Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Presidencies of John Adams and George Washington Weigh in on Muslims and America as a "Christian Nation"

"As the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion - as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims) - and as the said states have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

- 1796 treaty with Tripoli, written under the Presidency of George Washington and signed under the Presidency of John Adams

(And yes, there is some question over the "legitimacy" of Article 11, since it does not appear in the Arabic translation of the Treaty. However, the English version, which did contain Article 11, was signed into law by Adams making any quibbling over this an essentially moot point)

Locke & Whee!




James Hibberd's "The Live Feed" has reported that Steven Spielberg, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have joined forces to create a television show from Joe Hill's comic book series "Locke & Key."

This is excellent news, and I shouldn't have to be the one to tell you about it but as far as I know none of the "typical" sites (AICN, Chud, Collider, Dark Horizons) have noted this.

Locke & Key tells the story of the Locke family and its ancestral home, Keyhouse, the mystery of the keys and doors within that house, and the strange, somehow inhuman, multi-generational enemy that wants something from the family and their home. Fans of Lost and the early work of Clive Barker should be especially excited, as the book is heavily character-focused, steeped in mystery, and not short of grue, humor, or wonder.

Hill is the son of Stephen King, but he's established himself as a solid and popular writer in his own right. His book "Heart-Shaped Box" and his short story collection "21st Century Ghosts" are both worth a look-see. His novel "Horns" is deeply flawed and ultimately (to me) not entirely successful in living up to its initial promise, but it's also very well-written and very readable.

Locke & Key is one of three comics I still buy on a regular basis as individual issues, and if you're at all into the art form I'd highly recommend checking it out. It's available to purchase in collected form through Amazon - why not use my link to get there?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Beck to God



"Something beyond imagination is happening, something that is beyond man is happening. America today is beginning to turn back to God." - Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck said some admirable, reasonable things on Saturday; things like "There is growing hatred in the country. We must be better than what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We must get the poison of hatred out of us, no matter what smears or lies are thrown our way… we must look to God and look to love. We must defend those we disagree with." I can't find fault in that message, and I wouldn't try.

What I can find fault with, and do find fault with, is the essential emptiness behind those words. It is one thing to pray in public, to make a show of piety; it is another thing altogether to live by your words and demand of yourself real commitment to those words. Beck says that we "must look to love," and perhaps that is an admonishment directed as much at himself as anyone else. But I can't help hearing those words and then recalling these words:

“When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh shut up’ I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.”

“The only [Katrina victims] we’re seeing on television are the scumbags.”

"The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be ‘What the hell you mean we're out of missiles?’"

"I have been nervous about this interview with you because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies. ... And I know you're not. I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way." –interviewing Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim U.S. congressman


That's just the tip of the iceberg. Beck routinely, gleefully, grows the very hatred he decried on Saturday. He spreads the lies and the smears he preaches against. And he spends precious little time "defending those who disagree" with him. But given Beck's seeming recommitment to "turning toward God" and my own desire to live by the words I spout here, I thought this quote might be of interest to him and to those in his audience who confuse self-righteousness with righteousness:

"But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And He said to him: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. This is the first and greatest commandment, and the second is like it: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. On these two commandments depend all of the Law and the Prophets.'” - Matthew 22:34-40

America cannot "turn back to God" until its citizenry embraces the spirit of this teaching. Jesus does not say "You shall love your CHRISTIAN neighbor as yourself." He does not say "You shall love your AFFLUENT neighbor as yourself." He does not say "You shall love your AMERICAN neighbor as yourself." He certainly does not say that "You shall love your CONSERVATIVE neighbor as yourself." And yet, for all of Beck's fine, carefully-scripted words to the contrary, that's the gospel he truly preaches. Beck preaches a gospel of intolerance, of fear and divisiveness and greed and devotion to country/politics/gold over God.

I would never be so bold or so blasphemous as to assume I know anything of God's "mind," but I do feel comfortable saying that people like Beck abuse the faith that people have in God for ends that are decidedly adverse to Christ's teaching.

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." - Matthew 7:15

Pass The Sentence

(For a brief explanation, click here)

"It rose over the crest of the hill like a rogue sun."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Happy LOST Day!

Today's an auspicious occasion. LOST, the complete muthafunkin' series, is being released. Commence your happy-dances.

I'm well aware that some folks were underwhelmed by the final season, and as I've said previously I can't blame them. There's a lot to love there, but there's also an increasing sense of frustrated/frustrating ambiguity that most people (myself included) weren't expecting at all.

We entered Season 6, aided and abetted by ABC's nefarious marketing department, convinced we were going to get ANSWERS, ANSWERS, ANSWERS! Instead, we got .....answers?

