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Legal Advice

I do some work in a law office. I see things. I'm not a lawyer, but let me give you some legal advice anyway.

Don't be a wise-ass. You think you can pull something criminal and get away with it? Maybe. Maybe not.

If not, here's a couple of things you can look forward to: The FBI coming to your house at 5:00 a.m. and banging on your door, waking up not just you but also (if you have them) your wife and kids. The federales will ask you a few questions, or, more likely, they will just put the hand-cuffs on you and take you away. Won't you be proud? Your wife and kids and maybe even your neighbors seeing that?

We will pass over the part about booking and being arraigned and the tearful calls your wife has to make as she desperately searches for a lawyer to represent you at your arraignment. A lawyer? We don't have lawyer. Whoever thought we would need a lawyer?

I'm not going to waste time on your legal problems. What happens with that depends too much on what you allegedly did. You watch the shows on T.V. You know all about that stuff, I'm sure.

So let me just finish up with the part about how many tens of thousands of dollars it's going to cost you to get a decent criminal lawyer. You'll need to produce the money up front, of course. These guys are used to dealing with, well, criminals who, as a group, are not notorious for making good on their legal bills after the fireworks are over. That means you have, oh, maybe a couple of days to hit up your relatives, or to sell something, or to take a loan against the house, or what-all.

Unless you want a public defender, of course.

I have enormous respect for the public defenders. For the most part they are committed people who will do their best for you, but the government really doesn't care if you are properly represented and so it doesn't give the public defenders much money and it certainly overworks them terribly.

Believe me, if you have the ability to come up with the money to get your own lawyer, you will do it. Being trapped in the criminal justice system will terrify you, and you will do whatever you have to do to try to save yourself from it.

No charge for the advice. As I say, I'm not a lawyer. I'm just a guy who winces a lot whenever he sees people doing incredibly stupid things to themselves.

The Paradox of Religious Tolerance

I recently finished reading Susan Jacoby's Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for those who consider themselves, well... freethinkers. That would include atheists, secular humanists, religious liberals (these days), and a few others tossed in for good measure. You know who you are.

American secularists have trouble deciding what to call themselves today, in part because the term has been so denigrated by the right and in part because identifying oneself as a secular humanist -- unlike, say, calling oneself a Jew, a Catholic, or a Baptist -- has a vaguely bureaucratic ring. It is time to revive the evocative and honorable freethinker, with its insistence that Americans think for themselves instead of relying on received opinion. The combination of free and thought embodies every ideal that secularists still hold out to a nation founded not on dreams of justice in heaven but on the best human hopes for a more just earth. (pp.364-365)

So in case anybody ever asks, from now on what I am is: a freethinker.

There is a great deal I could write about this book -- and I probably will write a great deal about it in the future -- but here I want to concentrate on something that I'm calling the paradox of religious tolerance. It describes a painful irony.

In 1784, Patrick Henry (of give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death fame) introduced a bill into the Virginia General Assembly called "A Bill Establishing A Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion":

Whereas the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society; which cannot be effected without a competent provision for learned teachers, who may be thereby enabled to devote their time and attention to the duty of instructing such citizens, as from their circumstances and want of education, cannot otherwise attain such knowledge; and it is judged that such provision may be made by the Legislature, without counteracting the liberal principle heretofore adopted and intended to be preserved by abolishing all distinctions of pre-eminence amongst the different societies or communities of Christians;

Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, that for the support of Christian teachers, per centum on the amount, or in the pound on the sum payable for tax on the property within this Commonwealth, is hereby assessed, and shall be paid by every person chargeable with the said tax at the time the same shall become due; and the Sheriffs of the several Counties shall have power to levy and collect the same in the same manner and under the like restrictions and limitations, as are or may be prescribed by the laws for raising the Revenues of this State.

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

When introduced, Henry's bill had widespread support and seemed assured of passage. James Madison, among others, thought it was a stinker though, and his distaste for the bill prompted him to write, in 1785, his famous "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments". Any American who is not familiar with it needs to seriously go back to school.

... [E]xperience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy [and] ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution. Enquire of the teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy....


[I]t will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with religion has produced amongst its several sects. Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world by vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish religious discord by proscribing all difference in religious opinions. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and complete liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If, with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bonds of religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation. The very appearance of the Bill has transformed that "Christian forbearance, love and ," which of late mutually prevailed, into animosities and jealousies which may not soon be appeased. What mischiefs may not be dreaded should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of a law?

The debate lasted two years. In that time, a strange thing happened: Enlightenment freethinkers like Jefferson and Madison gained invaluable allies in their fight against Henry's bill: minority Christian sects and America's earliest evangelicals.

According to Jacoby:

And although Madison was speaking from the perspective of an Enlightenment rationalist, his presentation of the pernicious possibilities for state interference with religion appealed powerfully to nonconformist Protestants, including small Quaker and Lutheran sects as well as the more numerous Baptists and Presbyterians, who had long resented the domination of the Episcopalians. Although evangelicals did not share Madison's and Jefferson's suspicions of religious influence on civil government -- indeed, they wished to expand the scope of their own influence -- they eventually became convinced that dissenting denominations could best flourish under a government that explicitly prohibited state interference with church affairs. And they were willing to renounce government money to ensure government noninterference.


While secularists like Jefferson and Madison were concerned mainly with limiting the influence of religious intolerance on civil government, the evangelicals cared mainly about unfettered opportunity not only to worship in their own way but to proselytize within society -- a difference in motivation that would place the two groups on opposite sides in many future political battles. At the time, though, the interests of the evangelicals and the Enlightenment rationalists coincided and coalesced in a common support for separation of church and state. During the Virginia debate, each side borrowed the other's arguments and even appropriated the other's rhetorical devices.


In the end, the secularists and dissident evangelicals easily carried the day.... By the time Virginia lawmakers arrived in Richmond for the beginning of the 1785-86 General Assembly, the assessment bill, which once seemed certain of passage, had been relegated to the dust-bin of history. (pp.21-23.)

In short, one of the allied driving forces behind what would eventually become the First Amendment to our Constitution was the mistrust and dissension among and between early American religious sects.

Fast forward almost two hundred years. For the sake of brevity, I'm skipping over a lot of intervening history here -- read Jacoby's book or resort to your own presumably thorough knowledge of American history.

Jacoby again:

In the fourth decade of the twentieth century, America was still an overwhelmingly Protestant nation, but Protestants were so divided that it would have been ludicrous to refer to a "Protestant" political or social position. New York Episcopalians or Congregationalists had little in common, theologically or socially, with southern Baptists -- and southern Baptists were equally removed from northern Baptists. (p.269.)

As it happens, just last night I was discussing all this with some friends of mine -- he is a nominal Catholic and she is a nominal Lutheran. When they were getting married about a decade ago, family legend has it that his grandmother, a woman of a certain age and of very certain Catholic loyalties, muttered the immortal words, "I'd rather he married a Negro girl." Clearly a woman of her time, when suspicion and mistrust was still strong not just among and between America's Protestants, but between Catholics and Protestants as well.

But the times they were a-changin'.

...[I]n the postwar years, religious spokesmen, using every medium of mass communication, were successfully promoting a civil religion that worshipped both prosperity and Christianity. The sermons of Norman Vincent Peale, Billy Graham, and Fulton Sheen, delivered from television studios as well as traditional pulpits, proclaimed the doctrine of American exceptionalism, imbued with the conviction that God had selected America as the beneficiary of His special blessings. (pp.302-03.)

I love (and hate) Jacoby's notion of an American "civil religion", the beginnings of which she traces back to the Roaring Twenties, around the time of a fellow named Bruce Barton who was one of the founders of the modern notion of advertising. Barton wrote a book called The Man Nobody Knows -- the theretofore unknown title character being Jesus of course, and the primary thing we hadn't know about him (until Barton's book, of course) was that he was one hell of a good businessman.

The boosterish melding of religion with business, backed up by new communications and advertising media, was a cultural shift that encouraged the public display of spiritual allegiances that had once belonged to the realm of private life. To pursue God and Mammon with equal vigor, and to trumpet one's commitment and devotion, had become an American virtue.... The Jazz Age spirit of religious display did not express itself directly in politics in the fashion that has become so familiar to Americans during the past twenty-five years, but it marked the beginning of the long and slow encroachment on the zone of privacy that had enabled previous American presidents to seek election and govern without being obliged to share their religious beliefs with the public. (p.254-55.)

