Ignatius J. Reilly was surprised to learn that the sailor prancing down Chartres Street was not a sailor at all.
"What?" Ignatius thundered. "Do you mean that he is impersonating a member of the armed forces of this country? ... This is extremely serious." Ignatius frowned and the red sateen scarf rode down on his hunting cap. "Every soldier and sailor that we see could simply be some mad decadent in disguise. My God! We may all be trapped in some horrible conspiracy. I knew that something like this was going to happen. The United States is probably totally defenseless!"
The comical reaction of John Toole Kennedy’s anti-hero in "A Confederacy of Dunces" could easily repeat and reverberate throughout the U.S. Armed Forces when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is finally repealed.
You mean he’s gay? My God! The United States is probably totally defenseless.
This week, the Pentagon set out to ask those defending the United States how they would feel to know that the country was totally defenseless. On Wednesday, they began emailing a survey, which contains more than 100 questions seeking views on the impact of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to around 400,000 active duty and reserve troops.
The survey was evidently approved (in theory, anyway, if not question-by-question) by Sec. Robert Gates and President Barack Obama. Almost immediately, a few concerns have surfaced in light of the survey.
One of those: service men, no matter how thankful we are to them for their service, have never been a dependable compass when it comes to the implementation of policy. As one expert put it on CNN yesterday, those in the military were at first resistant to blacks and women serving on the frontlines, too.
On top of that, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which supports gays and lesbians serving openly, released a statement say that it cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members fill out the survey – not that it recommended LGB (gonna leave transgender out of this one for hopefully obvious reasons) service members do not fill in hte blanks, but that the organization just couldn’t get behind something that might out gays or lesbians…even though the entire point of the organization is for gays and lesbians to be able to serve openly in the military. Sigh...
"There is no guarantee of privacy and (the Pentagon) has not agreed to provide immunity to service members whose privacy may be inadvertently violated or who inadvertently outs himself or herself," said Aubrey Sarvis, the group's executive director. "If a service member still wishes to participate, he or she should only do so in a manner that does not reveal sexual orientation."
If you’re a member of the military, don’t listen to either of the aforementioned reasons. Fill out the survey. Here’s why: you know Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is an absurd policy, and your answers don’t matter anyway. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will be repealed. This survey is the government’s way of placating critics, pretending to take your opinion under consideration simply so that they can later say they did. It’s like asking if you’d appreciate a blow job from Lara Logan; the answer is yes (unless you’re gay, then maybe Anderson Cooper), but that doesn’t mean that that answer won’t meet the e-shredder the moment it leaves your outbox.
As for the actual questions, the Pentagon is keeping the survey secret for now, but Military Times reviewed a draft copy: "[I]f the draft version is any guide, the general tone of the survey questions – developed by the independent research group Westat in cooperation with the Pentagon – leans toward the potential impact that repealing "don't ask, don't tell" might have on unit performance."
With that in mind, here are some possible sample questions for those who did not get the survey to consider:
How do you think morale would be affected were openly gay people to serve in the military?
How would readiness and willingness of troops be affected if their commander is thought to be gay or lesbian?
How would the repeal affect your spouse's, family's or "significant other's" attitude toward your continued military service?
Do you like cock?
Are you comfortable sharing a room, showering, etc. in warzones with someone who might be gay or lesbian?
Ironically, the major behavior change in male soldiers might be attenuation of gayness in the rooms and showers in warzones. They might stop grabbing each other’s asses and balls and calling each other faggot.
Or (shrug) that won’t stop and if that’s the case, if the law is repealed and men on the frontlines continue their usual homosexual/anti-homosexual antics (which are clearly posturing mechanisms to display their toughness), we just might find ourselves in the best possible situation: we are forced to be bone-core honest.
Gays and lesbians in the military would be required to continue to wear the warzone-thick skin they should wear in a freaking warzone anyway, and non-gay and lesbians would lose the pejorative; the same anti-gay comment they would have made with malice ten years ago, would not convey the same spite in an openly gay unit. Were they to make that comment in an openly gay military warzone with openly gay comrades (as I hope they would), morale would not be shattered, feelings would not be hurt, dissention would not descend. Quite the opposite. That kind of honesty and kidding would enmesh our men and women (psychologically, not physically), making them better friends, better soldiers, and a better team.
Maybe, in the end, everyone in the military would become gay. Wouldn’t that be nice. Ignatius thinks so: "The power-crazed leaders of the world would certainly be surprised to find that their military leaders and troops were only masquerading sodomites who were only too eager to meet the masquerading sodomite armies of other nations in order to have dances and balls and learn some foreign dance steps."