If you're like me, who found much of my enjoyment from the show in puzzling around its various mysteries, references, allusions and pop culture debris, then the final season served as a summation of all that had made LOST both energizing and aggravating. The answer to the puzzle was more puzzle, to put it too-simply.

And I loved it, warts and all.

Work on Back to the Island: The Book continues apace, and now that the complete collection has been released I'll be incorporating what we learn from that set into the text. But primarily what I'll be doing (at first) is simply enjoying a dip back into this show's singularly-intoxicating world. I know that many of you will be doing the same thing, and I'm looking forward to talking about it.

Have you picked up the set yet? Have you watched its special features? I'll be providing a space for us to talk about them in the near future. Consider this post an initial exclamation point of excitement.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Station Break

Apologies, folks. This week's Lost & Found will be delayed until next week, as I'm in the throes of trying to assemble the Back to the Island book and deal with a rapidly-increasing work schedule.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

You Keep Using That Word - I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means


The First Amendment reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment is a thing of beauty. I love it the way that some folks love the Second Amendment. And it irritates me thoroughly when people who should understand it by dint of their profession or their publically-expressed opinions are shown to have absolutely no idea what it means or how it applies.

First, "Dr. Laura" announced that she was leaving her cushy radio gig at the expiration of her contract following this incident.

Here's "Dr. Laura's" explanation for leaving:

"The reason is, I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special-interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors."

To say that the doc's understanding of her Constitutional rights is skewed would be understating things. The First Amendment (among other things) prevents Governmental interference with free speech - it does not prevent citizens like you and I from speaking freely about her bewilderingly empathy-free remarks and senseless wielding of the "N word." It does not prevent people from "getting angry." If it did then it would in fact operate in the EXACT OPPOSITE WAY its supposed to - by using governmental power to prevent the free expression of ideas.

I am the one-billionth person (approximately) to point this out, and I add nothing to the discussion by doing so. If you have the most basic grasp on your Constitutional rights then you don't need me pointing this out - it's obvious.

But it gets worse.

Sarah Palin chimed in last night on her now-legendary Twitter account with the following:

"Dr. Laura:don't retreat...reload! (Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence 'isn't American, not fair')"

This, ladies and gentlemen, was the Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States - a woman who composes tweets with all the élan of a sixteen year-old girl on a pixie stix binge; a woman who also has zero idea of what the First Amendment functions to accomplish. According to Palin's (let's put it charitably) unique view of things, Dr. Laura's "1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence" which, in addition to being an incomplete (and awful) sentence, is about as flat-out wrong a statement of fact as you could possibly make. The idea that Schlessinger's 1st Amendment rights "ceased to exist" at any time is laughable. The idea that this woman could have been the second-most powerful person in the world?
Not so laughable.


Dr. Laura's First Amendment rights continued to exist throughout this brouhaha, and continue to exist right now, because there was never governmental interference involving her right to speak freely. The vocal criticism leveled at Dr. Laura came from private citizens and "free market" corporations - the very same kind of populist/corporatist activism that Palin pretends to champion when it suits her ever-Kaleidoscoping agenda.

If the First Amendment (a) was actually important to Palin she'd be vocally-opposed to preventing the free exercise of religion via governmental interference. That is, after all, the first sentence of the First Amendment. And yet, Palin continues to flog the "America is a Christian nation" horse, long after said-horse has expired. Palin and her supporters would object to my conflating the two, but I'm not sure why - they're the ones doing the conflating. Arguing for a "National Day of Prayer" that's mandated by Congress (as Palin has done) is to argue directly against the words of the First Amendment. To establish a National Day of Prayer is to have Congress make a law "respecting an establishment of religion." That's logic.

And if the First Amendment (b) worked the way she believed that it does, her words regarding the proposed Cordoba House in Manhattan would, in fact, mean that she was violating the First Amendment by (God help me) "trying 2silence" that community center.

So, here we have a woman who wants 2silence a community center by harnessing citizens to spread and enforce her personal worldview while simultaneously decrying that exact same thing in response to citizens who've criticized the doc's words.
Here we have a former candidate for Vice President without a basic working knowledge of the laws she'd be sworn to uphold. Remember that when she inevitably decides to run again in 2012/endorses someone similarly clueless.

If Palin's looking around for a winky-folksy 2012 campaign slogan that lampoons her hated opponent in the White House she could do a lot worse than "The Audacity of Ignorance."


PS - To read a cuttingly-precise, typically well-written satire of the whole "Mosque controversy" you should head over to Slacktivist. Even Christopher Hitchens, a man I would willingly and eagerly engage in probably-humiliating debate (for me, not him) on any number of issues, from imperialism-as-policy to his whole "God is not great" idiocy, thinks the "controversy" is ridiculous.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Floor Be Yours, Mateys

Today I thought I'd open the floor to those of you who want to share sites you enjoy frequenting, blogs you haunt, and other internet ephemera worth a moment of your fellow readers' precious time. What's entertaining you right now? Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Worst. List. Ever.