Later we get the aforementioned Peale, Graham, Sheen, and their ilk nurturing this new "civil religion". Peale writes in the introduction to the paperback edition of his book, Power of Positive Thinking: "I was born and reared in humble Midwestern circumstances in a dedicated Christian home.... The everyday people of this land are my own kind whom I know and love and believe in with great faith. When anyone of them lets God have charge of his life the power and glory are amazingly demonstrated." And as Jacoby says:

"Everyday people" were not Jews, humanists, or atheists but Christians. A generation earlier, before the first stirrings of American ecumenicism, Peale would probably have specified Protestants rather than Christians as God's American anointed; a few years later, as Christians became more sensitized to the feelings of Jews, he would likely have used the more general "religious" or "God-fearing". At any rate, all that was required for Peale's countrymen to claim the happiness and success that was their birthright as Americans was to acknowledge the power of God. (p.303.)

And thus we arrive, temporally at least, at the doorstep -- probably more like the front porch -- of the House of God this country now lives in. And we draw near to what I above called the paradox of religious tolerance.

...[T]he sectarian animosities once exchanged by Catholic and Protestant clergy were slowly but surely being replaced by the fog of murky tolerance that has since become the defining characteristic of America's ecumenical public consensus. The fifties may have begun with a flare-up of old denominational hatreds, but they ended with the skin-deep civility that proclaims, "There's so much good in the worst of us/And so much bad in the best of us/That it ill behooves any of us/To talk about the rest of us." This spirit of bland tolerance was accompanied by a "tolerant" dismissiveness toward those who adhered to no faith. The new American civil religion did not exactly embrace secularists, agnostics, and atheists, but did not persecute them either -- unless they behaved like Mad Madalyn [O'Hair] and aggressively challenged religious beliefs and believers. If right-wing believers still hated secularism and all its works, the majority tended to view self-proclaimed secularists as harmless cranks. At the end of the self-satisfied fifties, few were prescient enough to foresee that the social ferment of the sixties would reinvigorate American secularism -- and its opponents -- in a fashion harking back not only to the golden age of freethought but the much earlier nineteenth-century conjunction of abolition and feminism. (p.316.)

And I don't have to tell you about where we are today. Just yesterday morning, as James Taylor would say, Crooks and Liars urged us to "pore over" an article on Dominionism. I've been seeing a lot about Dominionism lately, all over the internets.

And here's the funny thing, when you think about it. Back in the mid-1780s when Madison and Jefferson were squaring off against Patrick Henry and his bill to establish Christianity as the state religion of Virginia, it was the animosities between the various religious sects that helped -- we might even say allowed -- the ultimate rejection of Henry's bill and the ultimate adoption of Jefferson's "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia". And those animosities continued for the longest time. For decades, it was the American Catholic Church that was pressing for the state to grant government funds to support religious schools -- and it was the mistrust of the Protestants toward the Catholics that buoyed the state's willingness to resist making such grants.

But now those animosities are gone. America's religions have grown tolerant of their differences, and this has allowed them to unite under the banner of this new American "civil religion" -- a coalition so powerful that it threatens to excise from our society the idea of tolerance itself.

It kind of makes you long for the bad old days when my friend's Catholic grandmother would rather he married a black girl than a Lutheran. I'm sure that in those old days it was a nightmare for the individual couples involved, but the rest of us -- and the country itself -- were a hell of a lot safer from the fervent beliefs of the likes of Bush, Rove, Santorum, Dobson, Robertson, and the rest of the Patrick Henry-ites.

Maybe the best thing religious liberals can do for the progressive cause is to insist that their particular sects strictly adhere to their particular differences with all others. Go ahead. Cast a wary eye on those Baptists. Cross the street at the approach of free-range Catholics. The Lutherans are suspiciously "foreign", don't you think?

Seems to me a good, old-fashioned, red-blooded American serious dust-up over, say, the doctrine of transubstantiation could get us that much welcomed and long overdue break-up of the Great American Civil Religion. Get cracking, O ye of insufficiently dogmatic differences.


I used to do a lot of fishing when I was a boy. One of my favorite stories is the much reviled "Big Two-Hearted River" by Hemingway -- though not just because there is a lot of fishing in it.

With fishing, a lot of time and energy and thought goes into selecting just the right lure. The goal here is simple. What's the spinner or what-all in my tackle box that will best trick the fish on this particular day, in this particular place, into thinking that he's about to get a fine meal when, in fact, he's about to make a fine meal for some creature the existence of which he cannot even conceive.

There's nothing new about thinking of the art of branding products as the selection of the right lure. We all pretty much know we're just fish to them, right?

Well, it's about to get worse for us bullheads.

From Chapter 2 of Brand Sense by Martin Lindstrom:

Do you remember when you bought your first new car? It had a definite new-car smell. Many people cite the new-car smell as being one of the most gratifying aspects of purchasing a new car. The smell is as much a statement of newness as the shiny body.

In fact there is no such thing as a new-car smell. It's an artificial construct, a successful marketing ploy that taps directly into fantasy. This smell can be found in aerosol canisters on the factory floor that contain that "new-car" aroma. As the car leaves the production line, the scent is sprayed throughout its interior. All in all it lasts about six weeks, and then is overtaken by the rough and tumble of dirty track shoes, old magazines, and the empty coffee cup you drank from on your way to work.


Expanding your brand platform to appeal to as many senses as possible makes sense. Think of walking past a bakery where you can smell the aroma of the warm bread, without stopping. It's extremely difficult. In the supermarkets of Northern Europe freshly baked bread is prominently displayed near the entry to the store. Although there's no immediate evidence of a bakery, if you look carefully at the ceiling, you will spot vents that are specially designed to disperse baking aromas. It has proved a profitable exercise in increasing sales-not only of baked goods, but across many product lines.


The unique aroma of popcorn, the texture and sound of crunching cornflakes, or the distinctive smell of a new car has very little to do with the actual product, or for that matter its performance. Yet these components have come to play an almost fundamental role in our relationship with these products. These forms of sensory stimulation not only make us behave in irrational ways, but also help us distinguish one product from the next. They've embedded themselves in our long-term memory and have become part of our decision making processes.

It is these very processes that point the way toward the next generation of brand building. Over the next decade we will witness seismic shifts in the way we perceive brands. It can be compared to moving from black and white or color television with mono sound to high-definition color screens installed with surround sound.

Go here (warning: sound) to read more about Lindstrom and his book. And here is an interview (.ra file) with Martin Lindstrom by Lenny Lopate.

Lindstrom looks impish. Sounds jolly. Sort of like a good-natured troop leader of the Nazi Youth. But I know it's not fair to blame him for scaring me so. I know he's not doing anything more than what I did when I went fishing as a boy.

It's only that it scares me, repeatedly, primordially, whenever I'm reminded that to the rest of the world I'm just prey. And so vulnerable, too.

Well, we aren't really fish. We can learn in ways that fish can't. We can grow tired and angry at their tricks. Still, no matter what we do, we'll be prey. Maybe smarter prey, maybe dumber, but prey nevertheless. That, justified or not, is what really pisses us off about these guys.

It isn't so much the being manipulated that gets me; it's the being eaten.

Identity Theft

If I had a million dollars -- well, more likely, several million -- here's the T.V. ad I'd create and run until the most harrowing problem our democracy now faces is finally fixed. Somebody may have already done one like it, but if they have I haven't seen it.

Since these things seem to get titles, just like the Big Kids, I call this one "Identity Theft".

(Sound: perfect silence
Image: black screen.)

Fade in white text: "10 MILLION AMERICAN IDENTITIES"
Fade in below that: "ARE HIJACKED EVERY YEAR"

(Fade to black. Pause.)

Fade in below that: "LEXISNEXIS/SEISINT: 310,000 IDENTITIES"
Fade in below that: "CHOICEPOINT INC.: 145,000 IDENTITIES"
Fade in below that: "POLO RALPH LAUREN: 180,000+ IDENTITIES"
Fade in below that: "THERE ARE MORE..."

(Fade to black. Pause.)


(Fade to black. Pause.)


(Fade to black. Pause.)


(Fade to black. Pause.)

Fade in white text: "WHEN WE VOTE"
Fade in below that: "DEMAND A PAPER TRAIL"

(Pause. Fade to black.)

Hard Things


We respect the diligent, conscientious efforts, to date, rendered to the Senate by Majority Leader Frist and Democratic Leader Reid. This memorandum confirms an understanding among the signatories, based upon mutual trust and confidence, related to pending and future judicial nominations in the 109th Congress.