What happened exactly is never knowable. And, if by some aberration it is knowable, it is never conveyable. And, even if you can tell it just right, it’s never relatable. What we can know and convey and relate to are the events that transpire in the wake of what happened; those reactions occur at a pace that we can comprehend. While the flotilla attacked last week by Israeli commandos fades into memory, the responses to the attacks remain vivid and increasingly without context.
The response to the attack on the flotilla has been much more polarized than even the response to the recent attack by a North Korean submarine on a South Korean ship, an obvious act of war. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a strong response from other nations to the Korean incident; while she said reaction to the Gaza incident should be thoughtful and measured.
"I think the situation from our perspective is very difficult and requires careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned," said Clinton. "But we fully support the U.N. Security Council's action last night in issuing a presidential statement. And we will work to implement the intention that this presidential statement represents."
It has not been. The responses range from Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made no excuses for the raid, indicating that it was just and that Israel would "continue to protect our civilians, we will continue to allow our soldiers to protect their lives, and the state of Israel will continue to practice its right for self-defense."
They range to the realism of Michael Chabon, a Jewish American writer who shook his head at the stupidity of his Israeli brethren in the op-ed of the New York Times: "Now, with the memory of the Mavi Marmara fresh in our minds, is the time for Jews to confront, at long last, the eternal truth of our stupidity as a people…Now is the moment to acknowledge that the 62-year history of Israel, like the history of the Jewish people and of the human race, has been from the beginning a record of glory and fiasco, triumph and error, greatness and meanness, charity and crime."
They range to the folly of veteran White House press member Helen Thomas whose muppet head said to a Flip cam last week that the flotilla raid was an example of why the Jewish people should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go home to Germany and Poland.
The responses here, the reactions are what matters. Maybe the commandos got out of control; maybe the flotilla for floatillaing a little too close to Gaza with a suspicious amount of weight on board; maybe those on board were murdered; or maybe those on board were planning an attack and were killed in self-defense. None of that really matters.
The incident itself can be covered up and glossed over and remembered incorrectly or remembered how we’d have preferred it happen. It’s there that we realize that these reactions are not effects, but causes for future incidents exactly like what happened off the shores of Gaza. Even if we’re not anti-Semitic octogenarian White House columnists, we should be careful how our legs jerk.
Then there was the oil spill that became the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. On April 20, an explosion killed eleven people on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. From there, things just seemed to get worse, if not more convoluted, in a bureaucratic (and now dead) swampland. Another explosion two days later took the rig to the bottom of the gulf; an investigation commenced on April 27; then a relief well was begun; Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar promised to restructure the Minerals Management Service that has apparently been corrupt and enabling negligent safety measures for years; two attempts to stop the leak failed; the smallest of the holes was plugged; the FDA approved and then reneged approval of an oil-cleansing chemical; a third attempt to plug the hole using dense mud was initiated, and we are presently waiting on the results that "look promising" after approximately 65.6 miles of Louisiana shoreline have already been impacted by oil.
Through all of that, it wasn’t until this week that people really began looking for someone to blame. For a month, it was enough that BP (formerly British Petroleum before a KFC-esque name contraction) was going to pay for all of the cleanup – a promise that remains after President Barack Obama’s news conference this morning. (Full transcription here.) However, now more and more, including traditionally leftist organizations like NPR and CNN, are raising the question, "Is this Obama’s Katrina?"
The question itself, with its implications, confused me the first time I heard Neal Conan of NPR pose it two days ago. Yesterday, Anderson Cooper, with raised eyebrow all a-gray, inquired the same. And this morning, Karl Rove answered in the Wall Street Journal with a yes as thick as the oil spewing from the well his friend’s administration approved.
"Could this be Mr. Obama's Katrina? It could be even worse," writes Rove. "The federal response to Katrina was governed by the 1988 Stafford Act, which says that in natural disasters on-shore states are in charge, not Washington… But BP's well was drilled in federal waters. Washington, not Louisiana, is in charge. This is Mr. Obama's responsibility."
The question and its implications are, after reading Rove’s most recent Katrina excuse, now beginning to frighten me. "Is this Obama’s Katrina?" inherently indicates that a) the BP oil spill cleanup is the federal government’s responsibility, b) the lack of regulation of the offshore oil drilling that was practiced by the Bush administration should have been restructured by the Obama administration, and c) the reaction of the federal government to Hurricane Katrina was insufficient.
Let’s begin by all agreeing that the cleanup should at least be overseen by the federal government. Well, that’s happening.
