Friday, July 29, 2011

Arabs, Jews, and the Varieties of AntiSemitism

i was reading via facebook an excellent article on 'the new antisemitism', marking the arabs and muslims as the semites now endangered by the kind of bigotry that caused the Holocaust, and the fact that the Israeli government, and many Israeli citizens, are complicit in that bigotry.  It's hard to argue with that; the Israeli government has lived up to its role as outpost of the West in the middle of the East.

i'm no historian, and to the extent that i escape into history, it's old history: i could tell you much more about henry 8 than about stalin or churchill.  but i have done reading over the years about the varieties of murderous bigotry, and to some extent about the pernicious and apparently unstoppable phenomenon of imperialism.  and i know about the holocaust.

and no, the holocaust doesn't justify anything lousy the Israeli government does to the arabs who are homeless because palestine was taken away from them.  it only makes the whole situation more complicated than we might like it to be.

what i have seen happening again and again over the years is that the need for having a good guy and a bad guy seems overwhelming to the human mind.  the article i read is doesn't quite go that far.  but too many people i know and too much stuff i read does.  so who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? it depends.

broadly speaking, if you're jewish and the holocaust has been built in to your life's view, whether liberal, leftist, or conservative,  israel is likely to be the good guy, even if the good guy sometimes slips from virtue. anyone who opposes zionism  or the state of israel is pretty much a bad guy. if you're an extremist of this ilk, criticism of Israeli policies or of the state itself makes the critic an antisemite, one step away from a nazi. if you're a non-jewish liberal or conservative with an awareness of the holocaust and /or a gut-deep believer in the superiority of the western way of life, israel is probably the good guy--civilization in the midst of barbarians.

if you're jewish and feel guilty for being white and/or comfortable, and have never been personally touched by antisemitism, you're much more likely to see the arab nations and the palestinians as the good guys and Israel, as well as anyone with deep concern about the isrealis' survival, as the bad guys.  if you're leftist and not in the category above, you too are likely to see the far-more economically suffering arabs as the good guys.  isrealis are much more like us: privileged, hypocritically imperialist, concerned only about their own comfort.

part of this, i think, is that historically jews are or one of the few oppressed groups whose oppression doesn't combine with economic oppression.  there are plenty of poor jews, rich  jews, and working class and middle class jews. this is rooted in the history of the diaspora and the hatred toward jews throughout medieval christianity. but  it doesn't fit into a marxist or any sort of socialist mould. the antisemetic jew is an old story, and a tragic one.  have you ever read marx on the jewish question? i did, a long time ago, and was both amused and horrified by its tone.  most of it read like all his stuff--like the work of a german philosopher,   convinced but detached.  then, suddenly, it becomes pretty much like AN ATTACK ON THOSE DAMN JEWS WHO CAUSE ALL THIS TROUBLE AND I HATE THEM! and then glides back into his german-philosopher dignity.

in the old days of the new left, i had these conversations with jewish friends frequently--always finding myself in the ironic position of a shiksa telling jews they're oppressed. one of these conversations [actually several of them, which for purposes of readability i'm condensing into one] was with two jewish friends--both leftists, both  civil rights activists, and, both avidly pro-feminist men.  one of them was of the 'guilty middle class jew' temperament, and, in discussing the then-new gay-rights movement, seemed uncomfortable because, as neither female nor homosexual, he didn't really feel free to speak to the experience of the oppressed.  the other guy finally had had it.  "Don't worry, you don't have to feel guilty.  You are oppressed: you're jewish!'  he said. [it didn't do much good.]

my own background, ironically, may have made it easier for me to be conscious of the oppression of jews.  my best friend, who was 2 years older than me and thus perfect, spent part of one summer with her family in a bungalow relatives owned in monticello, ny--at the time, very much a jewish vacation area.  i was, i think, about ten. i spent a weekend with them. right next to their property was a 'bungalow colony' whose residents were orthodox jews.  my friend and her kid sister loved to make fun of them when we were alone together. their dress, language, etc, were odd to us. naturally i followed their example and eagerly sougt out comic behavior in our neighbors. one day i found something really silly, and couldn't wait to tell my friends:  these people were so stupid they tattooed numbers instead of pictures on their arms. my friends, of course, didn't laugh.  instead, they told me about those numbers.  i suppose i should have been ashamed of myself, but i was too caught up in the realisation that human beings did this to other human beings.  i thought it would kill me, the pain of this sudden, incomprehensible knowledge.   i thought, very clearly, that when i grew up i had to spend my life making things like that stop, or i wouldn't be able to live at all.  and so each awareness of oppression that came to me in later years was an echo of that one, and it never changed.  moving on to ann frank's diary and, in my teens, to 'rise and fall of the third reich' confirmed and deepened that knowledge.