This memorandum is in two parts. Part I relates to the currently pending judicial nominees; Part II relates to subsequent individual nominations to be made by the President and to be acted upon by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

We have agreed to the following:

Part I:  Commitments on Pending Judicial Nominations

A.        Votes for Certain Nominees. We will vote to invoke cloture on the following judicial nominees: Janice Rogers Brown (D.C. Circuit), William Pryor (11th Circuit), and Priscilla Owen (5th Circuit).

B.        Status of Other Nominees. Signatories make no commitment to vote for or against cloture on the following judicial nominees: William Myers (9th Circuit) and Henry Saad (6th Circuit).

Part II:  Commitments for Future Nominations

A.        Future Nominations. Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United States Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.

B.        Rules Changes. In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, we commit to oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress, which we understand to be any amendment to or interpretation of the Rules of the Senate that would force a vote on a judicial nomination by means other than unanimous consent or Rule XXII.

We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word “Advice” speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President’s power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.

Such a return to the early practices of our government may well serve to reduce the rancor that unfortunately accompanies the advice and consent process in the Senate.

We firmly believe this agreement is consistent with the traditions of the United States Senate that we as Senators seek to uphold.

Well, everybody's flippin' out. I got the above from the Free Republic site and a lot of the people making comments over there are livid. A lot of the people making comments on Kos and AmericaBlog are livid too.

I've never really bought the old adage that if both sides are outraged then that means it's a genuine compromise. Sometimes it just means that both sides are really pissed off, but that one side really ought not to be quite as pissed off as the other.

The filibuster is preserved through the end of the 109th Congress. Frist is screwed. The Legislative branch has pushed back the Executive branch. The Senate stood up to the religious right.

It's true that the Republicans can go back on their words and help the filibuster get busted later by saying, well, the Democrats didn't reserve the filibuster for "extraordinary circumstances". Though I be a cynic, I don't believe they will renege. I believe a group of Senators actually took their responsibilities seriously today. I think this is an important moment in the life of the country.

Yes, I could be wrong. But I believe these Senators have risked much to make this deal and that they did it because they really do believe in the protection of the rights of the minority and in the deliberative nature of the Senate. I don't think they will go back on what they've done. Yes, I could be wrong. But I don't think I am. I hate that the three judges are getting through, but I like that in this day and age a group of Senators were willing to do this thing.

Do not forget the times we live in. These 14 Senators could have done the easy thing and gone along with their leaderships. They didn't. Instead, they did a hard thing, given the times we live in and the circumstances we face, and I'm glad of it.

The religious right lost. I think they lost big. I think that is our victory here, and --  for the moment, at least -- we should not crap on it too much.

Read this part again:

We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word “Advice” speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President’s power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.

That's seven Republicans telling the President to start sending up better nominees. That, no matter how you look at it, is a victory for our side. That's seven Republicans telling the President that they are willing to push back. That's seven Republicans telling the President he should pay attention to the minority.

Does that mean Bush will nominate liberals? No way. Does it mean that he might have to nominate somebody who might actually look something like a judge? I think so. We lost the election remember. We are in the minority. This isn't bad for a minority. I wish it was better for us, but it's not. I'll take this, given the alternatives. I'll take it gladly.

Sorry if I'm supposed to hate this or something, but I don't.

Final Saturday Morning Spring Vigil (0521)

NYC, 108°, May 21, 2005, 6:45 a.m.

Because the trees have leafed-out as much as they are going to, this marks the end of my Spring vigil. I spoke with my neighbors and, sadly, they are not going to have time to do much deck gardening this year. If the situation changes and their deck becomes their usual knock-out floral bonanza, I'll post an update.

Therefore, herewith, the official end of my 2005 Spring vigil:

For When You Are All Gay Too

Things going the way they are lately, I thought I'd jot down a few notes for those of you who are not members of the radical right. I have years of experience of being gay in this country and so I have a few pointers some people might find useful as the right seizes more and more power and turns all of you into the legal and political equivalent of faggots like me.

We're all used to being disliked by somebody. This is not unique to any group. As you are eased into your new faggotry I don't think you'll have too much trouble here. Pretty much: get over it. Bigger concerns await you.

Also, there's a part in each of us that is enraged by the little day-to-day injustices -- somebody cutting in front of you in line, a co-worker taking credit for an idea of yours, being purposefully ignored by the sales assistant behind the counter -- these are all part of the sweep and majesty of the daily crap of life. So, again, you are probably already prepared for this sort of thing. 

Actually... hmm... come to think of it, maybe you're in a lot better shape than I thought. I guess we all know how to be treated like shits. It's not such a difficult skill to master.

But there may be one thing most of you are not used to. You might have a little trouble adjusting to the notion of never having any political or legal recourse against the majority. Gays are sort of used to this, what with all the antigay referendums, ballot-initiatives, and so forth. The courts sometimes do the right thing by us (god forbid!) and so the courts, naturally, are where the Decent People are concentrating their efforts to get even more power. Can't have a minority being protected, after all!

Certainly, in the near future, anybody going up against the credit card companies under the new bankruptcy law will get a primer on how to cope with this sort of thing. And if you ever have the chance to be lectured by one of the New Judges of the Christian Right on your inadequacies as a human being, this will prove to be invaluable preparation for you as a -- citizen? resident? -- of the new America.

But the rest of you may need to undergo a little attitude adjustment here. You will need to find a way to comprehend that you are in a minority whose wishes don't really matter to anybody important anymore.

There's no use sugar-coating this part of it, I guess. If they have one more vote than you, then you are the faggots and your interests simply don't count. This will be difficult for those of you who once regarded yourselves as somehow mattering.

Sorry about that. To be blunt, I don't think you will ever really get over it. You will notice a constant, low-level fury buzzing around inside your head every minute of your waking day. And there won't be a thing you can do about it except hope that someday -- more or less miraculously, I guess -- things will get better for you.

Some tips: Alcohol helps. And drugs. Maybe some illicit sex, as long as you don't get caught at it. If you really work at it, you'll be able to find relief from your fury in any number of ways and places. Just, you know, not in the courts, is all.

To Murrow, To Murrow

The always intelligent Brian Lehrer had actor David Strathairn as a guest on his show today. Strathairn plays Edward R. Murrow in George Clooney's upcoming film, Goodnight, and Good Luck which "traces the true story of how Murrow (Strathairn), and his producer, Fred Friendly (Clooney), helped bring an end to the tyranny of the blacklist and the House Un-American Activities Committee's anti-Communist hearings."

Most historically sentient Americans will be familiar with Murrow's famous 1954 broadcast wherein he started his campaign against McCarthy, excerpted here as a refresher:

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear.... This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent. Or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we can not escape responsibility for the result.... He didn't create this situation of fear. He merely exploited it, and rather successfully. Cassius was right, "the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." Goodnight and Good Luck.

The impression that many of us historically sentient Americans might have of Murrow's broadcasts is, perhaps, that once these Powerful Words were spoken it was pretty much Game Over for McCarthy. Well, not so, I was a bit surprised to learn. Actually, if someone had pressed me to say whether that impression was true, I suppose I would have said "probably not". It only makes sense that McCarthy would have "bashed back" (as Brian Lehrer says). It's just that the bashing back does not stick in my mind. The bashing back has been swallowed and forgotten by history. When you actually read (or listen to) McCarthy's bashing back, you can pretty much see why.

You should listen to the excerpt at the WNYC's site (.ra file) so you can fantasize along with me the face of Senator McCarthy -- with a FOX News ticker running along the bottom of the screen -- as he solemnly intones in an O'Reilly-like manner:

And, you know, it's interesting to note that the viciousness of Murrow's attacks is in direct ratio to our success in digging out Communists. I am compelled by the facts to say to you that Mr. Edward R. Murrow, as far back as 20 years ago, was engaged in propaganda for Communist causes and Mr. Murrow by his own admission was a member of the IWW, that's the Industrial Workers of the World, a terrorist organization cited as subversive by an Attorney General of the United States. On March 9 of this year, Mr. Murrow, a trained reporter, who had traveled all over the world, who was the Educational Director of CBS, followed implicitly the Communist line as laid down in the last 6 months, laid down not only by the Communist Daily Worker, but by the Communist magazine Political Affairs and by the National Conference of the Communist Party of the United States of America.

(Note: that was transcribed by me from a recording played on the show. All errors mine, but I should also point out that it sounds to me as if the tape is edited in the same manner the Murrow tape was edited, but I cannot precisely tell where the edits might have come. Listen and decide for yourself.)