Now, let’s accept that we cannot go back in time and change the Bush administration’s policy on off-shore drilling, nor can we go back in time and beg the Obama administration to concentrate on deep-sea drilling safety measures instead of the war in Afghanistan or healthcare or getting the Olympics to Chicago.
Finally, in his answer, Rove finds the loophole he needs to make Katrina a state issue and the oil spill a federal issue (even though, again by implication, the phrase Obama's Katrina says federal disaster). Rove insinuates either that the federal government had no responsibility in reacting after Katrina (if so, what is the point of Federal Emergency Management Agency, and why was their involvement necessary), or that helping people off of roofs is commensurate to stopping a volatile eruption 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. Rove is admitting that Katrina was devastating and the reaction was egregious; he’s simply denying federal culpability, and that’s a happy place to be.
As Rove answers yes, this is Obama’s Katrina, he does so with a tacit slight-of-hand. He is not comparing Obama’s Katrina to Bush’s Katrina; in Rove’s mind there is no Bush’s Katrina.
But there was a Bush’s Katrina and it had only very little to do with a hurricane. Bush’s Katrina was the political fallout based on the public’s disgust with the administrations lack of response – but not just that, because Bush’s Katrina didn’t happen in a vacuum – it was the federal negligence (and continued denial of culpability) piled on to off every other incompetent decision made by the office of the President between 2001 and 2005. That is what incited the outrage that became Bush’s Katrina.
"Is this Obama’s Katrina?" suggests, through some absurd logic that this could be Obama’s Katrina as Bush's Katrina was Bush's Katrina. Not nearly enough incompetence has been displayed by Barack Obama or his team to make that possible. Regardless, it’s now apparent that we voted poorly; this disaster never would have happened if Sarah "Heartbeat Away" Palin were President. Drill. Baby. Drill.
We turned off the paved road that leads from the marine base near Twentynine Palms, California onto a sandy section of land, cutting from the base towards town. The driver pushed the accelerator towards the floorboard and the backend of the pickup truck fishtailed before catching a rivet in the slick sand, sending the truck and its involuntarily devoted passengers jumping between the dunes at over 70 mph.
"This is the song we listened to before going on raids," the driver shouted over the existing music. He turned it up. The driver, a marine corporal, veteran of two tours in Iraq (most recently in Ramadi), was set to be discharged from the Marine Corps today. He pushed "next." And I furtively grabbed the seat as 110 dB of Dope’s dubious hit "Die Motherfucker Die" quaked through the cab.
We’d just finished touring the base with our guide: seven-tons, howitzers, M1A1 Abrams tanks, a lake of sewage that smelled exactly like a lake of sewage, dorms advertising "9" days without an alcohol-related incident, a gym advertising a "bp" contest on May 7. We ran to the top of the Sand Monster, a ten-story hill that falls half a step for every step you take – deadly in bare feet and jeans, just exhausting. Boots, as well as officers, do it 20 times in an hour. We ran an obstacle course, reverse flips over bars, leaps for wood planks, over-under-over, scale a wall, climb a rope, failing to overcome a third of the obstacles. An officer on the base holds the record for running that fucking thing 48 times in a row.
Back on dry (paved) land, I was told by a woman in the back seat that I look like I’d just seen a ghost. If I had, he looked like a dead motherfucker.
With a number of hours to go before his retirement from the Marine Corps, our young corporal seems to be enjoying himself. He does a lot of the talking.
"How do you become a marine? You fuck up. If I could, I’d take a shit on the General’s lawn before I get outta here. My room is a disaster and I’m refusing to clean it before my fucking roommate gets back. Fuck Obama. Taking all of the military’s money away. Wasting time thinking about sending more troops to Afghanistan, while guys there are dying every day. Doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing."
"That’s cause he’s never been In It," the same woman, his mother, says from the back seat. This is met with nods from the others in the cab of the pickup truck. I don’t nod. They notice. "He doesn’t agree because he’s never been In It either."
It’s a curious requirement, this whole In It thing. Understandable from the alcoholic’s perspective; if you’re overcoming a (bio)psychological disease, you want to deal with someone who intimately understands that disease. But not even forgivable from an erudite perspective: if you’re in a fencing match you want the help of someone who has studied fencing, not someone who has carried foils and masks his whole life.
I don’t nod because I don’t want to commit a sin of inaccuracy, but neither do I want add the insult of dissention.
Yes, in 2009, Obama proposed to cut the Pentagon’s supplemental budget in 2010 – and, yes, this is what paid for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and so on), but the key word here is "supplemental." Without having access to the accounting records, I feel as though it’s safe to assume that various unnecessary programs were cramming their way onto the supplemental elevator in the hope of getting a free ride. Obama’s decision was, more likely than not, intended to force the Pentagon to leave some of those freeloaders at lobby level.