so did 12 years of catholic school, where  antisemitism was routine and casual.  when jfk became president, one of the nuns read out the names of his cabinet.  when she got to 'goldberg,' she snickered and the class laughed.  i didn't get the joke at first. to me goldberg meant that nice tv show, and, far more importantly, my friend jeannie whose father owned the kosher restaurant where we sometimes dropped by and he gave is half a hotdog apiece.  when john the 23rd became pope, our priest [who did a special mass for us once a month, in english], told us there were some changes we had to make on the cards we read the prayers from--the pope had taken out the jews-killed-jesus references.  father owen was angry, you could tell, though all he said, bitterly, was, 'i don't know why.' there were other incidents, and they were all part of the reason i was determined not to go to  catholic college.

at first when the existence of Israel came to my attention, i got all 'exodus' about it.  the freedom fighters, the kibbutzim with their socialist base, the true ideal of human equality--here was a people living the dream of what i saw as the good life.  i went there, once, in my early 20s, when pacifists took their guard duty on the kibbutz carrying broomsticks instead of guns.  standing on a hill looking down on jerusalem, which seemed to spring out of the earth itself, i connected its beauty to the beauty of the israeli ideal. i understood, in a rowboat on the dead sea, looking up at the golan heights, why the Israelis had to control who lived up there.  a massacre of the town beneath would be very easy.

that vision of a glorious Israel couldn't last, and didn't.  but i knew and felt too much to replace it with a glorified crew of oppressed and thus good arabs, when i knew that a lot of those arabs would, for reasons i couldn't argue, gladly slaughter the Israelis. i heard  the glee with which arafat talked about the nazis, about destroying the jews.  it was hard to let go of the perfect Israelis, and equally hard to buy into the perfect arabs.  it still is.

oppression sometimes seems to create saints. ghandi, king, etc etc. it is equally like to create monsters, willing to do anything to survive, including what was done to them in the first place.  i like the saint idea better. i settle for the simply decent, rational victims who keep that decency.  i am sad for those who turn monstrous, and i have little doubt that i could easily be among them.  and i wonder what, in both cases, they should or could do, should or could have done.

the largest fault is, as it tends to be, if only because of the power factor, the West's.  to the victor belong the spoils. what were the great powers going to do with these jews they had rescued from the concentration camps?  take them into their own countries?  shit, they were kicking them out of their countries in the midst of the third reich, when boatloads arrived at american and european ports.  they all took in some; america, at least, sent back others.  so give them a country of their own.  where? who do we kick out to accommodate them?  well, they did have a claim to Israel, though it was a 2600-year-old claim, and even back then they coexisted with arabs of whatever religion.  but america had a good example of how to decide that land inhabited by different sorts of people was land in fact uninhabited.  and the jews? what were they supposed to do--nobly refuse to dispossess the occupants of that land and demand that their liberators find them a fairer deal?  and how else could they acquire a 'homeland'?  they had learned very well that they weren't safe in anyone else's country: they had been well integrated into germany and the later occupied lands.  who, precisely, could they trust to let them live-and-let-live?

and how could the arabs respond, kicked and tricked out of their homes, the homes of their ancestors? nobly declare that they were willing to give up their lands to these people who had so horribly suffered? there was no winning then, and there seems to be no winning now.  the powers that created this situation still control it, and as long as they are getting something out of it, israel is likely to be fairly safe.

but surely, even as those who survived the holocaust die off, the jews of Israel and jews around the world know how tenuous the support of the west really is.  anti-semitism--anti-jewish antisemism-- may have been overshadowed by more immediate horrors,  but it has a very long history and a very real living existence.  vandals everywhere still often carve swastikas on the walls of synagogues and on gravestones. maybe that is in part because it's easy to draw, and can thus encompass other hatreds as well. in america right now, it is probably safer to be jewish than to be black or to be visibly muslim.  muslims may indeed be 'the new jews' in western europe.  but jews remain the old jews, the jews shoved into ghettos, used as tax collectors and then killed by the angry poor, beaten up routinely on 'good friday,' finally dubbed a 'race' and murdered, not even with the horrible shylock alternative of forced conversion.