The lesson here, Mr. & Mrs. American Journalists and all you shits who see but do not speak up, is that the bash-backs go away. History eats them. What's remembered are words that tell the hard truths about the times you live in.

And now for something almost entirely, but not completely, different...

Tomorrow on Brian's show, starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, he's having Thomas Friedman as his guest and -- get this -- it's a call-in. Here's your chance to try to cross phone-lines with Ol' Tom.

WNYC streams live (in Windows and MP3) at wnyc.org. I'll let you figure out what 10am Eastern Daylight Time means in your neck of the woods.

Saving the Day, Once Again.

This whole filibuster/nuclear option thing is easy. I don't know why I always have to be the one to come up with the solutions to these things.

Let us start with the assumption that the ten disputed Bush nominees actually care about the Senate remaining a deliberative body. That is, let us assume they actually have these mature, judicial, non-activist temperaments we are assured by the Republicans they have.

Let us further assume they understand and agree with the crucial importance of the protection of the minority in a democracy.

Finally, let us assume they understand that lifetime appointments to the federal bench ought to be able to muster the support of at least 3/5s of the Senate, for heaven's sake. These are lifetime and very powerful appointments, remember. The 3/5s requirement is a safety measure. You know, like seat-belts. Everybody gets that, right?

Now, we know Frist won't back down because he's deluded himself into thinking he has a chance to be President in 2008. So, look, why don't these ten disputed nominees, being the patriots we know they are, simply issue a statement like this:

"We believe that we should be given our up or down votes. However, given the importance of protecting the interests of the minority in a democracy such as ours, we do not believe our right to an up or down vote outweighs the importance of the Senate retaining its deliberative nature. We therefore declare -- for the love our country -- that if the Senate cannot confirm our appointments without resorting to the so-called 'nuclear option', we withdraw our names from nomination."

Everybody's happy except the right-wing extremists in control of the Republican party. But hell, nobody likes them anyway. Maybe this will shut them up for a while. I wouldn't count on it, but maybe.

Okay, nominees. The ball's in your court. Let's just see how judicial you really are.

Lend-Lease 2005

As Britain's situation in the war grew more desperate, her ability to pay for needed arms and material rapidly diminished. Following his election to a third term in November 1940, President Roosevelt determined to find some means of underwriting an Allied victory over Germany without huge intergovernment loans. In mid-December he hit upon the idea of Lend-Lease; the materials of war would be turned over to Allied nations now, and would be paid for at the end of the war in goods and services.

So... can any of our British friends quote us a price for a one-year lease on Galloway? We could probably do a month-to-month, if you prefer. We only really need him long enough for the Democrats and our Legendary Free Press to learn how to speak truth to bullshit.

Rural Route 2

A couple of weeks ago, I went out on my terrace with my cup of coffee. I'm an early riser so this must've been about six a.m. or so. I love the quiet of the morning in the city. You'd be shocked sometimes how much it can sound like you're out in the country. I've lived both kinds of places, so I know what both can sound like. This particular morning was as quiet as sleep.

So I'm leaning on the half-wall that keeps me from falling off my terrace. I'm four floors up, so I'd be dead for sure, or almost sure, if I were ever to fall. I set the coffee mug on the top of the wall, and gazed down at my Super's back garden.

That was when I first saw the guy who lives perpendicular to my world. He was just standing there on the back of my building. He was standing on the building like the brick face of the building was his ground. He wasn't doing anything, just standing there like gravity was going the wrong way. Of course I was startled at first, but this is New York City so I glanced away just as he glanced toward me. I made as if I was studying the bags of peat moss my super had stacked near his plasticene tool-shed. After a few moments, I wandered back into my apartment. I wondered if I should call the management company. They're pretty good about keeping the place up, so I thought they might want to know there was a guy standing perpendicular on the back of the building. But then I thought, well, why not wait and see? Maybe he works for them?

My life being what it is, full of drudgery and boredom, I soon forgot about the man living perpendicular on the back wall. I went to work, came home, made my meals, slept unsoundly. And then it was a Saturday and I, without thinking, wandered out onto my terrace again with my cup of coffee. I was still half-asleep, I suppose, my guard was down, otherwise I don't think I would have wandered to the wall and set my coffee on it as had been my habit before the perpendicular man had shown up.

But in any case, for whatever reason, I did it and before I could stop myself I had made eye contact with the perpendicular man. He smiled and nodded slightly. I was raised with manners so I could hardly look away at that point. I smiled slightly and nodded back. He was about halfway down the building, near the top of the windows on the second floor apartments. He had on faded jeans, a red sort of lumberjacky type shirt (it was a little bit cool yet), and I noticed his black, high-top Keds sneakers. Do they still make those, I wondered. I had a pair just like that when I was a kid.

"Yeah, they're my favorites," the perpendicular man said, starting toward me, up the wall.

Had I spoken out loud? I couldn't recall. I remembered wondering about the high-tops, but I couldn't recall if I expressed the question out loud. Could it be this man not only lived perpendicular to me, but that he could also read my mind? I mentally beamed the question at him, as a test. He gave a small cough, covering his mouth politely, and continued on up the wall toward me. I thought about fleeing back into my apartment, but I could hardly do that now. He clearly wanted to be friendly, to have a bit of a morning chat. It would have been rude to run away.

"My name's John, by the way. I live on your building."

"Oh, hi. I'm Mike. Nice to meet you."

"You're an early riser, I see."

"Yeah. Pretty much." There was an awkward pause. "You too, I guess."

"I don't sleep very much. In fact, I hardly sleep at all. Perpendicular people don't, much. Just one of those things, I guess."

"Are there very many of you?" I waved my hand vaguely at him, and at the ground four floors down. "Living on buildings and all."

"Not many, I guess. In fact, I'm the only one I know."


Okay, I confess, I wanted to ask him how he could live perpendicular to me like that. But I don't know. In New York City, in an apartment building, you want to be careful about which of your neighbors you get close with. It's not like you have a nice yard and a fence between you and them, after all. They can just open their door and cross the hall and knock on your door whenever they want. And who knows what you might be doing when they knock? It's not like you can pretend you aren't home or anything. If they're the kind of neighbors who keep track, they're going to know you're in there.

So, you know, you just want to take it slow and easy at first. See if they have a life of their own. The last thing you want is to get close with some loser neighbor who's all the time wanting to come over and make your life theirs.

Finally, it occurred to me that the pause in the conversation was going on way too long. I can't stand that. I'm always the one that gets embarrassed and uncomfortable first. So I thought I'd maybe start with something, you know, kind of interesting, but not too personal. Just to get the lay of the perpendicular land.

"You follow politics at all?"

"Not much. People who live on the outside of buildings don't really have politics. Well, I don't think we do." He smiled shyly. "I'm the only one I know of, so I guess I really don't know for sure."

"You don't get the paper?"

"No, I don't really get anything, actually."

"What do you do all day?"

"Well, I can look at the sky without having to bend my neck." He indicated the cloudless blue morning sky above us. I bent my head and looked up. I flinched slightly, a crick in the neck, guess I slept wrong the night before.

He turned and faced the ground.

"And I can look down, too. Without having to bend my neck for that either." He turned and faced me. "Sometimes I walk right down to the ground and stand there right next to it, watching the bugs and ants, right close up. You can learn a lot from watching bugs that way. Right close up like that without having to bend your neck."

"You could probably make a pretty good living at something like that. You could be a scientist of some sort."

"Yeah," he said, considering the possibilities. "I suppose. I don't really have to make a living, though, so I mostly just do it because it's interesting."

"You don't have to earn money? What about food? And what about your rent? Do they charge you for living on the side of the building like that?"

He shrugged. "They haven't yet. Nobody really seems to mind. You don't mind, do you?"

"Me? No. Hell, no. Why should I mind? It's none of my business. It's brick so it's not like you're going to ruin the paint job or anything."

Here there was another awkward pause. I was just getting ready to say something about grape jelly when he spoke up and broke the silence himself. Maybe he was an okay guy. Maybe we had some stuff in common.

"I guess you're into politics, though."

"Oh, yeah, sort of, I guess. It kind of wears me out sometimes. It's so frustrating. People are just so... stupid, sometimes. It drives me crazy." I laughed slightly and looked up at him -- well, not really "up" because he was standing just above the third floor windows, which made him down of me, except from his point of view I guess I was sort of lying on my back at his feet. So it was more like I was looking down and away, from my perspective at least. But, whatever. It felt like I was looking "up" at him.

"Maybe I should be perpendicular like you. No politics. Nothing to drive me crazy. Doesn't sound all that bad, actually."