The problem with Obama taking money from the supplemental budget in 2010, is that new planes, tanks, weapons won’t be built, which adds to the substantial gaggle of unemployed Americans – a point that was raised a year ago by the likes of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who argued that the Obama plan to cut the government’s F-22 program would drastically affect the welfare of his state – even though Air Force officials (and the Bush Administration) agreed that the F-22 program was antiquated.
I’m spending too much time on this. Point is that cuts to military spending were and will be done smartly. As Dan Gerstein wrote last year for Forbes, "For the record, Obama's 2010 budget increased overall spending by 4% – without including the operational funding for Iraq and Afghanistan." (You can see these numbers on this chart. Jump to page 126 for recent years and upcoming estimates.) Increases will be considered smartly as well: Earlier this year, Michelle Obama announced a three percent increase in funding for military families in 2011, the money going to programs including housing, child-care, and spousal-education support.
(If you want an opinion on Obama’s dithering over troops in Afghanistan, go here.)
It sounds like a great deal of liberal bullshit. Stop wasting money on weapons so we can waste money on food stamps. Maybe it is. While I wholly respect (nearly) every troop sent to fight for the United States abroad (the parentheses are reserved for those who would rape Iraqi civilians, for example), I don’t buy the idea that you have to have been "in it" to understand "it." You don’t have to be ex-military to lead a country any more than you have to be an ex-farmer to run a restaurant.
After our departure from Twentynine Palms the following morning, our brave host would learn that his much anticipated departure from the Marine Corps had been postponed, the result of an on-base speeding ticket. Going 15 in a 30. How do you stay a marine? You fuck up again.
There are two ways to overcome a fear of death. The first way is acceptance of immortality. Whether the immortality is actual or suspected is irrelevant; it is not death we want to overcome, but the fear of it. Most often, acceptance of immortally is a result of naiveté or religious faith.
The second way is acceptance of ignorance. If we accept that we know not, if we are calm and comfortable in that rickety wagon careening over the cliff, we have overcome; it’s not truly death from which we cower, it is the possible implications and consequences of death. Of course, if our ignorance makes us panic, if we do not accept that we may not know, we’re fucked.
It comes down to: either you are certain you know what will happen, or you are ready to rock even though you don’t have a clue. These are the two types of people you want to send to war.
More than a few wars are blamed on religion. Bill Maher undoubtedly thinks that most of history’s wars are a result of religion, while he thinks the current wars are the result of a different kind of greed. We all know that Mel Gibson blamed the Jews for all the wars in the world. If you need a third person to say it, drive out to any bar, saloon or pub, 45 minutes outside of any major city and ask the first drunk you meet, "Who attacked America on September 11, 2001?" and, "Why did they do it?"
But the suggestion that religion causes war is fallacious. Human nature causes war; religion is one of the tools that makes war executable. The other tools are ignorance (already mentioned in a different form) passive coercion (in the form of trickery or argument), and active coercion (in the form of threats, a draft, and so on). If you’re going to send people to war, you don’t want to use coercion to get them there. Your best bet is to send the religious and the young.
In his award-winning book "Ender’s Game", Orson Scott Card tells of boy-genius Ender Wiggin, who is sent to war against an alien species in order to save humanity. It was his youth as much as his genius that made Ender the only candidate for the task. Years later, in an interview, Card explained his character choice: We send children to war, he said, not because they are the strongest and the best of our citizens, but because they believe themselves immortal.
The same is true for 18 and 19-year-old soldiers around the world today. Yet, acceptance of immortality does not just come with age – it comes with religion as well. A recent Vanity Fair article profiled a 37-year-old Texas Army National Guardsman whom they called "Russ Crane." One of the more poignant parts of the article was the recollection of a firefight in Afghanistan.
Amidst chaos, Crane saw a shepherd. He stood in the center of the firefight. As the man stretched his arms out, his flock came around his body and bowed their heads. Bullets passed by and the man and his sheep were calm. Crane balanced his rifle on a Humvee. Eight hundred and six meters away, a Pashtun man rose from behind a rock. A silent pink cloud of dust burst from the man’s chest as the bullet entered. At the end, no Americans were injured. The shepherd touched his sheep; they arose and followed him around the bend. Crane knew that the shepherd was a messenger from God, the reason his shot, incredible from over a half mile, was true.
Earlier, Crane expounded his belief.
