim Jong-Un promises to denuclearize? Trump says he believes him. Or the flip side of that? Scientists give dire warnings about global climate change? Trump wants to know who’s saying it and what their agenda is.

Trump likes to rail against what he calls fake news, and it’s easy to understand why. For someone who has spent most of his life crafting a narrative that the only things that are true, are the things that benefit him, then the things that don’t benefit him have to be fake.

And that extends to the works of art he likes. Take that painting of him and the other republican presidents that apparently hangs on a wall somewhere in the White House. If there ever was a sample of art with no real staying power, that’s it.

The future of women’s rights

We all know the old adage: be careful what you wish for, because it might just come true. It appears as though conservatives have gotten what they wish for, in getting Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court. They’ve been wishing for this for nearly 45 years, following the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.

When I did a google search for that decision, there was no shortage of choices from which I could pick to serve as the relevant hyperlink in this entry. I could have chosen from countless current or decades-old news stories. I could have chosen the Wikipedia entry on the decision. I could have even chosen songs, TV show, and movies. But I made the active choice to pick a link to the text of the actual decision.

That’s important. It’s a relatively easy read, and even preemptively addresses those whose religious convictions might find the decision objectionable. Indeed, in terms of well-reasoned, well-argued legal decisions, I consider Roe to be second only to Texas v Johnson — the 1989 ruling that held that flag burning was constitutionally protected speech — as a must-read, especially if your initial reaction to the ruling is that they got it wrong.

If there are good arguments against continuing to maintain abortion as a safe, legal, easily accessible procedure that aren’t grounded in someone’s interpretation of a religious text, I haven’t heard them. Please note my wording on this point. This does not reflect any position on the question of who should get an abortion. Only who can, which is to say any pregnant woman who otherwise has a need or desire to do so.

I’d actually like to see some research into the reasons why people seek abortions in the first place. I sincerely hope that no one is coerced into doing so when they actually don’t want it. It’s a private decision, between the woman, her doctor, and any other people whom she chooses to engage before making the decision. (I would hope that that latter group would include the father but I readily concede that there would be times when that’s either impractical or just a plain bad idea…)

I mention the religious text part because there are multiple passages in the Bible that can be interpreted as condoning abortion in one way or another. Of particular noteworthiness is Leviticus 27:6, which essentially states that you’re useless prior to the first month after being born. Imagine passing a law that states that not only is abortion acceptable throughout the pregnancy but also acceptable for the next month… But hey, biblical inerrancy, right?

As I write these words, the formal vote to seat Brett Kavanaugh hasn’t yet occurred but it’s all but a given that he will be seated. (Unless the fact that an anti-Susan Collins website crashed yesterday during her speech where she indicated her support for him gives her pause…)

Ever since Marbury v Madison established judicial review in American jurisprudence, critics have been complaining about legislating from the bench, and Roe v Wade plays into that same criticism.

(To which I say that I don’t hear them complaining about legislating from the bench in decisions like DC vs Heller, or Shelby County v Holder, or Citizens United v FEC, although I readily concede that that last one probably requires something more than just statutory as an anti-corruption measure.)

But I’ll grant them this criticism. So I’d like to see something codified in the law a bit more strongly to ensure access to abortion. Something that reads more or less like this:

  • WHEREAS the medical procedure known commonly as “abortion” has been demonstrated to be safe and effective, and
  • WHEREAS the majority of the public feels as though it is important to maintain its safety and efficacy, and
  • WHEREAS the primary arguments against said procedure are grounded in scriptural interpretation and not scientific or medical understanding, and
  • WHEREAS some scriptural references can be used to argue in favor of the procedure, and
  • WHEREAS the first amendment to the United States constitution prohibits congress from passing a law respecting an establishment of religion, and
  • WHEREAS a ban on said procedure can be deemed to be an establishment of religion, and
  • WHEREAS numerous court rulings have found that allowing said procedure to be legal does not violate any other constitutional protections,
  • It is HEREBY ordered that Abortion shall be maintained as a safe, legal, and effective means of terminating a pregnancy, subject to occasional re-review of its safety and efficacy as deemed necessary by the medical community.