He frowned slightly.

"Did it sound bad to you?"

"No, no, I didn't mean it sounded bad. It's just, you know, different is all. I've never met a perpendicular person, is all. I'm sure it's normal. You know, for you. It's just not normal for me, is all."

He tilted his head slightly, puzzling through this.

I went on quickly, for fear that I had offended him. "It sounds kind of good, actually. Like I said. But it's not anything I could actually do, I don't think."

He glanced at the ground three floors below him, then looked back at me.

"You could try it, though. Maybe it would be good."

"No," I laughed nervously. This whole thing was suddenly starting to bug me just a little bit too much. "No, I think I probably won't try it."

He nodded. "Okay. Suit yourself."

Another pause.

"Well," I said. "I better be going."

"You have to go to work?"

"No, it's Saturday. Day off. Got to go buy a paper, and all."

"Ah. Well, it was nice talking with you."

"Yeah. Great. Nice talking to you. Guess I'll see you around the building."

We did that sort of guy-nod thing and I turned away from the wall and went back into my apartment. After a quick shower and throwing on some week-end clothes, I went out for the paper and remembered on my way back to pick up some Cream of Rice. Later that day, after breakfast and the crossword puzzle and a little bit of work, I decided to wander back out onto the terrace to see how John the perpendicular guy was doing. I guess I was probably a little bored.

When I looked down the wall for him, I saw him standing at the very bottom of the building, staring straight at the ground. Guess he was watching ants or something. Anyway, he looked kind of preoccupied, kind of absorbed with what he was doing, so I decided to bag it and go out for some lunch with some friends. We went to a movie afterward but it was a really boring movie and so I found myself sitting there wondering if John ever went to movies. Didn't seem very likely. If he did, would he have to stand on the wall of the theater? And If he had to do that, wouldn't the whole movie be sideways for him? It sounded very discombobulating, actually. Just thinking about it made me queasy. And how would he get to the theater, anyway? How could he ever cross a street? Every intersection would be an unscalable height.

Pretty soon, just sitting there in the dark thinking about all this, I'd gotten myself all nervous and upset and so I finally just went back to watching the movie even though it was a pretty damn boring movie, all right. One of the worst movies I've seen in a long time.

Rural Route 1

So come to find out, Jesus is my mailman. It's funny because I always thought he looked a little bit like the real Jesus. Well, kind of an Asiany-Hispanicky-looking Jesus, and he's a little shorter than I thought Jesus might be. But other than that, the resemblance to the Sunday School pictures was striking.

I found out he was Jesus more or less by accident, assuming there can be accidents when you're talking about Him. I was leaving my building, coming down the stairs and there he was at the mailboxes reading my copy of Nature magazine. Needless to say I was taken aback, but only slightly. On most things I'm pretty easy-going so I didn't mind my mailman reading my magazine all that much, and anyway I'm always glad to see my fellow citizens taking an interest in science. So mostly it just struck me as funny.

He was engrossed by whatever article he was reading and didn't notice me at first, so I just stood there smiling at him. Finally he noticed me and looked up. His smile was the beauty of the world, and that's how I knew right away he was Jesus. Thank god I've always tipped him $20 at the holidays.

"Oh, sorry," he said. "I'm a little behind schedule today. Normally I've read all your mail before I get to your box. I just wanted to finish that one article."

I'm like: what??

"Be not afraid. I read everybody's mail," he said, dropping bills and circulars into my box. "It's how I know what's in people's hearts. Well, that and their cable TV boxes."

"Why are you reading my Nature?"

"Oh." He studied the picture of the Dictyostelium genome on the cover. "It's a little bit like a playwright reading his reviews, I guess." He dropped the magazine into my box. "I know I shouldn't, but I do."

"I thought you could just, you know, see what's in people's hearts."

"Well, I can if I want. But after a while it's a bit tedious, isn't it? No dramatic tension. What's it like for you when you're reading a book or watching a movie and you already know everything there is to know about what's going to happen? Bit boring, eh?"

"Yeah. I guess so."

He locked up the mailboxes.

"There's got to be some mystery. There's got to be some tension, otherwise what the hell? So sometimes I just switch off the know-it-all stuff and read the story of the cosmos as it goes along. The mail is good for that. It's full of clues and puzzles. About what's going on inside."

He pocketed his keys and started for the lobby door.

"Wait." I plucked lightly at his shirtsleeve. He stopped, looked at me querulously.

"Will I go to heaven? Even though I don't believe in you?"

"You'll probably do all right. You've got some problems, things you've done and said. You know what I mean." He looked at me significantly. "I read your mail, remember."

I glanced down, visions of crab apples dancing in my head. "Yeah."

"You feel bad about those things, right? You intend never to be like that again, right?"

Fervently: "Right."

"Okay, so your heart's in the right place even if your head isn't always." He turned toward the lobby door again.

I knew he was late. I knew he was behind schedule, but I could not help myself. I needed answers.

I gripped his arm.

"You read everybody's mail?"

"Sure. Like I said."

"Everybody's? In the whole world? How can you do that?"

He chuckled. "Well, lemme ask you. How does Santa Claus do what he does? All those toys to all the kids, all in one night?"

"But Santa Claus isn't real. Nobody really believes in Santa."

"So maybe that's how he does it. Nobody really believes in him, so he can do anything he wants."

"That's a stupid answer, Jesus. That doesn't answer anything at all."

He laughed out loud. His laugh was deep and soft and the sound of it melted into the hard walls of the lobby like cocoa into warm milk. He started to pull away but I gripped his arm tighter.

"Wait. Could you fix my diabetic cat, please? I have to give him two shots a day and he won't let anyone else do it and one time I left him with the vet so I could go on a trip and they almost killed him. It cost me twelve hundred dollars to save him."

"Twelve hundred? Jeez. That's impressive." He pondered this for a moment, then frowned at me. "That's it? That's the best you can do? Your diabetic cat? You've got Jesus by the arm in your lobby and that's what you come up with?"

"Oh. Sorry." I was ashamed. "It's just that I wish I could travel more."

He studied my face a moment, then smiled. He reached up and set three fingertips against my temple.

"Travel there. There's plenty left to see in there."

"But I've traveled  inside there my whole life. I'm tired of it."

"You think that makes you special? I'll tell you what. Try getting off the freeways and the interstates. Try some of the back roads in there. Those little two lane jobs that wander off the map and go places you've never heard of. The rural routes. That's what you want. That'll spice things up."

He could tell he wasn't making the sale.

"Okay, how about this?" He patted my shoulder. "After you die, you can travel the universe in a disembodied, ethereal form. You can spend eternity reading the universe's mail, so to speak, discovering all its best kept secrets. How's that sound?"


"I give you the Word. You can't do better than that."

"No." I beamed. "I guess not."

He headed for the door.

"Oh, and cancel some of your credit cards, will you? You've got way more than you need." He stopped, lost in thought for a moment, facing away from me. "But keep the Macy's card. You hear me?"

"Yes, Jesus."

He nodded, then left. Somehow I knew -- without knowing how I knew -- that he would not be further stayed from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.

Later that day, I cancelled all my cards except for one Visa, one Mastercard, and, of course, my Macy's.

I still don't believe in Him, but he was right about the cards.

Saturday Morning Spring Vigil (0514)

NYC, 108°, May 14, 2005, 6:45 a.m.

Ozzie Has A Girlfriend!

Three weeks ago, I helped out my backyard pal, Ozzie the Northern Cardinal, by putting up a little personal ad for him.

Hi. My name is Ozzie. I'm maybe one years old. I have a nice territory in the East Village. My interests include flying, singing, long walks on tar beach, and collecting twigs and strips of paper. Interested in meeting a nice northern cardinal lady about my age, with an eye toward settling down. Love kids. My favorite date is exchanging songs, flitting from branch to branch after a pretty lady, extending my crest for her, and giving her food from my beak. Come by my territory some time and say hello.

Well, this evening I heard his song out back, had a look, and there he was in his favorite singing spot at the top of a tree... with a very pretty lady cardinal only a branch or two away. He flitted down a few branches toward where his nest is hidden in some shrubbery two backyards away. The lady flitted after him. He went a bit lower. She followed. Unlike the lady he dated a few weeks ago, this little birdie was clearly interested.

So anyway, after a bit more courting, the two of them disappeared into what I now take to be the conjugal foliage. Well, after all, it is Friday night in the big city...

Hmm. It's been awfully quiet out there for the last half hour or so. I get the distinct impression Ozzie's spring has finally sprung.