"There is good and evil in the world. It gets so you yearn for a righteous fight. Personally I believe there are bad people, and God put people here to shoot those people, to let other people live peaceful lives. David was a shepherd boy who became king. The Philistines had their giant, Goliath. The Lord said to David, ‘I’m on your side. Go out and fight.’ David did. And you know, David killed Goliath as dead as Elvis Presley. He was a shepherd, a king, a follower of the Lord. But first and foremost he was a warrior. God understands that we have to have soldiers. Soldiers are part of God’s plan…I know that God has been with me actively in battle."
There’s an old joke that goes, if you get an atheist to help you move, you know you’ve got a true friend; the deed is done without expectation of divine reciprocation. Just be sure you don’t apply the same to war. Would an atheist have taken the shot at the Pashtun? Probably. Would an atheist have hit the Pashtun with the first bullet? Not a chance in what I like to call hell.
After watching a republican sit in the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat, after watching four Senate compatriots –Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Ted Kaufman (Del.) and Roland Burris (Ill.) – formulate their leave from public service, after working alongside the first Democratic administration since your first two years in the US Senate you have decided to not run for re-election as a Senator from Indiana. Your decision causes me dissonance, confusion and bemusement.
I don’t get you, Evan Bayh.
Just so you know what I mean, here’s a list of other things I don’t understand: "Twilight," "American Idol," Scientology, people who like Sarah Palin without a hint of irony, cottage cheese, Tyler Perry.
Today you stood at a press conference in Indianapolis and gave reasons for your decision. "After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so by serving in Congress has waned," you stated.
You went on to say:
"Congress is not operating as it should. There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress – too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous national challenge, the peoples' business is not getting done.
"Two weeks ago, the senate voted down a bi-partisan commission to deal with one of the greatest threats facing our nation: our exploding deficits and debt. The measure would have passed. But seven members who endorsed the idea, actually co-sponsored the legislation, instead voted NO for short-term political reasons.
"All of this and much more has led me to believe there are better ways to serve my fellow citizens, my beloved state, and our nation than continued service in congress."
All of this sounded fine coming from beneath your well-parted hair. However, upon further reflection, none of it makes any sense. You are going to start or consult a business that will create maybe 200 jobs instead of work with the Senate to create millions? You are going to lower the debt giving up on legislation that would do so? You are going to fight partisanism by stepping out of the fight?
I get politics on a local level. I get working for a University to improve higher education in America (although our higher education system is already the best in the world.) But I don’t get trying to win a basketball game by quitting at half-time, finding another arena and forming your own league.
Your first two terms in the US Senate were red velvet cake. I get that. I get that it was easy to vote on going to war in Iraq or on the Patriot Act. I get that it was nice when the privatization of social security conveniently disappeared into the night. But now there is an administration in place that actually governs, rather than one that issues executive orders. The actual fight is now. And you’re running away like a fat kid from a veggie plate.
I don’t get it and I don’t like it.
P.S. Why does your son have a Justin Bieber haircut? And what’s with the adolescent comb-over fad?
We now know that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a cave, watching "An Inconvenient Truth," reading Noam Chomsky, sketching conspiracy theories and ordering out for fried wontons. That should narrow down the search to the designated delivery area of the Lahore-Amritsar Panda Express.
In a tape released to and reported on by Al Jazeera’s English-based website, bin Laden admonished the US (George W. Bush, actually) and developing countries for destroying Mother Earth by rejecting the Kyoto protocol, and he suggested that the world should abandon the dollar as its currency reserve.
In the recording, bin Landen says, "This is a message to the whole world about those responsible for climate change and its repercussions - whether intentionally or unintentionally - and about the action we must take."
He goes on: "George Bush junior, preceded by [the US] congress, dismissed the agreement to placate giant corporations. And they are themselves standing behind speculation, monopoly and soaring living costs. They are also behind globalization and its tragic implications. And whenever the perpetrators are found guilty, the heads of state rush to rescue them using public money."
"Speaking about climate change is not a matter of intellectual luxury - the phenomenon is an actual fact," bin Laden said in the yet to be authrnticated tape.
The last tape that we have from bin Laden was in praise of the Christmas Day underwear bomber. In fact, the majority, if not all of bin Laden’s tapes are either in praise of violence against the infidels or replete with some sort of religious undertone. Apparently, those previous attempts have been so ineffectual that he’s decided to get all Al Gore on the world. It seems as though bin Laden spent the Eid in Portland, Oregon and learned a thing or two about, not only reducing and reusing – but about recycling as well.