Worse than the Oklahoma City bomber, apparently.

One of Verbosity's illustrious and much-appreciated readers brought this one to my attention (I'd link to the original article, but it loads as a blank page - perhaps a sign that its creators thought better of leaving it up):

Out of all the gangsters, serial killers, mass murderers, incompetent & crooked politicians, spies, traitors, and ultra left-wing kooks in all of American history — have you ever wondered who the worst of the worst was? Well, we here at RWN wondered about that, too, and that’s why we decided to email more than a hundred bloggers to get their opinions. Representatives from the following 43 blogs responded…

(A bunch of sites I've never heard of are then listed)

All bloggers were allowed to make anywhere from 1-20 selections. Rank was determined simply by the number of votes received. Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that this is a fairly conservative group of bloggers and their selections reflected that. Also, I made a decision to combine the votes given to the Rosenbergs and Julius Rosenberg into one group since most people associate the two of them together. Some people may disagree with that decision, but I thought it was the best way to go.

Well, that’s enough about the rules — without further ado, the worst figures in American history are as follows (with the number of votes following each selection)…

23) Saul Alinsky (7)
23) Bill Clinton (7)
23) Hillary Clinton (7)
19) Michael Moore (7)
19) George Soros (8)
19) Alger Hiss (8)
19) Al Sharpton (8)
13) Al Gore (9)
13) Noam Chomsky (9)
13) Richard Nixon (9)
13) Jane Fonda (9)
13) Harry Reid (9)
13) Nancy Pelosi (9)
11) John Wilkes Booth (10)
11) Margaret Sanger (10)
9) Aldrich Ames (11)
9) Timothy McVeigh (11)
7) Ted Kennedy (14)
7) Lyndon Johnson (14)
5) Benedict Arnold (17)
5) Woodrow Wilson (17)
4) The Rosenbergs (19)
3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (21)
2) Barack Obama (23)
1) Jimmy Carter (25)


You may feel free to clutch your head and scream.....now.

Apparently, the people polled for this list believe that Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama are/were somehow "worse" than Benedict Arnold, Timothy McVeigh and John Wilkes Booth. In what alternate universe can one justify such a perversion? Weirder and more uncomfortable still: This list was chosen from "Out of all the gangsters, serial killers, mass murderers, incompetent & crooked politicians, spies, traitors, and ultra left-wing kooks in all of American history." Which means, going by the terms set by Right Wing News and those it chose to poll, that these voters think of people like Carter, Obama, Pelosi, Jane Fonda and Michael Moore as comparable to serial killers and mass murderers.

This is insanity.

I suspect that if you asked one of this list's contributors to justify it you'd recieve nothing but incoherent anger for your trouble. Questioning the opinions of people like these usually results in being told to stop acting "superior" or "elitist" (which I guess is code for "logical" and "skeptical"). Conservatives who possess a modicum of sanity have already questioned the population of this list, which tells us that no group is monolithic in its beliefs. It's as big a mistake to say that "Conservatives are nuts" as it is to say that "Liberals are socialists." That said, these specific folks are plainly deluded, and that's deeply sad to me. What are you being fed (figuratively speaking) to twist your sense of history this profoundly? When McVeigh places below Kennedy on a list like this what does it say about your sense of what actual "harm" to society looks like?

It makes me want to hug them all - an impulse stifled by the suspicion that they'd shoot me for the attempt.

If there's anything useful about a list like this one, it's that it gives one the ability to, as Sun Tzu and Rage Against The Machine have both advised, "Know your enemy." My personal beliefs teach me to love my enemy, for if you love those who already love you what reward will you get? That said, this powerful and admirable admonition makes these folks no less of an enemy overall - an enemy not to my person, but to common sense, to rational thought, to history itself - and love does not preclude us from insisting upon sanity in our public discourse. We as a people have a responsibility to insist on honesty and integrity from those we love - and to insist on these things is not to act "superior," or to "want to assert a radical socialist agenda" or whatever. To insist on these things is to insist on mutual respect, common ground, and acknowledgement that personal vendettas and personal dislikes do not equate to historical horror.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Did He Just Douthat Deux

(For Part I, please click here)

Ross Douthat, NY Times columnist/editorializer, has elaborated further on why marriage equality is a bad idea (thanks to Silent Speaking for drawing my attention to this). This is interesting to see/read, since that elaboration serves mainly to keep underlining the same, ill-defined, indefensibly-vague opinion that hetero marriage is, like, special. Just because.

The marriage ideal that I’m defending would be in equally serious difficulties in contemporary America if homosexuality did not exist, because what it asks of straight people is in deep tension with what straight people want to do, and with the way that the incentives of modern life often line up.