SPLC Holy War Report

Further to my earlier post "The Uses of Canaries"...

By way of amberglow at MetaFilter, by way of Axis of Logic, we get to an Intelligence Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, "Holy War" documenting the thirty year history of the religious right's Anti-gay Agenda in this country.

For all your comprehensively scary shopping needs.

The American Astronaut

The other day I was checking in at my neighborhood Hipster Video Store and in the new releases section there was a lonely little DVD waving at me from the shelf. "Rent me! Rent me!" It was called The American Astronaut. I liked the cover. I liked the tag line: "Space is a lonely town." I liked the list of film festivals that had "officially selected" it. I liked the pitch: "a musical space western". So what the hell, I rented it.

Probably some of you know this movie. I guess it's playing continually some places (Boulder, CO, for example, I think). It was released (more or less) in 2001, but the DVD didn't come out until February of 2005.

When I was in school, there was a premium in my department on Quirky Writing. I liked this emphasis at first, but then I got more and more tired of quirky writing in and of itself. I'll go along with just about anything for a while, but after I begin to feel that something is just quirky for the sake of being quirky, I get annoyed. Odd to think that quirkiness itself can become a cliche, but it can.

But then there is writing, or film, or music that seems odd and quirky and bizarre at first (and so you are intrigued), and as you go along with it you begin to feel, whoa, this isn't just quirky, this isn't just odd... this is a genuinely new vision. You can tell the difference between plain quirky and a new vision as follows: the thing starts to make sense to you even though you can't figure out what the hell the thing is up to.

I loved this movie. It's in black & white, gorgeous to look at. It's funny. You can tell the actors are totally committed to what they are doing, which is crucial in a thing like this. The music is by The Billy Nayer Show and it works so well with the film. I'd never heard of the band so I tracked down their site, listened to some samples. I have to say I was disappointed by the newer stuff -- at least by the samples provided on the site. Still, the music works really well in the movie. The film was written by, directed by, and stars one of the Billy Nayers, Cory McAbee.

Oh, and because it's a DVD, it has a commentary track of course. Only as McAbee explains on the disk, he tried doing the commentary track in a studio but the techie fell asleep and so McAbee was talking really quiet so he wouldn't wake the guy up and, you know, it just wasn't working out too well. So he decided to record his commentary during a live showing of the film at Union Pool, a bar in Brooklyn. So there he is up on the stage, mic in hand, taking questions from the audience while the film plays behind/next to him, dimly lighting up what looks to be a drooping bed sheet for the screen.

The copy of the DVD I had was a little funky -- skipped and stalled a little bit. Don't know if that would be the case with other copies. This was not exactly a major DVD manufacturer-distributor, so I don't know if that had anything to do with anything. That crap happens with even the big deal manufacturers-distributors, so who knows? Probably just a funky copy.

If you understand what I mean by the difference between simple quirkiness and a genuinely new vision, then I so recommend this movie to you. Watch it once, then watch the commentary track, then watch it again. I think you'll like it.

But, you know, it's very odd. The humor and vision and music all work for me in a very big way. It won't work for everybody, though, because the take on life the film has is -- here's something you don't see everyday,Chauncy -- truly unique. So, you know, if you don't like it, sorry about that. You can't say I didn't warn you.

[Netflix, B & N, ]

Warning To Those Who Might Want To "Big Link" Me

I got metafiltered today for the first time, and I see the same reaction my writing always gets, always has gotten, and probably always will get. Some people really like what I write, and some people really hate it. I've no idea what the proportion is, but those who hate me are generally more vociferous so it always seems like there are more of them. I'm sure there are those who I put to sleep, as well. But I generally don't hear about it from them unless their noses on their keyboards accidentally send me an email or something.

I'm really glad amberglow meta'd me. I really appreciate it. And I really appreciate the yeoman's job he's doing of defending the piece over there. He obviously gets it. I was going to send him an email thanking him, but if there's a way to email him through the Metafilter site without being a member, I can't see it. Anyway, hope you see this amberglow: Thanks.

So, anyway, I just wanted to warn anybody who might be thinking of "Big Linking" me... posting a link to me on one of these mega sites... You should expect a strong reaction. Fine by me if it's fine by you. I kind of write what a want, it being my blog and all, and people can respond however they wish. I just want potential linkers to be prepared, is all. Oh, and I don't defend my stuff on other people's blogs. That's rude, I think. If people want to bitch me out, they should come over here and I'll discuss it with them all they want.

The Uses of Canaries

(NOTE: Okay, this is sort of long, but if you are a gay person living in America at the beginning of the twenty-first century, please try to read your way all the way through it.)

From Boing Boing this week, for our wildlife in captivity file, we collect another image of our old friend, the canary in the mineshaft.

Note the party-of-the-second-part's erect penis. This is an example of what I call The Depravity Fillip -- just that extra graphical touch to make sure the target audience is sufficiently grossed out by the notion of homosexuality. In an earlier post, I linked to something from the Family Research Institute. The author of that piece takes pains to point out, at least three times, that gay men like to put their penises in other men's rectums, or have their rectums filled by the penises of other men. The author notes that "we" ignore this reality "at our intellectual peril" -- the peril being, I presume, that without the graphic anatomical references, the reader's intellect might actually be engaged. This sort of Depravity Fillip is also what Santorum is up to with his infamous "man-on-dog" shtick.

Just in case you didn't get it, the little boner in the picture above lets you know that, "Gaw, you know these homos actually like this stuff!" This is their reply to the increasing openness about -- and tolerance of -- homosexuality in the culture. The message is: "You want openness? You want out of the closet? Well, we'll give you some openness!" The justification, of course, is: "Hey, we're just telling the truth."

Yeah, okay, some homos like the act portrayed by the poster. As it happens, so do some straight people. So what?

In fact, I was going to take some text from the Family Research Institute's site regarding sex in a Christian Marriage and insert some hetero Depravity Fillips -- just to show that the Depravity Fillip works without reference to sexual orientation. Sadly, I couldn't find any text there on the subject of sex in a Christian Marriage. I hadn't noticed it before, but talk about obsessed... Almost every article on the site fearlessly confronts the dangers of homosexuality to society. Jeez. You'd think an outfit that calls itself the Family Research Institute would have some info on, you know, their notion of The Family. Something beyond "at least we're not homos", I mean. So then I was going to take some text from some other Christian Marriage site, but that didn't seem fair because they weren't engaging in the Depravity Fillip anywhere that I could see. So, I'll leave all of that as an exercise for the reader.

At first I thought Depravity Fillips were added just to make sure people remained grossed out by the notion of homosexuality, but I think now it's more than that. Note how the Depravity Fillip when used in text and pics regarding homosexuality draws the reader's/viewer's attention from what homos are (that would be: human beings) and directs it toward what they do (that would be: well, you know). Okay, good. That's us half-dehumanizing people. But why be satisfied with a job half-done?

See, I think the real intention of the Depravity Fillip is to reduce the hypothetical homo from a whole being down to the sexual acts he enjoys, down to the body parts employed in those sexual acts. Naturally, the body parts have to be the nastiest bits. The usefulness of this resides in the fact that body parts can be surgically removed.

I'm not talking about removing the nasty bits from homosexuals, of course, though I'm sure there are some who would be in favor of that. But that would be a waste of precious medical resources. Why go to all that trouble when we have reduced the homosexual, himself, to nothing more than a body part? Remove the homo -- he's just a diseased body part, after all -- and the problem is solved.

Of course there will always be those so pathologically sex-panicked that they have to rely on their Think Pieces to get their pornography fix. Not worth worrying about, generally. But when United States Senators start in with the Depravity Fillip, and the DF starts showing up in the campaign literature of various groups... well, you want to keep your eye on that sort of thing. You maybe want to start thinking about that famous canary in the mine-shaft.

"Huh. Huh. He said 'shaft'."

Weimar Germany's many moralists discerned a libertine miasma in the major cities, including visible homosexuality, prostitution and a libidinous 'new woman'. The latter meant clerks, sales assistants and typists who bobbed their hair and daydreamed about filmstars, but whose ambitions and desires were prosaic by the standards of the late twentieth century. Again, concern about 'her' was common to many European countries. Left and right may have differed in their analyses of alleged moral crises and how to solve them, but there was unanimity on the importance of the family. The Nazis latched on to the mood of panic among moralists. Typically, what may or may not have been grounds for legitimate concern, depending on one's point of view, was not seen as a temporary aberration generated by exceptionally disturbed circumstances, or as signs of greater tolerance. The alleged visibility of homosexuality and prostitution in Weimar cities was assimilated into a vision of imminent racial annihilation, or hopelessly dramatised as an 'historically unprecedented overturning of all values'. (From The Third Reich: A New History by Michael Burleigh.)