Not only is there no religious undertone in the latest message from bin Laden, he goes on to praise Noam Chomsky. "Noam Chomsky was correct when he compared the US policies to those of the Mafia," said bin Laden. "They are the true terrorists…"
Chomsky is, of course a "libertarian socialist" of the far left of the far left – however, he is also of Jewish descent, the child of working class Jewish refugees from Ukraine and Belarus. Sure he is in favor of Israel being split into two states – but since when do Islamic fundamentalists praise Jewish philosophers? I half-expect dogs to be driving taxis when I step outside this morning.
Where’s the rage, bin Laden? Where’s the incendiary call to action in honor of Allah?
In the tape, bin Laden links abandonment of the US dollar to "grave repercussions and huge impact." Possibly. And while such action may harm the US more than creating excuses for a right wing US administration to attack a Middle Eastern country in which they will install their own rapacious corporate regimes and freelance militant security forces, it’s hardly as frightening as threatening imminent death.
It is also hardly as inspirational as a recruiting tool. "Destroy the infidels for they have sinned against your God!" has a decidedly more urgent ring than does "Go get a good education in macro economics for the sake of the gold standard!"
Perhaps in his waning years, bin Laden is finding wisdom in the writings of John Maynard Keynes and Al Gore. I know it will be interesting to see which side Gore takes on this latest tape from bin Laden. Will he side with the environment or with America? Where does his true allegiance lie? Is bin Laden right?
An Act of God is a legal term defined by Black's Law Dictionary as, "events outside of human control, such as sudden floods or other natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible."
I have not decided exactly by which Act of God I’d like Pat Robertson to perish. But I know an act of God, it should be. There is a great poetry to a heat-seeking missile missing its intended mark and turning back on the ship that launched it, to a hoarder dying in a fire because he cannot get out of his apartment, to a gingerbread man being eaten by a fox while crossing the river. There will be great poetry, too, when the same Acts of God – hail or wind, rain or lightening – that Pat Robertson calls God’s retribution upon those who make deals with the devil for their homosexuality or heathen ways strike down upon Robertson with quick fury.
God’s latest vengeance came, of course, in Haiti. Pat Robertson called the disaster that left over 300,000 people homeless a "blessing in disguise." The people of Haiti, continued Robertson, "They got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you will get us free from the French. True story… Out of this tragedy, something good may come."
Only thing that would have made that statement better is if, after "true story," Robertson had added, "I was there."
Post-disaster, enter God. Not only are Haitians turning to God more and more to thank him following the complete devastation of their capital city, but aid is coming to the country mainly from Catholic groups.
Soledad O’Brien was in Port-au-Prince for CNN last week and spoke of Catholic groups trying to bring supplies to orphanages that were subsequently robbed for those supplies – supplies that had often not arrived yet, making the robbery in vain. O’Brien also told a story of a child handing her a bible and asking her to read from it. The page she flipped to contained a verse asking God, "Why have you forsaken me?"
(Parenthetically, I’m afraid, because I don’t have enough to say about this for a separate post, the amount of self-aggrandizement by CNN during tragedies is astounding. The network cut from Wolf Blitzer setting Soledad O’Brien up for the above story to b-roll of Anderson Cooper dramatically dropping his camcorder (his prop) to frantically find some sort of rag to wipe red paint from a little boy’s face. Meanwhile, you know Anderson is flying back to his suite at the Four Seasons in Santo Domingo every night.)
An 11-year-old girl named Anaika Saint Louis was pulled from the rubble last Thursday night, still alive. Her leg was broken. Doctors would have to amputate, but Anaika said she didn’t care. "Thank you, God, because he saved my life," she said to CNN. "If I lose my feet, I always had my life." Then she died.
These are not the words of a people who made a deal with the devil. Many of them believe, as Robertson does, that the earthquake was not a natural disaster, but was an upset voodoo god. It’s nothing unusual for people to turn to God at their lowest. When my grandmother died 14 years ago, I saw my father become more religious. A comedian out of Chicago named Dwayne Kennedy does a bit in which he explains how nobody loves Jesus more than old black women – no matter what happens in their lives, when you ask them how they are doing, they will respond, "Oh, I’m blessed."
If anyone made a deal with the devil, it’s Pat Robertson. I think he’s a witch. The only way I’ll be satisfied that he’s not a witch is if he drowns in a puddle of holy water that was knocked over by a stampede of rhinoceroses that were spooked when a slow but ominous fog crept upon them while shopping in Tribeca. He’ll be dead then, of course, but maybe, out of that tragedy, something good may come.