i can respect the dislike of a jewish state by people leery of theocracy.  i don't believe in theocracy either.  i want 2 states, each able to determine their own form of government and their own culture. in theory, i think Israel should be an open state, where religion is whatever you want to be and no laws limit non-Jews in the country.  but jews have lived in non-Jewish countries for centuries.  they have lived at some times in some cultures believing themselves fully accepted, fully integrated.  they have learned where that got them.  Western opportunism may have created the specific Jewish state of Israel. but history made it, in one form or another, essential.  that it relies on the same western cultures that have betrayed jews over and over again is as tragic as it is ironic.  that they are pitted in enmity against another group whose sufferings for centuries have also been imposed by the west may be the worst tragedy of all.  and we don't have to look too far to see who gains from the situation.  the winners are those whose greed and contempt for humanity spews out at us these days from our government, barely concealed and as clever as they have always been in exploiting the fears and dreams of the people they will gladly crush, in their own country and everywhere else.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Broccoli Blues

so there i am, in the loo and reading my favorite shit-lit catalogues and i see a dvd course on Lifelong Health,and another on Nutrition Made Clear.  this makes me very sad; i love the catalogue's history and literature offering, but there is no point in even glancing at these things. the very words taste like broccoli.  they are going to have, like, 20 lectures and all the lectures will come down to the same thing.  it's the grim news that shows up in several guises on pbs.  the lectures are by m.d.'s, PhD.s, nutritionists, holistic health practitioners, personal trainers, and god knows how many other experts.  there will be a whole series of lectures and an enthusiastic audience listening as though they were hearing a new and exciting idea. [some of the series' will have that in the title: 'forget counting calories: a new approach to weight loss," or "eat everything you want : an exciting new way to get healthy.'  the speakers will be old or young, male or female, gently guiding or somberly threatening. they will talk like gurus or surgeons or new-age healers, and will surround their messages with different vocabularies.  i'm sure i once heard a women's health specialist invoke the Great Goddess.

and so you get sucked into watching. and after much edifying rhetoric-- spiritual, medical, or just-plain-old-common-sensical--all the different styles come down to two things: broccoli and exercise.  each has its subcategories: under broccoli comes a host of other ugly vegetables and the outlawing of sugar and fat. under exercise you get a series of different techniques for different healthy effects--weight-lifting, walking, jogging, swimming, and strapping yourself onto hideous machines that look suspiciously like the medieval rack.

all these are presented in cheerily oxymoranic combinations:  great tasting vegetables, fun ways to exercise.  delicious sugar-free cookies.  if dante had been an honest man, each food and each exercise would have its own circle in hell.

with exercise, there is an added lie: only 1/2 hour a day!  then come the accouterments: warmups, cooldowns, changes of clothing, and showers because after a 'good' exercise session you smell like an outhouse.  that 1/2 hour is really an hour or more. aren't there laws against deceptive advertising?

i'm sure that the vegetable based diets would truly help me lose weight.  all i need is a nice plate of brussels sprouts augmented by brown rice, and i'm far too nauseated to want food for several hours.  if i could stick to it i'd probably end up abandoning food altogether, which would be very slimming indeed. i can't bear even the smell of whole-wheat breads, and i fly past the bread section of the supermarket with my stomach lurching, holding a deep breath in while i grab the lovely white bread, and come out feeling like someone who has barely escaped the gauntlet.

i have surprised myself by finding exercise the least vile of the two categories.  there are some forms of exercise i find actually close to enjoyable.  brisk walking can be pleasant.  i breathe in the wholesome air, feel the wind in my hair, all that good stuff. it can also serve as a means of local transportation, so it saves a little of that time lost on clothing changes, etc.  sadly, however, i'm a pretty solid klutz, and a good brisk walk is all too likely to end in a good brisk fall.  i have the bruises to prove it.  the other nice exercise is swimming, and we have a pool in my building, which is great.  my problem there is that i can't swim, but i've solved that by splashing around in one of those buoyant water jogging belts that look like styrofoam.  sometimes this gets me a lot of attention: a ten year old swimming laps across the pool stops long enough to say, 'what's that funny thing you're wearing?'  still, the pool can be fun once every couple of weeks.

i have no solution to offer.  there is no moral to this tale.  it's one of life's fundamental horrors, and all you can do is either cave in, make half  your waking day miserable, and live an extra few years, or just figure you're gonna die someday anyway, so you may as well use your waking day as happily as you can, and pay for that time by a slightly earlier death. i wish  sometimes i were still catholic, so i could follow the plan and offer all the exercise and vegetables and whole grains up to god, in the hope that this suffering on earth would use up some of my time in purgatory.  but who am i kidding? after purgatory comes heaven, and you can't fool me.  heaven will turn out to be one giant field of broccoli.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Great Gay Gene Debate

i didn't expect to write on the same topic two days in a row.  but i saw something on facebook i had to respond to, and as usual had more to say than i could contain in a fb message.  there was a mother jones article on the possibility that the bachmann creature was right that homosexuality was a 'choice'  rather than genetically prompted. [this was mother jones, so you know they were on the right side.]

