Archive for May, 2009
Watched “Milk” last night for the first time, which stars Sean Penn and was directed by Gus Van Sant. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a brief recapitulation. The film begins on Harvey Milk‘s 40th birthday, where he is lamenting the fact that he hasn’t done anything he was proud of thus far in his life. As he’s making this confession, he’s laying beside a guy (Scott Smith) he met in a New York subway minutes (or hours) before, presumably after they had sex. Prior to that scene, he passes Smith on the subway stairway, immediately turns and starts talking to him as if he knew from the start (or by instinct) the other guy was gay as well. Regardless, the two immediately hit it off and move to California as part of the 1970s mass migration of gay people to San Francisco to the well-known Castro District.
The two opened Castro Camera, and with the help of Smith and others, Milk eventually became the first openly gay person in the country to hold significant public office. After numerous failed attempts, he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Many political battles later, he was in office only 11 months before being killed by former board member Dan White, which was played in the film by Josh Brolin.
I wanted to make a couple points about the movie and then about this issue in general as it relates to religion. First, I don’t think the movie should have placed as much emphasis as it did on the sexual part of Milk’s life and the sexual aspect of the gay men surrounding him during the election cycles. Sure, it was their identity at the time and their very lives depended on the work of guys like Milk to try to obtain some semblance of normalcy and equality in an egregiously unjust and bigoted era (and we aren’t necessarily clambering toward enlightenment yet, either) but the sexual imagery played out in the movie seems to undercut that point and seems unnecessary. We may say Reagan or Kennedy or Clinton or Roosevelt were great in their own rights, but do we want a movie that paints a picture of their political, as well as, god help us, sexual lives? Probably not. Again, the goal is equality. Gay advocates should get over this point and move on. This is not to say the moviemakers know the gay community in and out, but it appears to me, an outsider looking in, that the flamboyancy and boisterous nature of this movement (See: bare-chested gay guys drinking beer side-by-side at this site’s gallery) does it a disservice. I suppose one could argue the movie was simply trying to reproduce that side of the movement, but that’s not really the point. The movie is about a gay guy, a member of a minority group, per se, who had some great ideas to change the country, was a great orator and had the charisma and smarts to motivate people. There’s no real need to educate the moviegoer on what being gay is about or what “they” do in their private lives. That’s common knowledge for the most part and that wasn’t the point in the first place.
Gay people are not going to win any arguments by holding gay pride parades or flaunting their sexuality to their own cohorts who couldn’t agree more. They will win them by getting in a suit and tie and, as Milk did in public (If there’s a record of him flaunting himself about half-clothed like people do nowadays in parades and rallies, please tell me. I’m curious to know), fighting to attain public office to change things from the inside out. That’s how to enact change. To me, pushing the sexuality thing and the flamboyancy merely serves to push people further away from the movement and its goals, not closer. Some might disagree with me on that point, but this is the case as I perceive it.
Turning to the moral majority. The film heavily references the work of Anita Bryant, who’s song, “Till There Was You,” is a good tune. Bryant got herself involved in a debate about an ordinance in Dade County, Fla. prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and didn’t have the mental muster to hold down the fort. She said,
What these people (gays) really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that theirs is an acceptable alternate way of life. … I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before.
She also said:
As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children (Ya don’t say?!?); therefore, they must recruit our children … If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.
Recruit children? That is so proposterous it’s not even worth a retort. And:
All America and all the world will hear what the people have said, and with God’s continued help we will prevail in our fight to repeal similar laws throughout the nation.
God has helped indeed. If it was so important, he did not personally do anything to inhibit the influence of gay people or their influence politically, and he certainly didn’t do anything to keep gay people from being born. In fact, he’s been mum for millenia now. Or, since Jesus was God himself, Jesus did not speak a word about homosexuality, which was as prominent, if not more so, in the first century than it is today. Here’s a historical look.
So, Bryant threw herself onto the anti-gay side, not knowing why she believed what she believed. I posit this (and believe me, I have chewed on this question for years), if homosexuality is a choice and not innate, why would a gay person choose that lifestyle? Why would they choose the possible loss of their family and friends? Why would they choose estrangement and a lifetime of guaranteed hardship? Why would they choose a lifetime of discrimination? Do these options sound like a good trade-off?