The way I see it, there are at least three target audiences for our little friend, the messenger canary.

Canary Audience #1: The Mine Owners.

You want some way to know when you are going too far in empowering yourself and your aristocratic friends. You want to know how much the American people will put up with. Answer: you use picking on the homos as your canary in the cage. You keep picking at them and picking at them and as long as the American people don't get fed up with it and tell you to cut it out, you know you've got their inattention. You can keep on with your Social Security "reform", and your getting rid of the Paris Hilton Inheritance Tax, and all the rest of it.

Canary Audience #2: The Drudges.

You've got your job to keep, your kids to put through college, your house and your car and your gas to pay for. You don't have time to pay any attention to living in a genuine democracy where there is "liberty and justice for all", fer chrissake. As long as they don't start in on you in any meaningful way, you're happy to just mind your own damned business. But, you do want some sort of "early warning system" to let you know when they might be getting ready to come after you and your quality of life. Say, I know! Let them pick on the homos! You might get a bit worried if they start carting fags off to Re-education Camps in Nevada or something, you might want to take a little time out of your busy day then to start pushing back. But, hell, until then, who has the time or energy? They're only homos, after all.

Canary Audience #3: The Canary Hisself.

Dude, if you are looking in the mirror and seeing feathers, it's already too late. Show some initiative here. Ain't nobody going to be your canary but you. Your problem, of course, is actually seeing those feathers in the mirror. You got a job, you got your friends, you got your life, fer chrissake. You can't be thinking about what sort of danger you might be in. Who thinks about stuff like that? Nothing's going to happen. It's annoying, but come on... nothing's going to happen.

You know, as an American citizen, I never thought I'd ever be thinking about stuff like this, but... lately I've kind of been considering how one might go about stashing money overseas. You know, all legit and everything. I'll fill out all the forms, do everything by the numbers, but the thing is...

The lesson taught by the experience of Jews in 1930s Germany is that you want to be prudent. You don't want to panic. You don't want to get hysterical. But you don't want to be a fool, either. The problem is, when you are the canary, it's kind of hard to know when to start taking all these funny smells seriously. As the experience of the German Jews teaches us, by the time you have become convinced the funny smells have to be taken seriously, it is probably way too late. Everything's over except your final plummet to the newspaper at the bottom of your cage. If they don't have your money already, they've got the right to take it. If they haven't got your travel papers already, they've got the right to confiscate them. And in the end, if they've got your money and they've got your travel documents, they've got you.

Here's the deal. If you don't have friends or family overseas, you might want to start cultivating some long-distance friendships. If you ever have to emigrate in a hurry, you might want to have some money already waiting for you in your new country of residence. You might want to establish a travel pattern of going to various countries such that if the heat gets turned up and they are watching for homos who might be trying to get out, you can say to them, "No, look, I'm just visiting a friend. I go there and come back all the time." Here you want to grin stupidly, like the idiot you are trying to convince them you are. They might look at you funny, but they might let you go anyway. You want to lay the groundwork for getting out without it looking to them like you are getting the hell out for good.

Again: If you look around and find yourself in that cage, my feathered friend, it's already too late. Starting now, keep your eyes peeled. Don't panic, but don't be a fool either. If worse comes to worse, there will be a great many decent and loving straight Americans who will be willing to help you -- if they can.

That's the thing. You can't rely on anybody being able to save you. If you have to save yourself, you will have to be able to do it yourself. That's why they call it "saving yourself".

As a goy, I used to naively think that the famous phrase of the Jewish People "Never Again" was a plea to All Mankind to take care that the atrocities of the Holocaust never happen again. Heh. Not bloody likely.

No, I get it now. What it really means is: "Never again will they find me without some way to save myself."

Dude, be prepared. Be that Boy Scout they won't let you be anymore.

Saturday Morning Spring Vigil (0507)

NYC, 108°, May 7, 2005, 6:45 a.m.

The Sedgefield Moment

Tonight, I watched the British election returns by way of  C-SPAN's BBC coverage. Now there's a civilized way to run an election night. Well, except for that silly man who jumps about excitedly with all his computer generated maps and pie charts and the Swing-O-Meter and, most especially, those frightening Video Game Blairs, Howards and Kennedys. I'm sure I will have nightmares about those.

As people who pay attention to these things will know, in British elections the votes are counted by hand, in place, and at the end of the count in each constituency all the candidates file up on stage and the results are read out in front of God & Country. Not much chance for fraud there, which is reason enough for an American to admire the British system. (I understand there were some unfortunate questions regarding votes passing through the Royal Post in recent times. We will draw a veil over this anomaly.)

Tony Blair's constituency is Sedgefield, wherever that is, and being the Prime Minister and all, he drew opposition candidates like flies. I believe there were 15 people running against him. He won handily however, by something over 23,000 votes which was, I dunno, 15,000 or more votes better than his closest competitor.

One of the people running against Blair was a man named Reg Keys whose not-quite-21 year old soldier/son was killed in Iraq.

After the results for Sedgefield were announced, Blair stepped forward and gave his speech. The BBC cut away for a bit for some entertaining but generally useless analytical blab, then they cut back to the stage at Sedgefield. Reg Keys was speaking.

I don't know whether it was by custom, courtesy, or law, but Blair was still standing at the back of the stage along with the other candidates, listening intently to Keys who was talking about how much his family had helped him in this very difficult campaign. He mentioned his son who had been killed. And then he said something along the lines of:

"If this war had been sanctioned by international law, I would have grieved for my son, but I would not have campaigned. If weapons of mass destruction had been found, I would have grieved for my son, but I would not have campaigned... "

He criticized the Prime Minister for not apologizing. He spoke about the Prime Minister not attending any funerals for soldiers who had died in Iraq. He went on in more or less that same vein for a while.

And here's the thing... Blair was standing there, not ten feet behind this man -- this man who had lost his boy in a war that Blair had declared necessary even though it clearly wasn't. He listened to the man. He had to listen to the man. His expression was grim, but not, I think, defiant or belligerent. I tell you... I may not be any sort of judge of this sort of thing, but I tell you I think Blair wasn't just listening to this man, he was hearing him as well. I'm sure he feels he could not have done things any differently, but I'm also sure he felt pain for the loss of the Keys family. You could see it in his face. Or, maybe not. In fact, it doesn't really concern me what Blair was feeling. That's between Blair and his conscience and history.

What does concern me, however, is that the leader of my country, the most powerful country in the history of the planet, would never have allowed himself to be in that position.

I very much got the feeling that one of the main reasons Reg Keys campaigned for Blair's seat in Parliament was because he knew that on election night, he would be on that stage with Blair. Not ten feet from him. And that he would finally get to say his piece to the man. "My son died in an illegal war that you started."

It's a moment of profound moral consequence, one of the governed standing up in front of God & Country & the BBC, telling the man who governs him, "you killed my son in a war you had no right to start", and the man who governs him having to listen.

And here in my country, a moment of such profound moral consequence could never happen. The president of my country doesn't have the guts for it. The president of my country -- the prime mover in that illegal war -- is hermetically sealed off from such moments.

Whatever else you want to say about Blair, whatever else you want to say about how the American and the British systems compare, at least the people of the U.K. get to witness moments of profound human debate like that, between the governing and the governed.

I was moved. And I was filled with envy. And my contempt for Bush's moral cowardice grew more bitter still.

Go Forth As If There Were Answers

The guy who ran my graduate writing program, The Perfessor, once said to all of us that at some point writers should sit down and write a statement for themselves about what they believe. I was attracted to the notion, but of course I never did it. None of us did. The Perfessor was a great one for suggesting things none of us ever paid any attention to.

The thing is, there's a certain amount of discovering what you believe by way of your writing. That is, what you really believe eventually emerges from what you write about, and how you write about it, so I'm not sure that sitting down and writing a statement about what you believe will get you much more than a statement of what you wish you believed.

I think I was imagining the Perfessor wanted some sort of Overarching Manifesto -- a document that encompassed everything that I believe. That's part of why I never did it, I think. I don't know at any given moment what I believe about everything. Nobody does.