It’s a funny thing about Supreme Court decisions. The court has no real enforcement power for its decisions. Take the 1832 Worcester v Georgia ruling. Had that ruling been enforced, the Trail of Tears would not have happened. (Or more recently, segregation didn’t magically end the day after Brown vs Board of Education was decided.) Every Supreme Court ruling can be taken as an invitation to the legislature either to codify or override the decision. The failure to do either of these is a failure of the deliberative process and responsibility of the legislature. Not the court.

Of course, that would take some courage. And if there’s one thing that the legislators in our country lack, it’s courage.

Meanwhile, we all suffer. Women more so than men.

True Family Values

There are a lot of high profile snake oil salespeople — mostly but not entirely white Christian men — for whom I have little, if any, respect.

I’ve often contemplated making a list of them but then the maintenance of the list would become problematic in and of itself. For example, once a person dies, should they be removed from the list? It feels too soon to take Billy Graham off of that list. Hell, it feels too soon to take Jerry Falwell off of that list. Without drawing a line about dead people, I could make an argument for inclusion of Joseph Smith and even Saul of Tarsus. And that’s not even getting into the question of whether they can redeem themselves, as some reports from when Fred Phelps was near death seem to indicate. (As far as I’m concerned, those reports were too little, too late.

One name on any such list that pops up occasionally is Dr. James Dobson, the founder of the Christian theocratic group Focus on the Family. This is one of the first groups I ever learned about that uses the word “Family” to teach things I would just as soon have my own family eschew, such as hatred, misogyny, and homophobia.

Look back in my blog, and you’ll see some scattered entries that speak of my affinity for Harry Chapin and his music.

Dr. Dobson and I have something in common, other than our given first names. An appreciation for at least one of Harry Chapin’s songs. He often speaks of the issues raised by the song Cat’s in the Cradle.

Dobson often speaks about the message of that song and how parents — fathers, especialy — need to be there for their children, and all too often, like the father and son pair in the song, they essentially spend two lifetimes missing each other.

It’s safe to say, though, that Harry Chapin, if he were still alive today, wouldn’t care much for Dr. Dobson beyond his assessment of that song.

That contrast was on full display before yesterday’s blockbuster testimony about Supreme Court nominee (and supreme douchebag) Brett Kavanaugh.

About a week or so ago, Dr. Dobson sent out a fundraising email that urged his subscribers to express their support for Kavanaugh despite the allegations against him.

I guess when they focus on the family, they don’t focus on the needs of any of the girls or women in the family.

I’m pretty sure that Dr. Dobson doesn’t know who I am, much less know about the existence of this blog. I don’t know how many other songs of Harry Chapin’s he knows familiar with. But if I could, I’d like to draw his attention to two other Harry Chapin songs.

The first song is from his third album, Short Stories. That’s the album that immediately preceded the album that contains “Cat’s in the Cradle”. It’s called “They Call Her Easy” and is a lesson in humility and respect.

I like this YouTube video of him singing the song. Over and above the song itself, listen to the spoken word introduction to it, and how he and Big John Wallace spoke of bravery after another performance of the song.

Yeah, I’m sure he’d say that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was equally brave yesterday.

And then there’s the song “Manhood”, from the later album, Danceband on the Titanic. The only YouTube video I could find of this song is just a copy of the album version of the song.

Both of these songs provide real lessons to men on how to treat women with dignity and respect. When I was a teenager / college student, both of these songs left a huge impression on me, and I’d like to think I took them both to heart and still do.

I think that Dr. Dobson could stand to learn quite a bit from these two songs.

And if he did, maybe I’d be able to start thinking about the conditions in which someone might actually come off of that hypothetical list of snake oil salesmen.