  i've always been uncomfortable with the 'defense' of homosexuality based on the idea that it's genetic.  it may be, which would be interesting.  it would also be irrelevant to the question of gay rights.

there's so much we don't know about the structure of the brain, including, as i've gathered, the question of whether a given gene creates a particular quality or responds to that quality; the brain seems much more changeable than we once believed.

but what does that have to do with the fact of homophobia? lots of things we do, from the most trivial to the most profound, involve genes and changes in genes.  if there is a gene that causes homosexuality, there is likely a gene that causes heterosexuality and bisexuality and attraction to tall blonds or short redheads. but tall blonds and short redheads are not asked to justify their conditions--and heterosexuals certainly aren't.

it's always seemed to me at best condescending to embrace the idea that homosexuality isn't someone's fault because they have this gene.  homosexuality is no one's fault because homosexuality is not a fault.  must we justify heterosexuality because hets were made that way by some weird gene?  and if it turned out that there wasn't such a gene, would hets be blamed for choosing their sexuality?

this question of 'choosing' is the companion argument to the genetic issue.  if there isn't a gene that creates homosexuality,  the argument goes, then people choose to be gay.  and that's a bad bad choice.
so we end up clinging to that poor little gene, to free homosexuals from their wicked choices.

but the 'choice' question is a bit more complicated than the 'phobes want to admit.  we end up with an image of someone who thinks, 'golly, wouldn't it be fun to be gay? i think i'll go out and find me a same-sex lover.' it's an awfully bizarre image.   there is choice involved in any sexual decision, but the choice isn't whether or not be straight or gay or bisexual or anything else: the choice is whether or not to act on a given attraction.  even within the wonderful world of heterosexuality, there isn't a whole lot of choice about who to be attracted to.  would that there were!  someone is interested in a sexual relationship with you. he [for convenience's sake, i'm making 'you' a straight woman for the moment]....he is everything a guy should be: kind, sensitive, strong, handsome, respectful, intelligent--whatever it is you long for in a lover.  and you're not attracted to him. you can try to become attracted, and maybe over time you'll find him sexy. maybe not.  maybe the guy  you find sexy is a friggin pig.  and no matter how much you tell yourself not to be attracted to mr. piggy, your hormones pay no attention.  you have a choice here; you can choose to have sex or not have sex with either of these guys.  you control your actions, not your desires.

so yes, a gay person can choose to act or not on homosexual desires.  to that extent mr. bachmann is right.  where he's wrong, fundamentally and immorally wrong, is in his conviction that the only right choice is to flee homosexuality.  maybe, as some people have suggested, that's because he himself has made that choice. maybe not; i've never had great gaydar.  but if he does have attractions to men and has chosen not to act on them, good for him.  he chooses within his own moral convictions.  but he has no right to impose those convictions for others.  if god has talked to him [or is it only michelle god talks to?], that's fine.  my guess is that 'god' has said very different things to a lot of other people.

the 'choice' between accepting a genetic predisposition or deciding to be gay is a false choice.  if there is a genuine moral flaw in being gay and honoring that desire, i have yet to learn what it is.  maybe bigotry too has a gene, and the homophobes can't help what they feel.  but they damn well can help what they do with those feelings.  trying to cure a nonexistent disease is a lousy choice.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

'Curing' the Gay--and the Straight

okay, the bachmanns are slimes.  no problem with that.  and from what i've seen, the 'pray away the gay' pseudo-counselors are all homophobes.  further, studies show that you can't 'change' sexual preferences through any form of psychological therapy.  but...

every time the discussion comes up, i feel the appropriate anger at people trying to 'cure' others of something totally reasonable. and each time, there's the little piece of my mind that says, yes, but there's a third story somewhere that isn't being talked about.

what if you are a homosexual man or woman who really hates their attraction, who really wants to be straight, or at least not gay?  of course one instantly thinks that any such emotion must stem from self-hatred, which itself stems from the constant emotional battering of a heterosexist society.  certainly that is one likely scenario.

yet i still wonder if sexual preference might work the same way gender identification does: that is, some people might simply -- or not-so-simply---feel a strong alienation from what their bodies seem to be telling them they are.  we have come to realize that there are people who are genetically male or female and are so tormented in their gender that they have drastic surgery to transform themselves into the gender they deeply feel to be their real one.  might it not work with sexual attraction as well?

and if so, what we need is not only a rejection of the homophobic efforts to 'cure' people, but also to an effort to envision a decent, non-judgemental mode of helping people with these needs, as we have found models to help people with the process of transgendering.