Well, okay. But here's the thing - I don't see anyone lobbying to close marriage off to those who've divorced, nor to adulterers, nor to the infertile (because the biological ability to procreate is important to Douthat's conception of "traditional marriage"). In fact, many of the people who are so vociferously against the notion of gay marriage are on their second marriage (or their third), or are single divorced fathers with four children who decide, after crusading to crush gay rights, that they're gay.

It's nice that Douthat recognizes the difficulty inherent in maintaining a healthy, functioning marriage. It's not so nice that he can't see past his own prejudices to recognize that monogamous committment is admirable and difficult, period.

A stigma on racism, for instance, would hopefully exist even in a libertarian paradise, but it draws a great deal of its potency from the fact the American government has spent the last 40 years actively campaigning against racist conduct and racist thought, using every means at its disposal short of banning speech outright.


A little later on, Douthat will use the word "naive" to describe one of Greenwald's points. I find that blackly-hilarious, given Douthat's pie-in-the-sky conception of a "libertarian paradise," in which racism would be as equally stigmatised as it is in our own society. I assume that Douthat has never, ever heard of things like, say, child sex trafficking, which is about the most stigmatizable (is that a word) concept in the world. Despite this fact, there is a profitable trade in the abhorrent practice right here in the good ol' USA. If such a horror can exist in America, where it is outlawed, then racism can surely survive transplantation to a "libertarian paradise."

As for the rest of Douthat's thoughts here....isn't he arguing against himself? Is he really saying that the American government should not have "spent the last 40 years actively campaigning" against racism? It's not clear to me and, given the confuzzled tone of most of this response, it's not clear to Douthat either.

Douthat goes on to tie himself in rhetorical knots for a paragraph or so more, then winds up his incoherent stroll with the following:

So if Anthony Kennedy follows Walker and finds that the traditional legal understanding of marriage is unconstitutional — and, by extension, that it’s irrational and bigoted to think otherwise — it’s just naive to say that this won’t have a ripple effect in the culture as a whole. The space for arguing for the distinctiveness of lifelong heterosexual monogamy will shrink, and the stigma attached to such arguments will grow. Old-fashioned beliefs about marriage will be regarded more and more like old-fashioned beliefs about race. And as with the stigma against racism, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to define where the legal regime ends and the cultural norm begins.


Oh, for f*ck's sake.

One: Anthony Kennedy can't "find...that it's irrational and bigoted to think otherwise." That's not how Courts, Judges and the law work. They don't make moral judgments. What they can find - what Walker did in fact find - is that there are no rational, supportable bases to discriminate against the gay population when it comes to the state's handling of marriage.

It's not Walker or Kennedy's fault that such a decision will, in all liklihood, paint people like Douthat as bigots. Besides, Douthat's doing a fine job of painting that picture all by his lonesome. I'd argue he doesn't need Kennedy's help.

Two: Of course this decision (and a possible Supreme Court ruling on the issue) is going to have "a ripple effect on the culture." Where Douthat and reasonable, rational people part ways is in Douthat's choosing to define that ripple exclusively in the negative. Sure, there will probably be a bunch of gay divorces in the wake of legitimizing gay marriage. But guess what? Equality means equality across the board, and so long as we're allowing straight folks the state-sponsored right to get hitched as often as they want I don't see the point in denying that right to gay people. What other "negative cultural ripple effects" can Douthat see from his lofty perch?

Well, that'd be none. None that he'll come right out and say. And why is that? Well, absent evidence to the contrary I think we need to assume that it's because these other, unspoken, effects probably sound a little...bigoted to those outside Douthat's immediate circle. Were it otherwise one presumes he'd use those examples to bolster his larger point. Only, he doesn't, does he?

Three (and this is the "best" part):

"Old-fashioned beliefs about marriage will be regarded more and more like old-fashioned beliefs about race."

WTF? No matter which way you slice it, this sentence is pure bologna. What is Douthat even saying here? (a) That making marriage essentially open to any two consenting adults will somehow operate to discriminate against heterosexuals? (b) That making gay marriage legal will make heterosexual marriage look like an act of racism? (c) That his bigoted, exclusionary beliefs will no longer be tolerated?

Oh. Wait. That last one I can totally get behind.

Yes, Ross Douthat. It is true - in an age wherein gays and straights are treated equally and compassionately your "Old-fasioned beliefs about marriage" will indeed be treated "more and more like old-fashioned beliefs about race," in that they will be considered brutal, backward and shameful.

Maybe that's really what's happening here. Maybe all of this is an over-elaborate attempt to avoid the cultural reckoning that comes with social justice. Just as blackface became inappropriate when people woke up and realized that it was a dumb, racist, insulting act, perhaps columns like Douthat's will be similarly avoided by people of common sense and basic human decency.

One can only hope.