The fact that they face battles at every angle proves to me they aren’t choosing that lifestyle at all. It proves to me it’s who they are … innately … hardwired. Just like I’m hardwired to like girls and can’t imagine liking guys in the least … in that way. Or else, gay people would pretend to be straight to make a more peaceful life for themselves (Admittedly, I’m sure some do to avoid chastisement from their parents or ridicule from their friends. Some simply cloak or subvert their real feelings).
My last point is this: It is clear to me most of the time who is gay and who is not. I can tell a majority of the time. I don’t need a test. I don’t need to talk personally with that person. It’s clear and evident, both from the male and female side, and the reading is at least 75 percent accurate from my estimation. Some males are simply more effeminate than others, while some females act more masculine. The rest are probably good pretenders. That’s not intended to sound crass. I’m simply saying what I have observed. The framework for scientific evidence to explain homosexuality in our species and others seems well under way.
So, we may posit this set of concerns. If God made people who are gay (and doctrine teaches he certainly did) and homosexuality is innate in some of those people, what does that say about God’s law or God himself? If God made them that way, how does he explain the verses saying they are practicing sin? No, they are just being what He created them to be, just as I am being who I am, which is straight. Adultery, breaking a civil union, seems to me to be the higher infraction, not sodomy or whatever nasty sounding word we want to pin to the act. John Loftus said recently:
- If we are flawed, God is responsible because he made us this way.
If God is omni-powerful, omniscient and all-loving (Quiz: How can God be both a judge but also be all-merciful?), how could he ever allow homosexuals to come into existence knowing the trouble they would cause God, to themselves or to the philosophical agruments such as this one that question the whole thing? A friend of mine once had this discussion with me. We concluded that if it is, indeed, concluded that homosexuality is, without a doubt, innate and built in from birth, the God of the Bible could not exist because that would put a death knell in his own words, thus like a set of dominos, calling into question the whole thing. Would God create a person whom he knew, from the very moment of conception, would be condemned because of who they are? Say, if brown hair was a sin, for instance, all brown-haired people would perish in hell. That is ridiculous. Again, Loftus:
- The principle that all of us have done things so egregious to warrant the death penalty is itself egregious. Name one thing that you have done that you should be put to death for.
- The principle that someone else can suffer the death penalty for us to resolve the problem is similarly egregious. Should anyone be punished not to mention given the death penalty for things that you do? Is the death penalty Just?
Christians, of course, will answer that it’s not homosexuals, that all are condemned from conception because of original sin. Or, that it’s not the homosexual that is condemned, but the homosexual act. Fine, but the punishment does not fit the crime and parsing words gets us nowhere too fast. The homosexual cannot possibly live a fulfilling life without committing the act because that’s what he/she knows, and that’s what seems to come natural for them. To say that they should attempt to throw off what comes natural to them and attempt to change would, it seems to be, result in severe psychological damage, the same way that forcing me, by society’s rules, to have sex with guys would cause in me severe psychological damage.
“But I will be honest with you, the reality is that a lot of people come here and go right back into whatever it is they came from,” said Pastor John Westcott of Exchange Ministries in Winter Park, Fla. in Bill Maher’s “Religulous” movie.
“Because they’re gay,” Maher said.
Westcott said he had dealt with homosexual tendencies and was subsequently reformed.
Eternal torment for being born seems to be a harsh judgment coming from a loving, forgiving god. A lifetime of discrimination for existing as you were “created” by that loving god also seems unjust and an oxymoron. That certainly sounds like a lifestyle I would choose! What about you?
Media Matters recently posted a video clip titled, “Buchanan has ‘no problem’ with legacy systems, says ‘working class whites’ are ‘the ones discriminated most today,’” in which he supported Ivy League colleges which let kids in because of who’s child they were, not just on academic merit. Or, as Buchanan put it, their “clout.” He also said “white working class folks” (to correct the Media Matters headline) are “discriminated against most today” (to again correct Media Matters):
To put it bluntly, inserting race into the issue makes Buchanan’s claim, which cites no evidence, seem even more distasteful. How does he justify in one sentence, talking about how privileged college kids (the majority who earn bachelor’s or higher degrees are white) are and should be admitted to prestigious institutions based on clout and connections, provided they pass a test, and in the next sentence, talk about the rights of working class people (Using the word “folks,” as many politicians do, to sound more convivial and down to earth)? I would be curious to know how one defines “working class” in the first place. Blue collar? White and blue collar? Anyone who can hold down a job making less than Obama’s $250,000 benchmark?