one starting point might be to consider it a question of anyone who might wish to change sexual orientation. this means the assumption, given the great variety of human needs in every area, that some heterosexuals might truly need to be homosexual.  in the women's movement in the 70s, i knew straight women who wished they were gay--to an extent, i was one of them.  'to an extent' only because it didn't go deep enough for me to really explore it or pursue any possible means of changing my sexuality.  i know i was a little overly romantic about the logical extension of 'sisterhood is powerful' --since relationships with men were pretty ridiculous, relationships with women would be great [' one of your own kind, stick to your own kind'].

not a little overly romantic, come to think of it--a lot overly romantic.   the more lesbian couples i knew, the more i saw the duh factor.  lesbian relationships were as varied as straight ones were, and women weren't always warm and fluffy with each other.  so my rose-colored yearning to be gay faded into a general disgruntlement and allowed me to grow into a nice curmudgeonly old spinster, as i'd wished to be when i was a kid.  then again, i saw the damage that so=-called 'political lesbians' could do to themselves and their newfound mates.  the ones who were able to change comfortably tended to already be bisexual, and it wasn't so much a change in orientation as a choice within an expansive orientation.  the others eventually went back to sleeping with the enemy.

but i know there were other women whose attraction to lesbianism was far stronger than mine, and perfectly real. they were attracted to lesbianism, but not to women.  looking back, it seems likely to me that there were more such women, and men in a comparable position, but with no vocabulary, no context, even to define what they felt.  and if that's the case, there must always have been such people. there must be such people now. and there must be people who are attracted to their own gender and yearn not to be, for reasons far too deep and complex to define away,  as homosexuality itself is too deep to define away; as transgender needs are too deep to define away.  i fear that if we don't somehow look to that possibility, expand our comprehension to include them, we leave them no resources but the bachmann types, and we leave the straight people who want to be gay with no resources at all, except perhaps confusion and hypocrisy.   those, of course, are always in abundant supply.  compassion, acceptance of complexity, the willingness to envision things beyond what we know or experience--they're a little harder to find.

Saturday, July 16, 2011



If  you watch the fireworks long enough
they’ll tell you about forever.
There are two ways they do this.
There is the  child way, when you reach out to them
and they promise that  one day they will arc 
into your heart,  where you will always have them
and nothing will hurt, much,
because inside you are golden
red and green swirling
falling,  always being,  lights.

The other way is a solemn and a different forever
the forever of faith without belief, the forever of eternity.
And there are no words to explain, not even the words of colors and light.
But listen to them anyway.

Friday, July 15, 2011

God Bless the Atheists

On facebook today, someone cited an article about the moronic islamophobic writings of christopher hitchens and martin amis.  i've seen some of hitchens' work; amis is new to me so i googled and read about him.  what strikes me about the caliber of their attacks on islam is the fact that they are both very intelligent people.  they must be quite capable of reasoned critiques of islam as a religion and/or a social force.  but that's not what they seem to be doing.  their intelligence, in this context, is both disturbing and enlightening.  they have chosen to put aside reason and logic, and do a pretty good job of sounding similar to the politician-dimwits like michelle bachmann or the media dimwits like glenn beck and bill o'reilly.  i don't mean to underestimate the right-wing bigots; many of them are very shrewd.  but they express no interest in ideas, no curiosity about the backgrounds of subjects they elect to preach on, no awareness of complexity.  what they believe or purport to believe is holy truth, not ideas subject to analysis and dispute.

by contrast people like hitchens and amis have minds they are capable of using.  they don't seem unacquainted with the idea of ideas.  they might have things to say about specific religious ideologies that are worth thinking about.  instead they make up tales of demonic muslims as though the woman walking down the street wearing a hijab is precisely the same as a terrorist throwing bombs in a crowded square; as though no two muslims disagree about allah's will.  it's small minded and, like i said, stupid.

however, on one level it makes sense.  like the predominantly christian far right, amis and hitchens are fundamentalists.  they are firm, all knowing athiests.   amis has claimed he's an agnostic, not an atheist, because he thinks it's possible that some larger force may exist.  but he is utterly positive that this force is not a personal God.  this certainty isn't consistent with agnosticism, which inherently admits that there might be a God, that one or another religion might be true, though they don't see any proof of it. atheism can be like that: firmer in its rejection of God or an afterlife, but still not overbearingly convinced that it's the only possible truth.  there are, as H.L. mencken once observed, as many degrees of dogma among atheists as among christians.  i remember years ago, watching the late david brudnoy's tv show, whose guests were a scientist who beleived that 'near-death experiences' were caused by specific brain chemicals, and a woman who had had such an experience, during which she had seen and spoken to jesus. the scientist listened politely to her explanation.  brudnoy guffawed.  'are you really asking us to believe, on faith, that jesus spoke to you?' he sneered.  she was great.  she ignored his rudeness, and very calmly answered. 'oh, no. I'm not asking you to believe anything. You asked me to come on your show and talk about my experience.'