Yesterday afternoon I was listening to NPR's "All Things Considered" and I heard a piece from a series they are now running called "This I Believe". This seems more like the ticket. From the one example I heard, you got your one guy picking one thing that he believes in and then he talks about that. He's only got three minutes, after all. I could probably do something like that. What's the most important thing I believe? Or, put another way, if I only had three minutes to get across what I believe, what would I write about, and what would I say about it?

Of course, I'm still not going to do it. Not here. Not right now. Maybe later. What I'm going to do now, instead, is point you to what the guy had to say yesterday. His name is Errol Morris and you might just recognize his name as the guy who made the documentaries The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War. Here's how his "statement" begins:

I believe in truth. And in the pursuit of truth.

When I was 10 years old, I asked a neighborhood kid who was older than me, "Which city is further west: Reno, Nev., or Los Angeles?" The correct answer is Reno, Nev. But he was convinced it was the other way around.

He was so convinced that Los Angeles was west of Reno that he was willing to bet me two bucks. So I went into the house to get my Rand McNally Atlas. The kid looked at the atlas and said, "The map is drawn funny." It wasn't. Was his argument that the map didn't preserve east, west, north and south? What kind of map would that be? I showed him if you trace down the 120-degree west line of longitude -- which runs almost directly through Reno, Nev. -- you end up in the Pacific Ocean, somewhere west of Los Angeles.

He replied that lines of longitude don't cross the ocean.

What? I told him that the lines of longitude were there to indicate how far west or east some location was, regardless of whether it was on land or on sea.

There was one insurmountable problem, however. He was bigger than me.

Now... what I like about this -- apart from the simple value of the story itself -- is how precisely it captures the relationship many of us have to the Bush Administration and its toadying right-wing media machines.

You show them the map. Here -- right on the map -- you point out that, for example, the line of longitude that goes through their reasons for starting a war in Iraq is way to the west of Reno. Their answer? Lines of longitude don't go out into the ocean.

But... but...

Shut up. My assertions are fact. And besides, I'm bigger than you are.

But what I like even more is the rest of Morris's story.

Almost 15 years ago, I stumbled on a story about an innocent man, a man who had been sentenced to die in the Huntsville, Texas, electric chair. And through hard work, luck and a certain amount of pathological obsession, I was able to make the movie The Thin Blue Line and to help get him out of prison.

What kept me going was the belief that there had to be answers to the questions "Did he do it?", "Was he guilty or innocent?", "If he didn't do it, who did?" and that I could find an answer to these questions through investigating.

It's not that we find truth with a big "T." We investigate and sometimes we find things out and sometimes we don't. There's no way to know in advance. It's just that we have to proceed as though there are answers to questions. We must proceed as though, in principle, we can find things out -- even if we can't. The alternative is unacceptable.

Yo. American news media? Pay attention for a minute, here. Read the above again. It's pretty simple, really. Let me point out the really important part for you:

"It's just that we have to proceed as though there are answers to questions. We must proceed as though, in principle, we can find things out -- even if we can't."

Okay? Get it, you irredeemably stupid and lazy fuckers? Here, let me boost the pith-value for you even more: "Keep asking questions until you get past the bullshit."

This guy Errol Morris? He did that, pretty simple really, and he ended up saving an innocent man from being executed by the State of Texas. That's pretty important, don't you think? Maybe you could spend more time asking questions that get you past the bullshit? It's kind of important, you know.

Maybe this is the difference between Morris and most of the rest of the American news media: when he figured out that the kid on the playground was bigger than him, it didn't scare him away from the notion of proceeding as though there were answers to questions. He grew up to be a guy who went out and kept asking questions, bravely, no matter what line of bullshit the playground bullies kept trying to feed him, and he ended up saving an innocent guy's life.

Oh, wait. I accidentally arrived at something I believe: Not every arrival at the truth is profound, but every search for the truth has to matter.

Nobody's saying it isn't hard work. Ask Morris if the work was hard, saving that guy's life. The point isn't the amount of screen time you get as a reporter. The point isn't the number of front-page column inches you get. The point is the hard work of asking questions as if there were answers. Why? Because it's that sort of hard work that gets you -- and us, the rest of the country -- to places that actually matter.

Patrolling the Unmarked Frontier

From: No Dr. Dobson, Homosexuality Is a Choice (Journal of the Family Research Institute):

Likewise, you can be someone if you declare yourself to be 'gay' -- everyone will talk about you. You will have an 'identity.' [...] It can be 'cool' to attract similar 'weirdoes' and 'twist society's tail.' Few of us need very many people to like us and stand by us, just a few friends or companions will often 'do the trick.' [...] Adding sex to the mix, as is true for homosexuality, can also attract a fair number of converts.

From: Frequently asked questions regarding the MinuteMan Project:

Under no circumstances are you to engage in argumentative or hostile confrontation with any illegal alien.  You back off, and let the [Border Patrol] properly conduct the interception and apprehension of the illegal aliens.

* * * * *

Gil Christcox, a large, bearish man, retired HVAC contractor from Omaha, raises his night-vision scope and peers through the windshield at the high and lonely, star-lit desert. It's cold in the pick-up's cab. The strong black coffee from Christcox's thermos bottle doesn't help.

The hand-held radio, on the seat between us, crackles alive.

"I got movement," a disembodied voice says.

Christcox picks up the radio. "I'm listening."

"The rise, off to the south. 'Bout half a click, maybe."

Christcox swings the scope to the left, searching the night.

"I got nothing. Talk to me."

"Looks like locker-room horseplay. Varsity swim team, maybe."

Christcox grunts. "Oh, yeah. Got 'em." He's silent for a moment, peering into the night. "Could be just playing some grab-ass. Keep an eye on them."

"Will do."

Christcox sets the radio back down on the seat, lowers the scope. His big paw of a hand wraps around the thermos.

"Warm up?"

He refills my styrofoam cup.

"The horseplay in itself ain't nothing. It's the locker-room angle you got to worry about." He slurps coffee, exhaling some of the heat. The dim starlight illuminates his breath. "And the Speedos." He shakes his head. "God-damned Speedos."

Somewhere out there in the darkness, there is a boundary, an invisible frontier winding through the parched earth and low-scrub of the high desert. This is the desolate and remote borderland between straights and homos. This is the place where untold numbers of "straightbacks" -- the derogatory term favored by Christcox and his men -- make their illicit crossings each year.

"If the government won't keep them out, then we will," Christcox murmurs. "Used to be, you could rely on the law making these crossings dangerous. God-damned tolerance."

The numbers prove Christcox's point. Statistics are hard to come by, but even the most conservative estimates suggest hundreds of thousands, maybe up to a million "straightbacks" choose to make the crossing into homosexuality every year. By almost all accounts, illegal sexual orientation immigration has reached near epidemic proportions.

"Year after year they keep coming. It's getting so you can't hardly transgress anymore. It's about time somebody did something about it. This is our territory. Let them stay home."

Thus the Minute 'Mos Project -- the brainchild of Christcox and a few of his friends, a volunteer organization of homosexuals determined to finally put a stop to the flood of straight boys choosing to be queer. Some call it a "vigilantism", but Christcox and his fellow Minute 'Mos call it citizen action.

"Once everybody starts taking it up the ass, where's the thrill in being a homo anymore?" Christcox mutters bitterly. "When sodomy is in-lawed, only in-laws will have ..." His voice trails off into the darkness.

"We need to return to the kind of homosexual oppression that made this country a great thing to thumb your nose at. These straightbacks... they think they can come over here and take it up the ass whenever they want. We work hard, pay our taxes. We're patriots. The government's got no call to stop harassing us this way."

The radio crackles alive.

"Gil! Gil! They're pantsing each other!"

Christcox slops his coffee onto the seat as he grabs after the radio.

"I'm on it!"

He peers through the night-scope.

"Damn. Some cute straight-boy butt, though." He lowers the scope, reaches for the keys in the ignition. He twists the key over and the engine roars to life. "It's when the Speedos come down. That's when you know."

We lunge forward into the night, bouncing down into a dry wash -- the pickup rocks violently -- the engine races as we claw our way up and out.

Later, Christcox watches in silence as the straight boys -- politely but firmly turned away at the border by Christcox and three of his fellow Minute 'Mos -- disappear back into the hetero side of night.

"They'll be back," Christcox mutters. "Just a matter of time before they try again. A game of strip-poker -- loser pays. A drinking game. Maybe a fraternity hazing. Somehow, somewhere, they'll try it homo. Most of them will make it."

The small band of homos turn and trudge back to their vehicles. Just another skirmish, just another temporary victory in an unending string of dangerous and desperate nights on the frontier.

In Memory

May 2006

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