Buchanan uses the “working class” line (like so many others interested in pushing a political mindset) to apparently lionize those of the laboring order (Buchanan is not, of course), when Buchanan, in nearly the same breath, appears to favor the notion of success by proxy. I’m reminded of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero,” which Buchanan would probably write off as some socialist anthem.
According to Lennon himself, the song is about the pressure to succeed, to go to college, to pick a career, and how maddening that pressure can be, when in the end, one’s efforts are often in vain (“But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see …”) unless, of course, one is willing to “learn how to smile as you kill | If you want to be like the folks on the hill …” But that’s, of course, a paraphrase and an estimation of what Lennon actually meant.
Side note: Here is an interesting analysis of Green Day’s own take on the song. The comments that follow are intriguing as well. But as the posters and repliers don’t seem to note, song lyrics aren’t essays or news articles. They don’t always have a specific and defined meaning. Take The Beatles’ lines, “He’s got feet down below his knees” or “He wear no shoeshine, he got toe-jam football | He got monkey finger, he shoot coca-cola” or any number of lines from the White Album, great as it is. Stream of consciousness, daydreaming, drugs, personal stories or any number of factors can account for lyrics that don’t jibe or are hard to decipher.
But back to race, Slate offers an article on the seeming decline in Ivy-league schools, which notes the proliferation of solid programs at public institutions, like Northwestern, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and University of Virginia. Buchanan likely has affirmative action in mind when he made his comments about the white working class. True, blacks generally have a higher acceptance rates at colleges than whites, but college attendees, especially of the sort Buchanan mentions, are hardly “working class folks.” College is a privilege, not a right (though it should be), in this country. As such, most don’t earn college degrees:
According to new tables released on the Internet titled Educational Attainment in the United States: 2004, 85 percent of those age 25 or older reported they had completed at least high school and 28 percent had attained at least a bachelor’s degree — both record highs. — U.S. Census Bureau
What about the black working class? Affirmative action is used too often as a crux to explain away some white people’s anger. Note these two bits from Policy Almanac:
Over the past three decades, minorities and women have made real, undisputable economic progress. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the median black male worker earned only about 60 percent as much as the median white male worker; (10) by 1993, the median black male earned 74 percent as much as the median white male.
There has not been an improvement in the employment-population rate of black workers relative to whites since the 1960s. If anything, there has been a deterioration in the relative employment-population rate.
An intriguing, but for the most part, altogether common-sense, article on party identification and what perceived personal and societal shifts in affiliation mean for the body politic suggests that when voters change their minds, it is largely due, not to studying the issues, but to a “vague sense of how things are going with the economy and the presidency”:
They have not shifted because they have calculated that their current party is out-of-synch on some specific policy stand. Others of them have shifted because they simply like Barack Obama. They won’t be able to articulate exactly why they dislike one party and like another, they just ‘know’ they prefer one.
Not to suggest this exhausts the reasons why voters choose certain parties over others, but I would have to agree here, that most of these folks are “nature of the times” voters who likely had no strong party affiliation to begin with, if they had any. In fact, this scenario is quite analogous to religion in some ways. Many churchgoers or religious types (or casual attendees) won’t be able to articulate why they believe in a higher power without running themselves into a tautology or infinite regress or relying solely to ancient texts steeped in mythology and lore without outside validation. Like religious folks, most voters pull the lever based on where they were born or who they were born to without giving the slightest amount of scrutiny to their position, and of course, as this article mentions, relying on opinions that do not challenge, but validate one’s own stance. This, of course, doesn’t describe all, but at this point, we can probably say most, and heck, some even decide based on the likeness of certain candidates to themselves. I thought this quote from the David Brooks column, linked above and here, was telling:
“People often act without knowing why they do what they do,” Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, noted in an e-mail message to me this week. “The fashion of political writing this year is to suggest that people choose their candidate by their stand on the issues, but this strikes me as highly implausible.” — The New York Times, David Brooks, “How Voters Think”
The map from pollster.com shows the increase in the number of Independents in the country over the course of the last several months,
and I would say that an underlying reason by the surge is, again, what I just mentioned. Folks are disillusioned with the Republican brand, given the general failure of the last administration and the comic book line up of candidates we had in the last election cycle (a soccer mom; war hero; Mormon; former mayor, turned 9/11 hero/advocate, the list goes on) that, since they have (had) a flimsy foundation on which to base their views, they couldn’t slip over to the dastardly left (For, they don’t know why they disagree with that side either), so they just default to the Independents, or worse, the ranks of the apathetic.