what struck me was that, while she was indeed not asking anyone to believe her, brudnoy was: he was asking us to believe, on faith, that her experience wasn't true.  and he hadn't even been there!

a few years after this, when brudnoy was diagnosed with AIDS, he wrote a column about it and asked people not to pray for him, since he didn't believe in prayer.  yet later, when he knew he would soon die, he wrote a farewell column in which he thanked all who sent him good wishes and who prayed for him--and asked them to continue their prayers.  it was immensely moving to me.  i read later that when he was dying one of the few people he spent time with in his last days was the hospital chaplain.  what had changed in the nature of his belief, i don't know.  possibly it was simply the step from sheer conviction to the realization that he didn't know everything, and that people who prayed might be doing something helpful.

much later, i saw a similar attitude in two of my own friends, each of whom was experiencing a life-threatening illness.  they didn't know each other, so were not affecting each other's thinking.  one of them told me her religious friends had said that they were praying for her, and she had told them to stop. she was offended by it.  i smiled and told her i never prayed; i sent people white light, since i didn't believe in a personal god but did believe that evoking a larger power  might help. she was very upset and angrily told me not to send her any more light.  i said i hoped it was okay to wish her luck, and when she said that was fine, i took her at her word and still send her good luck wishes every day. if prayers or white light do anything, good wishes should do it too.

meanwhile my other friend had also gotten annoyed at all the people who prayed for him. he sent an email to us all,  thanking us for our good wishes and asking us to please not pray for him. then he added, 'if you feel you have to pray, or if it helps you, go ahead and pray for me.  just don't tell me about it!'  it was a more realistic approach, a degree of difference in dogma that i thought telling. he didn't feel threatened by prayer, he just didn't want to hear about it. this left his friends with the ability to guiltlessly pray, and himself with the ability not to engage with the idea of their prayers.  [since he said nothing about white light, i assumed he would feel the same way, and have never mentioned it to him.]

i don't have any problems with atheism itself, and i would probably qualify as the sort of agnostic martin amis purports to be: i do believe in something that is larger than we are and of which we are all parts, composing an immortal combinations of selves-in-one.  i too find figures like god-the-father and his uniquely divine handsome young spinoff jesus unlikely.  but i do realize i could be wrong.  i find atheism as unsatisfactory an answer as any  single religion.  i grew up catholic, and thus for the first 20 years of my life learned about at least bits of the bible, in both testaments.  after 9/11 i read, though i did not study, the koran, to get an idea of what muslims were expected to believe.  i didn't much like it, but i certainly didn't find any 'off the christians!' in it, and a fair amount of 'help everyone, whatever they believe.'  there's material there that can be used to justify killing religious or political enemies, if you want to use it that way, though not nearly as much as there is in the bible. i've known a lot of christians, a lot of jews, a lot of agnostics, fewer atheists and even fewer muslims.  their religious beliefs usually influence their attitudes toward the world, for better or worse. most of them take for granted that there are other beliefs out there they may be partly or wholly true; even when they find a particular belief repugnant they don't automatically attribute any evil  exclusively to the evildoers ' professed faith.

when they do, when they are so invested in their own faith that there is no room for exploration or ambiguity, they are fundamentalists, and very similar to each other.  eventually, they are bores.  and when they use their own faith to attack others, they are dangerous. all of them.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Choice that Dare Not Speak Its Name

i do seem to be posting a lot re tv of late--well, since i teach TV in American Life and Women in Media, and classes start next week, i suppose it makes sense...

so, like the star of bones, the star of the terrific summer show in plain sight is pregnant, and her pregnancy has to be worked into the show somehow.  they're doing a good job of it; she has decided from the start to put the child up for adoption, and this is complicated by the fact that her sister and brother in law want to adopt the baby. she is adamantly against this because it would keep her in some kind of relationship with the child. ' aghast, she says, "so what's the kid supposed to call me--Auntie Mom?".  interesting place to go with it, more so than if that's what she ends up doing--lots of ambivalence guaranteed for the next few seasons....

what annoys me in this, however, is that no mention of abortion is made at all.  obviously it wouldn't be a real possibility, given that the reason for the character's pregnancy is the actor's.  indeed when we  saw her in the first new episode a couple of weeks ago, she was already thickened.  but however happy the star may be about her condition, the character isn't.  she's a sophisticated, cynical, world-weary woman, not bound by any religious beliefs we know of.  why, as her friends and family learn of her pregnancy, does no one say, 'so you've decided to have the baby?'  nor does she herself offer any information like 'i thought about abortion, but i don't feel right about it.'  frankly, that might even sound good to a right-to-lifer.  it certainly would sound good to anyone who believes in choice, and probably to any woman dealing with the question in her own life.  not mentioning it is fake, and a cheat.  maybe the subject can still come up--if her partner marshall is slightly tipsy, he might ask.