On The Shelf Preview: The Magicians




I've just begun Lev Grossman's The Magicians, a story of fantasy and escapism in the Potter/Narnia vein told for an "adult" audience. I'm told it's quite good, and given both my childhood affection for Narnia and my more-recent affection for Potter it seemed like a fun read.

I'll have a review of it up in a week or so. Consider this a heads-up so that you can read it before I post my thoughts if you so choose.

Hope everyone had a great weekend.

Pass The Sentence

(For a brief explanation, click here)

"Happy" Monday, everyone!

This week's sentence:

The Chevy peeled from the parking lot, its rear window shattering.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Demons & Lonely Souls (Twin Peaks, S2, eps. 6 & 7)



The Lost & Found column for "Demons" and "Lonely Souls" has slipped on a pair of troubling gloves for your reading pleasure on Chud.com. You can order Fro Design Co's tremendous limited edition print by clicking the link that's available to you at the end of the column.

SPOILER WARNING: Do not click over until you have watched both episodes. Laura's killer is revealed.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Peaks in Print

As I mentioned at the end of last week's column, Fro Design Store is designing a Twin Peaks art print in conjunction with Lost & Found. Well, last night I got a look at the finished print, and it's gorgeous.

I mean that without hyperbole - it's a beautifully-designed piece, one that I'm looking forward to owning.

I'll have a high-quality pic of it available here on Friday morning, hopefully in advance of the column being published. It's a real thrill to see the words "Lost & Found Commemorative" at the bottom of the print, and I expect that if the print sells decently this could become a semi-regular feature of the column. Limited Edition prints based off of shows as diverse as Deadwood, Carnivale, Max Headroom and Profit? Yes, please.

I hope you folks enjoy it!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Scenes From New Jersey, A One-Minute Play



Scene:

The Meadowlands, New Jersey; Brazil vs. The US in soccer. Two men, G and M, sit watching the game.

The game's Announcer speaks. His voice is like God's voice - had God decided to pull an Orson Welles and do commercial work.

Announcer: "Tonight's game is sponsored in part by AT&T! AT&T - providing the fastest 3G service, the most coverage, and the best in business communications!"

G: "These seats are great. Hey, what's the train schedule like for the trip home?"

M: "Dunno. Let me check."

M takes his iPhone 3G from his pocket and attempts to look up the train schedule.

Announcer: "AT&T! Your world! Delivered!"

The phone flashes "cannot connect with server." M grumbles, tries again. And again. He waves the phone around, peering at it occasionally like a wary ape inspecting a Monolith. The phone now reads "No Service."

M: "Is this ironic? I think this is ironic."

G: "Gooooooooooooooaaaaalllll!!!!"

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Great Scot(t)?....

So. Ocasionally I'm going to put up an opinion piece about upcoming film/TV/entertainment projects. I like to read about this stuff, and once in a while I feel compelled to say something about it. If you read about something that you think is fun/cool/awful/bewildering, and you think I'd be interested in reading or writing about it, I encourage you to let me know. You can do so in the comments or via WhatIsWater@gmail.com.



According to Dark Horizons (and a number of other places), Tony Scott is attached to direct the film adaptation of Mark Millar's Nemesis - a comic book that has two existent issues to its name, neither of which is worth much beyond the essential core concept: Super-villian vs. Cop.

Tony Scott (aka Ridley Scott's brother) hasn't made a film worth sitting through since Crimson Tide, back in 1995. Since then, Scott's mostly been experimenting with visual techniques designed to blind, disorient and stupefy you. He calls these experiments "movies," but that's eminently debatable as anyone who's sat through Domino could tell you.

Mark Millar (presumably NOT Ridley Scott's brother), the man behind such titles as Kick Ass, Wanted, and The Ultimates, has plenty of sizzle in his figurative skillet, but far less red meat to speak of. His stories are, almost to a one, nihilistic tales of "heroes" that routinely murder/abuse each other/other people, and generally behave like psychotics off their medications. Which, given the general interests of many comic readers, means that he's phenomenally successful. I have nothing against shock value in my entertainment, but Millar tends to go for big "shocks" (Hank Pym beats his wife! Hulk wants to rape Freddy Prinze Jr.! A ten year-old girl is a mass murderer...err...vigilante!) at the expense of most everything else. Garth Ennis, a similarly-"shocking" writer, is much, much better at making you (a) care about the people he's writing about, and (b) laugh your @$$ off.

I was not a fan of Kick Ass: The Movie. What it seemed to amount to, more or less, was the first Spider-Man film, minus all the superpowers and most of the heart, but with more gay jokes. Nor was I a fan of Wanted, the other film created from Millar's work. Basically, both of these films are copies of other, better films. Wanted is Fight Club-meets-The Matrix, but without any of the intelligence or truly subversive intent so admirably abundant in both of those films.