This video embodies everything that is both cool and wrong with Internet news groups and social networking. Classic work. Enjoy!
The New York Times yesterday featured a decent editorial titled, “A Shift on Immigration,” in which the paper lauded an immigration policy shift by the Obama administration from the prior group to begin focusing more on holding employers accountable for hiring and employing illegal immigrants, rather than conducting raids vis–à–vis the Bush administration, which merely served to tear apart families, erstwhile not prosecuting the plants employing such workers.
Vitriol among seemingly pissed off, native-born Americans, quite wrongly scared they are somehow losing the country, and further, the country’s identity, is rampant, especially in the South. Here’s a report on hate crimes toward Hispanics from 2008. As seen here, some folks appear quite gleeful about a 2008 raid in Greenville, S.C., which resulted in the arrests of 300 illegals. I thought the comments of Alanboy395,
This SC-born poster couldnt be happier that action was taken in South Carolina.
And take your 3 welfare anchors with you.
I just heard 330 new AMERICAN jobs opened up at a chicken place…
were quite enlightening.
But the question of whether immigrants, whether they be black, Eastern European, Latino or Irish, have a significant impact on the culture onto which they are imposing themselves is a question for the ages. It’s been with us for centuries, and the folks who, today, gripe about the illegal immigration problem (specifically, about Hispanics) might have griped about the Irish or other peoples in earlier generations. Obviously, this isn’t a new complaint at all; it replicates itself, in some form, in nearly every century this country has existed.
This study suggests the swell of Hispanic immigration to America does not have a significant effect in threatening American identity:
Traditional patterns of linguistic assimilation result in the vast majority of immigrants becoming monolingual in English by the 3rd generation. Clear evidence also points to the continuation of these patterns in the case of Hispanic—and specifically Mexican—immigrants. In the 2000 Census, 50% of the native-born living in the households of Mexican-born immigrants either spoke only English or spoke English very well. … the authors observe that by the 3rd generation, Hispanics’ preferences on policy questions related to bilingual education and declaring English as the official language of the U.S. “closely resemble those of whites and blacks.”
But it may not matter at this point, and the ground swell of illegal immigration may be on the wane, as the job opportunities that have, in the past, brought them here seem to no longer exist in the abundance they once did. Still, it hasn’t stopped some from going nutso over this H1N1 thing, claiming that, not only are Hispanics draining our resources and taking our jobs, but are bringing their illnesses with them. Of this, I’ll address at another time. But lest I spill into a 1,500 word rant on this matter, I’ll leave it at that, for now.
Here, I won’t refer to this flu strain as anything other than its quasi-official name, the 2009 H1N1 flu, and I’m glad to report, as of now, I don’t have it. Or else, I would probably be typing this from a hospital, and likely trying to hack an IV pump, hoping to access the Internet bedside. And you won’t hear any reference to that animal that wallows in its own feces anywhere in this post, thanks.
Now, to say that this thing has been blown giantly out of proportion, say like the avian flu or SARS, is probably an understatement, as media types everywhere toss the word “pandemic” around like a hacky sack (Yes, I’ve used that phraseology before). Folks, it’s a strain of the flu, no more, no less. It’s treatable by antiviral medicines, and if caught within the first two days or so, can make the patient feel better quite soon. It’s not HIV. It’s not the Black Plague. It’s the flu. So, if you get flu-like symptoms, get yourself to the doctor asap. But fears, irrational fears, still mount, most of them media-driven, despite the fact that the word “pandemic”
will be used ‘even if the new virus turns out to cause mainly mild symptoms.’ — The New York Times news blog, Blaming ‘Media Hype’ for Swine Flu Fears, May 1, 2009
Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, brings light to the media’s enchantment with another worldwide catastrophe better than I ever could:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M – Th 11p / 10c|
|Snoutbreak ’09 – The Last 100 Days|