dramatically, marshall could be a great character in this storyline.  last year, we were left in the last few episodes with the clear impression that he was at least a bit in love with mary. that hasn't been addressed yet this year, and maybe with this new situation, the producers decided to just ignore that.  on the other hand, if they have any sense, they'll follow through, with marshall [now dating another woman] getting the idea that he and mary could raise the child together.  [he is an interesting character: monotoned and wry, he is as cynical as mary, but a believer in love and commitment. he might even oppose abortion.  the conversation, if not the decision, could lead to more development of both their characters. their clashing/complementary personalities could play out funkily as her pregnancy advances.

Monday, July 4, 2011

brief random pop culture notes

last night's 'leverage' was a bit touching. not for the storyline itself, which was, as usual, fun,  but for the understated tribute to tim hutton's father, the actor jim hutton, who died way too young many years ago. he had starred in the tv series 'ellery queen' in the mid 1970s.  in last night's show, the plot centered on a 'famous detective' costume party, during which a real murder occurs, which the team has to solve before anyone realizes it isn't just a part of the theme game.  not only does nate, tim hutton's character, come as ellery queen in a costume i recognized  instantly because it looked like  his father's e.q. outfit, but toward the end, they did an updated verbal resolution of the crime, with nate talking on his hidden mike to his associates, just as years ago the show would end with ellery telling the audience how he'd figured it out.  i found it very touching, and i suspect there were other hints about the old series that i didn't pick up on.  [This may be a stretch, but one of the team was using the name Yma Sumac, who was an actress from the '40s and '50s, and was picked up on in the episode when someone remembered who the real yma sumac was.] on a whim i just looked up sumac's name in a tv history directory, and found one reference; she was a guest star in a 1950s variety show starring someone named ina ray hutton. so i'm wondering.......

anyway, my other little note is about the new statue of ronald reagan in london, paid for by a ronald reagan foundation.  there was a picture of it in the NY Times.  the thing is, when i first looked at the picture, i thought it was something about donald o'connor! doesn't look at all like good old ronnie, even in his early film days. and why a statue in london?  i'll have to have a look next time i get there......

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Beware the Barbarians!

just when you think they can't get any crazier, they do.  they, of course, being the ultra-conservatives.  the newest contributor to the crew is the husband of America's [wannabe] Next President, Michelle Bachman!  mr. b. hasn't been visible much, and now we know why. he's an evangelical 'christian counselor,' and he's crusading against ...the homosexuals!!!!!! well, okay, wifey has been doing that for months.  but his arguments.....

one of his theories is actually fairly old, so old that i thought it had long ago retired. schools are discussing homosexuality in classes, he says,  thus 'opening the door' for students to get interested and explore, which will lose a lot of souls. he goes on to explain that some people don't worry about the homosexual menace, because they think the percentage of homosexuals in the country is fairly small.  not so! it seems small, but that's only because schoolkids aren't taught that gays are sinners; they are instead being told that gay people just like the rest of us, and should be treated as such.  it seems that though homosexuality is  unnatural and generally disgusting,  all a kid needs to do is meet a nice one or hear that they should have right like other people, or think about that possibility, and bingo! your son runs off to the Village and your daughter grows hair under her arms,  and there goes civilization!

this leads me to his next comment, which i suppose is a logical extension of the old one, though it had never occurred to me before.  i was actually sorry i heard this on keith olberman's show and not on rachel maddow's.  i love them both, but maddow's sense of humor has that great, exuberant joy in the idiocy of the human race that enhances her wit and, for that matter, her seriousness.  nonetheless, to olberman goes the credit of playing a tape of the would-be first gentleman at a speech.  homosexuals, intones mr. b. emphatically, are 'barbarians.'  i'm pretty sure he repeated the word; i know he emphasized it.

i love the image this conjures up: hordes of  gay men viking their way through the streets, swords flying every which way,  leaving dead and dying hets in their wake,  stopping only to swig rotgut wine,  belch, and rape their more appealing male victims. [apologies to the lesbian barbarians reading this, but somehow i get the impression that it's male homosexuals he's focusing on.  maybe like queen victoria, he doesn't think women really do such things].

is it possible that the guy ate some funny brownies one day last spring and watched the stonewall documentary? and maybe channel surfed and found himself in the middle of a movie about ancient rome? or has he been taking history lessons from his wife and her friend sarah?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Obama and the Dirty Word