None of which leaves me feeling very enthusiastic about Nemesis - a project that, as of now, is a carbon-reversal of Batman (here he's the villian, he wears white instead of black, and Jim Gordon is trying to stop him, not help him), directed by a man who seems to want to literalize ADD with his films. It promises "shock," but no awe.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Did He Just Douthat?

Ross Douthat, columnist for the New York Times, has decided to weight in on Judge Vaughn Walker's now-historic decision (something I wrote about last week) which finds California's (odious, insupportable, inhumane, indefensible) Proposition 8 Un-Constitutional under the law.

Douthat gets credit for immediately lining up a platoon's-worth of justifications for opposing gay marriage, then roundly shooting them all in the face without hesitation. Were that all he'd done, I doubt I'd publish another of these eye-rollingly-earnest missives.

"Luckily" for you and for me, Douthat didn't stop there.

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.


Let's stop there, shall we?

Remove the words "two sexually different human beings," "reproductive" and "biological" from that chunk of verbiage and what do we have? A definition of marriage that applies just as powerfully and as equally to gay Americans as it does to straight Americans. A commitment to lifelong fidelity? Check. Mutual surrender, arguably, of self-interest? Check. A domestic life in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their parents? Check.

What's missing? The ability to biologically procreate. So, all heterosexual marriages in which one or both partners is incapable of doing so, but nonetheless loving? You're not "the ideal." All of you children of divorce? You're not "the ideal" either. I'm not sure what that has to do with anything, since you're presumably sane and functioning members of society who love and are aggravated by your family in largely the same measure as those "ideal" folks out there, but apparently Mr. Douthat just wanted you to know that, ultimately, you aren't measuring up to his invisible ideals.

And - by the way - those ideals being lionized so very vaguely by Mr. Douthat have been in place for less than a hundred years. So they are obviously Ancient and Wise and Should Not Be Disturbed. Not when it might somehow, indefinably, make some dude from the NY Times a little uncomfortable when he mingles with The Gays at Sunday brunch.

The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

Oh, now I see. The point isn't that other relationships have no value. The point, apparently, is that they have lesser value. For no definable reason that Douthat can offer us.

That clears things right up. Oh, and also?

Horseshit.

Sorry, but sometimes you have to call them like you see them. Douthat pulls a (theoretically) impressive rhetorical trick here by lining up the Usual Ideological Suspects against gay marriage and killing them off all at once; he's apparently done this so that he can then, Lazarus-like, resurrect the hoariest, most insupportable, most insubstantial, gossamer-thin argument of all and drop it, as if in innocence, back into the substance of his editorial without us having noticed.

What Douthat is arguing for here, boiled to the essence, is the state-sponsored protection of his preferred family experience - an experience that, as he himself admits, is a decidedly new, decidedly Western conception of the Marital Institution - one that is already flawed aplenty, fractured from the blasé societal acceptance of things like divorce and infidelity:

Again, this is not how many cultures approach marriage. It’s a particularly Western understanding, derived from Jewish and Christian beliefs about the order of creation, and supplemented by later ideas about romantic love, the rights of children, and the equality of the sexes.

Or at least, it was the Western understanding. Lately, it has come to co-exist with a less idealistic, more accommodating approach, defined by no-fault divorce, frequent out-of-wedlock births, and serial monogamy.


So....what was Douthat's point again? How, exactly, do we get from the regrettable-but-Eternal fact of marriage's constant volatility to Douthat's contention that Walker's opinion was wrong?

If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

Ah. That's how. Douthat, for all his posturing and his "reasonable tone," is apparently something of a bigot. No culture that pretends to a Democratic ideal has any business discriminating against the love of homosexuals - those folks being, in point of fact, a participatory body within that Democracy. The lifelong commitment of any couple, regardless of orientation, is more impressive than serial monogamy. Anyone who's been married longer than a few months knows that very well.

But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

Well, that's a pretty string of words, but they don't mean anything - not if the Constitution means something to you. The United States does not discriminate against its own citizenry. Despite the obvious fact that this country has done so in its past and will continue to do so in its future does not, and should not, prevent us from losing sight of the ideals embodied in that formative document.

If Ross Douthat wants public acknowledgment of lifelong monogamy, unrestricted by bigotry, then he'll get that once gay marriage becomes a "norm." If what he wants are public acknowledgements of lifelong HETERO monogamy, then he'll need to be content with making those public acknowledgements from the relative comfort of his cozy, nation-wide editorializing berth at the Times. Because, no matter how the bigots twist and pull at Walker's decision it is solidly grounded in the Rosetta Stone of America's secular law - a law that We The People established precisely so that people like Ross Douthat couldn't decide that their marriage is worth more/is more special/is healthier/promotes-better-teeth-cleaning-habits than your marriage.

But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea.