As the Los Angeles County freeways rise and wind into Orange County in California, the racing landscape bumps seamlessly from mountains above Malibu and Santa Clarita, over the grunge of Venice Boulevard and under the blast of Los Angeles International, around the hills and lookouts in PV, past the docks of Long Beach, the malls above Anaheim, Disneyland, itself. The traffic pulses, a slow heart, obstructed by wrecks, construction and billboards for a good time. The streets are grid-like, measured; but the houses are hasty, one-story matchstick huts, pasted with plaster and stapled with aluminum siding. Deflated Santas adorn the front yards the week after Christmas, soon to be replaced with barbeques and flags.
The houses give way, at a point, to industrial complexes: low, flat, sprawling, right-angle buildings, laid out on purposefully curvier streets to give the illusion of creativity. Just before the small numbered blocks of Newport Beach, this is a part of Costa Mesa. Off of the freeway, the streets are all unique, now, while they continue to look identical. The industrial zone is wedged in between a small airport, at which you have to walk outside before boarding your flight, and a golf course. In the middle of this zone, past JG Plastics and HD Nutrition, across from Rip Curl, sits a church called Rock Harbor.
The front of the building is designed to be welcoming. Two large garage doors are lifted to reveal large wooden (in every sense of the word; they are even aged) beams that frame the door and are frequently placed throughout the wide entry hall. Pamphlets greet those that enter. In the adjacent room, chairs are set up facing flat-screens to accommodate overflow from the main sanctuary, which is around the corner, down a narrower hallway, also encased in wooden beams.
A band plays as we enter the sanctuary. The drummer is protected by an octagon of Plexi glass. A young, light-brown haired man is sing, and the lyrics he sings are projected brightly on either side of the band. Immediately to the left of the singer is a large crucifix, made from the same wood that is ostensibly supporting the entry. There is only standing room left in the rear of the sanctuary, and when we leave, we’ll notice that even more came after.
The light-brown haired singer is, in time, replaced by a solid bald man, who you’d expect to see working a stockroom in Indiana. But here, he’s not out of place. The sanctuary supports a history of stories, rather than a history of time; not a lot has happened within these walls (if they could talk, they’d shrug), but a lot has, independently, happened to these people. The stories lend kinetic breath to the room. The bald man isn’t alone.
His lesson for the day is, at least in its underlying theme, about acceptance. Along with the parishioners, and the projections that have replaced song lyrics with bible lyrics, he reads from the New International Version (NIV) of the bible – as if he could choose any other.
Much of the lesson builds up to a comparison between two passages in the NIV: Isaiah61 and Luke 4. The bald man starts with Isaiah. The passage hits the bright, big screens:
 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God…
This was one of the scrolls that was read in synagogues, even two thousand years ago, says the bald man. He jumps to Luke, reading the first part: "He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written…"
The projection follows to Luke along with the bald man:
 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
The bald man continues to read from Luke: "Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’"
The bald man mentions the temerity Jesus had to claim that the scripture was fulfilled because he read it. But, again, his underlying point is what Jesus changed in his reading of the scroll. The bald man takes to his telestrator (yes) and underlines brokenhearted, he underlines blind, he circles oppressed, and he points excitedly at the final line that Jesus neglected: "and the day of vengeance of our God..."
People were appalled that Jesus would change the scripture, the bald man shouts. With his reading, no longer was there going to be vengeance on the Gentiles. No longer would the sick and weak and poor and crippled be overlooked on the streets. People, says the bald man, were appalled with the folks that Jesus hung out with.
And who would those people be today, he asks. And he answers: alcoholics, homosexuals, abortion supporters, illegal immigrants.
What he doesn’t ask is, who is Jesus today? He wants us each to be Jesus. Although, we don’t each have it in us. And so, it’s not until the drive home, back to Los Angeles County, through the breezy smog, that I realize, not only must the bald man have voted for Barack Obama, but he must, in turn, believe that Obama is the Second Coming.
He must understand that Obama hung out with the folks who appalled us – Reverend Wright, Louis Farrakhan, William Ayers – and engages with folks who appall us – Iran, North Korea – and is respectful of folks in a manner that disgusts us – bowing to the Saudi king and the Japanese Emperor. He must think that Obama doesn’t hang out with these folks because he agrees with these folks, but because he wants to understand them, to help them.
The derelict dealerships and fast food franchises on La Cienega give way to the Hills of Hollywood. I am home.
Bono wrote another op-ed piece in the New York Times today.I have yet to read it, but, to be honest, that’s immaterial because I know (we all do, don’t we?) that it’s going to suck.The star of rock begins by admitting that we are being inundated by Best Of… lists.Best of the Year.Best of the Decade.Whatever.He then decides he is going to try to be unique (operative word: try) be offering “10 ideas that might make the next 10 years more interesting, healthy or civil.”