Has anyone missed the little stir over rightwing news commentator mark halpern's reference to president obama as a 'dick'?  he was on the rightwing msnbc show, 'morning joe,' and thought the camera and mike were off at the moment; he coyly hesitated before he offered this analysis of the presidential press conference the day before.  we were then treated to the edifying spectacle of halpern and the show's two hosts giggling about the 'naughty word' like a bunch of 3rd graders who realized the teacher had heard them.

 halpern came back on 'morning joe'  later to apologize, and has been suspended from his own msnbc show for  couple of weeks.  today's 'mother jones' ran an article about the incident, pointing out that it was part of a pattern of ugly conservative attacks on obama.

oddly, to me, the mother jones article didn't mention what should be increasingly obvious.  it's true that the conservative sniping at obama and the 'liberals' are nastier than i've heard in public commentary over the years: the parties hate each other, yeah yeah, and are always snide.  but the attacks on obama have been especially ludicrous from the beginning.  it's clear that the conservatives want to get rid of him.  and exaggerations--though not outright lies--are par for the course: one might have believed that bill clinton was a marxist, not a moderate-to-conservative liberal.  but the big attack on clinton was at least around something he actually did, however irrelevant it was to his politics.

there has always been a pretty fiction that however one feels about the president, one respects the office of the presidency and thus treats its inhabitant with at least surface politeness.  never before has a president been reduced to having to display his birth certificate.  i don't recall any earlier time when a televised  presidential address was interrupted by an opposition party member shouting, "you lie!'   and i certainly don't recall a president being publicly called a dick.  [that they thought they were off camera is fairly irrelevant--these are three media pro's; they should know that you watch what you say whenever there is the slightest chance that it's being recorded].

then again, i don't recall a previous black president.

obama has never used the race card: in fact, only his absolute dignity keeps him from appearing like a placating uncle tom.  he has been dignified to the point of frustrating those who wanted more of him than he has to give: he constantly harps about 'bipartisanship,' when many of his supporters want him to take a firm stance.   he has firmly resisted any temptation to attribute attacks on him as racist.

that latter, at least, is a wise strategy. [and i rarely praise obama for wise strategy.]  the political differences between him and his enemies are real, and if he once mentioned racism in regard to the attacks, he would go down in history as an 'angry black.'  the word, i suspect, would not be 'black,' away from the microphones.

but the rest of us don't have to hide from the racism.  mingled as it is with the honest hatred of the poor and disenfranchised that the conservatives constantly manifest, racism is omnipresent.  why is he 'a dick'? why is he a liar?  why is he non-american?

because he isn't a 'good negro.'  you know that figure, the good negro.  my grandfather used to  love to point out the 'niggers' in front of bars, or dressed tough, or walking down the street like they had a right to do it.  at the point when one of us started to protest, he would add, 'oh, i don't mean all of them!  there are  some good negroes.'

obama acts like a good negro--he dresses in suits, he's polite, he uses no ghetto jargon, and he's worked his way into the upper class.  but when he argues for his programs, when he counters the arguments of the conservatives with firmness and facts, he's not being a good negro.  when he doesn't argue for his programs or accuse the conservatives of harming america, he's still attacked for being extreme, hateful, even [shudder] socialist, or, worse these days, a muslim.  read 'bad negro.'  he is not a good negro when he supports plans republicans have pushed: they drop their own platforms because he has embraced them.  above all, he is not a good negro because he ran for, and became, president of the united states. no matter how qualified, how polite, how educated, how intelligent a black candidate may be, he has no right to aspire to a higher office than, say, mayor or member of congress. he can become a judge, even a supreme court justice.  but a president is a not only powerful:  he is one single figure who represents the american self-image.  and that remains a white image.

let me emphasize that i am not suggesting all criticism of obama, from the right, left, or center, is based on race.  any president is, and should be, subject to real, even angry, criticism.  but it would be a large mistake ever to ignore the racial hostility underlying the form too much of the criticism takes.  20 years ago, i was amused at times during the clarence thomas/anita hill hearings, because the all-white [and all male] senators were trying constantly not to appear racist while judging between the stories of two african-americans.  they continually tried to express polite respect for both hill and thomas, as they would not have done if either or both parties were white.  i didn't buy it, which is why i found it bitterly amusing.  but now, while still pretending to be anti-racist, there is little effort to act on  even that much pretense.  obama is an uppity negro, and they will do all they can to get him out of the white --the very white--house.  the real dirty word on that 'morning joe' show, the one beneath the gleeful giggles, wasn't really 'dick' at all.