Y'know, when a columnist misrepresents the law and its workings so fundamentally and so egregiously I think it's best to let the experts take over. So, on this last point - a point which mangles and warps the legal nature of this decision - just click on over and read Glenn Greenwald. He strips Douthat's legal fig leaf away faster than The Flash at a Red Bull Flugtag.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Laura's Diary & The Orchid's Curse (Twin Peaks, S2, eps. 4 & 5)

The Lost & Found column for Laura's Diary and The Orchids Curse has been assassinated via spring-loaded knife for your reading pleasure on Chud.com: http://chud.com/articles/articles/24705/1/LOST-amp-FOUND-TWIN-PEAKS---SEASON-2-EPISODES-4-amp-5/Page1.html

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bending Toward Justice

"Perry testified that marriage would provide her what she wants most in life: a stable relationship with Stier, the woman she loves and with whom she has built a life and a family. To Perry, marriage would provide access to the language to describe her relationship with Stier: 'I’m a 45-year-old woman. I have been in love with a woman for 10 years and I don’t have a word to tell anybody about that.'"

The US District Court for the Northern District of California has struck down the odious and indefensible Proposition 8. This is something of a watershed moment - a victory that will be studied (literally) in law schools for decades to come. As many folks have been quick to point out, this is just the beginning - this decision will surely be appealed, all the way up to the Supreme Court. But if and when this case arrives at the Court o' The Supremes it's going to change our society forever; it's going to change us in the best possible way.

Most of the people on this blog (myself included) weren't alive to see segregation struck down, or to witness firsthand the legitimization of interracial marriage. Because we arrived on the scene after the fact, these victories seem like common sense to many of us. The idea that a man or woman or child could be kept out of a restaurant due to the color of their skin feels Medieval, and yet the reality of that is only a few decades behind us.

For all the supposed differences between those "Medieval" times and this new civil rights movement there's one overarching similarity: Our children are going to look back at all this hullabaloo, shake their heads, and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Thank God for that.

Judge Vaughn Walker drafted the opinion for the court, and it's well worth your reading. Yes, some of it is dry, but this is genuinely history-making stuff. More importantly than that even: this is life-affirming stuff. It doesn't matter if you're straight or gay. Vaughn's opinion should make you feel proud to be an American; to live in a country where freedom has real, objective meaning. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote: "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." The road to this kind of freedom is long, too long by any humane standard. But slow or fast, Justice is coming - and all the bigotry in the world can't drown the rising sound of its approach.

"At oral argument on proponents’ motion for summary judgment, the court posed to proponents’ counsel the assumption that 'the state’s interest in marriage is procreative' and inquired how permitting same-sex marriage impairs or adversely affects that interest. Counsel replied that the inquiry was 'not the legally relevant question,' but when pressed for an answer, counsel replied: 'Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.'"

And that says it all. When the lawyer representing the Prop 8 people can't honestly answer how gay marriage impairs or hurts the state's interest in "procreative" marriages, you've lost. Straight from the horse's mouth, folks. Why shouldn't gay people have a right to marry?

"I don't know. I don't know."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Do The Hump Day Shuffle

(For an explanation, click here)

1. "I've Got A Theory/Bunnies/If We're Together" off Once More With Feeling, by Joss Whedon & the cast of Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Back in 2001 I had a friend who loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was one of those people who heard the title of the series, rolled my eyes and gave it no further thought whatsoever.

Then he showed me the Musical episode.

Once More With Feeling was, to my knowledge, the first episode of network television to attempt a musical since Stephen Bochco and Randy Newman's ill-fated Cop Rock. Nowadays they're almost common - and that's entirely because of Buffy's success in pulling something that audacious off so well. It's an extraordinary hour of TV, and I don't use that word lightly. Once I'd finished watching it for the first time I promptly went out and bought all of the then-available seasons - maybe the best DVD purchases I've ever made.

The music and lyrics, written by Whedon, affectionately mock and simultaneously pay tribute to everything from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Jonathan Larson to Lerner & Lowe to Stephen Sondheim. It's uniformly catchy stuff, and it's so smart and so well-performed by the cast (who are, largely, completely untrained singers if they're singers at all) that its almost scary.

If you've never watched an episode of Buffy, you owe it to yourself to try this one (and the similarly audacious-and-amazing "Hush").

2. "Rise" off Vulgar Display of Power by Pantera

Ah, memories: Nassau Coliseum. The 1990s. My brother and I watching as Pantera threatened to level the arena with their sound; lead singer Phil Anselmo tossing open cups of beer into a near-riotous audience as "Dimebag" Darrell shredded mercilessly on the guitar. I'll never forget that - nor the way in which the dude directly behind us drunkenly relieved himself all over our (thankfully empty) seats.

Beer, bad behavior and angry guitars - that's Pantera in a nutshell as far as I'm concerned.