Here is what I want from a rock star.I would like each who thinks he’s capable to come up with an updated version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”Whereas the original lists events, people, books, movies, and so on from the 1940’s to 1989, the new version would list the same sort of things from 1990 to 2009.These brave few rock stars can feel free to submit their versions to me and I, in my sweet tone-deaf time, will choose the best.
In anticipation of this contest, I’ve created an example of a song that is included below.Also, feel free to sing along (replacing new lyrics with old, of course) to the original Billy Joel video included immediately following this sentence.
President Barack Obama has had his theistic faith barraged from upon all angles high. The bigger problems started when his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, was broadcast in a passionate diatribe against America. Obama fell under attack from the far left when he chose Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration. And, of course, he has been at fault in the minds of the Christian Right for everything from allegedly having his Harvard Law School paid for by a Muslim activist to accidently saying that he’d been to "57 states" in the United States. (There are 57 states in the Organization of the Islamic Conference.)
I believe most Palestinians stopped short of calling him a secret-evil-Jewish-Mossad agent, but probably not all of them.
Despite the rally cries for fear and holy war, Obama’s Christian claim is generally accepted at this point. A comprehensive look at Obama's faith in Newsweek in July 2008 explained: "The story of Obama's religious journey is a uniquely American tale. It's one of a seeker, an intellectually curious young man trying to cobble together a religious identity out of myriad influences... ‘I'm on my own faith journey and I'm searching,’ he says. ‘I leave open the possibility that I'm entirely wrong.’"
Obama’s public addresses are decidedly more secular than were his predecessor’s. He still uses the phrase, "God Bless America," to end many such addresses. But one can sense that, when combined with his other words and rhetoric, the phrase is over Obama’s lips less theological than it is ontological.
David Brooks would be one to shake his head at this suggestion. As seen in his New York Times column last week, Brooks sees in Obama a revival of "the Christian realism that undergirded cold war liberal thinking..." Obama, says Brooks, has gone to apply this cold war thinking to a different world. "His speeches at West Point and Oslo this year are pitch-perfect explications of the liberal internationalist approach. Other Democrats talk tough in a secular way, but Obama’s speeches were thoroughly theological. He talked about the ‘core struggle of human nature’ between love and evil."
It is easy to mistake the discussion of the struggle of human nature and Nobel Peace Prize speeches on good and evil as necessarily theological. For that, Brooks can be forgiven. Obama does not speak in religious undertones; his very deliberative (dithering, according to Dick Cheney) nature exudes an essence of his father’s atheism.
We should remember from where Obama came and over which paths he’s traveled when considering his words.
Back to the Newsweek article:
For company, he had books. There was Saint Augustine, the fourth-century North African bishop who wrote the West's first spiritual memoir and built the theological foundations of the Christian Church. There was Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century German philosopher and father of existentialism. There was Graham Greene, the Roman Catholic Englishman whose short novels are full of compromise, ambivalence and pain. Obama meditated on these men and argued with them in his mind.
With that in mind, we can listen to his words in Oslo, knowing that the angle of his vantage is illuminated many radians beyond the standard theological spectrum.
Obama spoke his hopes, calling some war necessary and citing President John F. Kennedy’s hope that we might find a peace based on a "gradual evolution of human institutions." However, he spoke his doubts as well.
"I do not believe we have the will, the determination, the staying power to complete this work without something more," said Obama on December 9. "And that’s the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there’s something irreducible that we all share."
The continued expansion of our moral imagination. It’s a curious phrase – and miles from theological; if anything, it is, again, atheistic. It does not suppose a categorical imperative or a greater good or word of God. It supposes that these things can, if we allow them, destroy life because life cannot exist or be interpreted in a vacuum.
As Friedrich Nietzsche writes in "Genealogy of Morals,"
To speak of just or unjust in itself is quite senseless; in itself, of course, no injury, assault, exploitation, destruction can be "unjust," since life operates essentially; that is in its basic functions, through injury, assault exploitation, destruction and simply cannot be thought of at all without this character. … A legal order thought of as sovereign and universal, not as a means in the struggle between power-complexes but as a means of preventing all struggle…would be a principle hostile to life, an agent of the dissolution and destruction of man, an attempt to assassinate the future of man, a sign of weariness, a secret path to nothingness.
The continued expansion of our moral imagination. It is Obama’s true religion. But it is a religion closer to Nietzsche than to Christianity or Islam or Judaism. It says at once that we need to realize that the ideas of right and wrong, of good and evil, of war and peace need to be flexible – and that, if we are wrong, we are more than certainly wrong together.