These days I'm far more likely to pop in Deftones when I'm in the mood for something cathartic and aggressive, but I'll always keep Vulgar Display of Power around. It recalls long-ago summers and psyching myself up before football games; it reminds me of my youth.

3. "Falling For The First Time" off Maroon by Barenaked Ladies

One of my prouder moments in college involved my acapella group performing a Barenaked Ladies song FOR the Barenaked Ladies. They'd just come off stage at our school's annual Spring Weekend, and they were ANGRY. A group of meatheads and jackasses had spent the entirety of the band's set throwing drinks on the stage and on the musicians, catcalling, and generally being world-class, Grade A @$$holes.

Needless to say: when the school's Student Activities coordinator popped his head in after the fact to see if they'd be willing to hear us sing they were...less than enthused. Then-singer Stephen Page (now no longer with the group) was so ticked off that he opted to stay in the band's improvised dressing room and I honestly can't say I blame him (it was bad). To their enormous credit however, the rest of the group emerged and dutifully listened as we made our way through one of their tunes.

Hearing a band you respect tell you that you've made their day is one of the better feelings I've experienced. I highly recommend it.

Barenaked Ladies has a reputation as a "joke" band, and while they've certainly earned the appellation it's far from all they are - they're also a superbly-tight group that cranks out sparkling pop gems. Falling For The First Time is a prime example of this - a Summer-driving-song if ever there was one replete with a terrific, driving beat and catchy melody, an insanely-hooky/busy piano riff, and some cute/poignant lyrics.

On a sidenote: That video is AWFUL, yes?

4. "Angels of the Silences" off Recovering the Satellites by Counting Crows

Counting Crows gets a bad rap, overall.

Sure, Adam Duritz's vocals can sound a little whiny but so what? Conor Oberst doesn't get flack for that. I'll trade a little whine for a lot of great lyrics any day of the week, and Duritz delivers like UPS on that front - the man is a poet of sorts. This track is an attempt to weld Counting Crows' jangly folk-rock to the then-ascendant Grunge movement. It works surprisingly well for me, and the band would revisit the harder edges of their sound again to great effect on 2008's "Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings." I recommend checking that one out (try "1492" for another harder-edged number).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Yo, ADL: WTF?

DEFAMATION: "An act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation." (Source)

From the Wall Street Journal's article on the "Ground Zero Mosque":

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said Ms. Khan's statements on transparency, inclusiveness and healing don't address the central point of his group's opposition: that the location of the center is insensitive to the families of the Sept. 11 victims. "If you want to heal us, don't do it in our cemetery," he said. "We are joining in with families who are not saying don't do it at all, but saying don't do it here."


It seems to be that the Anti-Defamation League is engaging in some good ol' fashioned bigotry here. It certainly seems as though these comments might further encourage others to see that Muslims are "shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community." Foxman, on the other hand, disagrees - he's said as much in a statement on the Anti-Defamation League's website:

The main charge was that an anti-bigotry organization had joined with the bigots. That false accusation was extremely painful and served to diminish and obscure the fact that our position on the Islamic center was carefully considered, clearly stated and consistent with our values and mission.

Well, that's fair. The ADL has stepped up and come to the aid of Muslim people on several occasions. That should not be overlooked here. They've done good, and that's good.

There are legitimate differences of opinion regarding the building of an Islamic cultural center at Ground Zero.


Okay...Stop right there.

The Islamic cultural center in question is not being built "at Ground Zero." It is being built three blocks away, on the site of an old Burlington Coat Factory. It is impossible to have "legitimate differences of opinion" on this issue when the issue is presented - as it has been presented here in Foxman's own words - disingenuously and falsely.

But let's set that aside for a minute. Let's talk instead about what Foxman is actually saying here:

"If you want to heal us, don't do it in our cemetery," he said. "We are joining in with families who are not saying don't do it at all, but saying don't do it here."

One: Ground Zero isn't a cemetery.

Two: It's not "your" cemetery. You don't own it, you don't rent it, and you ain't residing in it.

Three: If, for the sake of argument, it's a "cemetery" at all, then its a Muslim cemetery as well. Muslims died on 9/11. All the fearmongering in the world won't change this.

Four: Mel Gibson's unfortunate drunken rantings to the contrary, the basic fact that "the Jews" are in fact not responsible for all the wars in the world can be soundly and easily proven. Can we similarly agree that "the Muslims" are not responsible for the actions of nine psychotic men?

Five: Just how far away from "here" do Muslims have to build in order to be considered appropriate? Another 3 blocks? Another 10? A different neighborhood? Maybe one that's separate, but y'know, equal?

This is ridiculous. Utterly, bafflingly, ridiculous.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pass The Sentence

(For a brief explanation, click here)

This week's sentence:

"He let it go and watched it fall, end over end, into the gathering darkness."