Sunday, October 23, 2005
The Republicans are known as the party of values, and Bush was elected, and re-elected largely because of his affiliation with the Almighty. And the results have been enlightening, but less than holy. I wont go into the sordid details of the war, the economy, disaster preparedness, and independent investigations surrounding the White House, but keeping Bush buoyant during this storm has been his religions affiliation.
There’s an idea in
Of course this is strange to reasonable people, the 72% of the people who now think the country is headed in the wrong direction, and it should be strange. If I went to my job interview and said “I will do a good job because I have my priorities straight. I’m a Christian!” I would probably, rightly so, knock myself out of contention for that job. I say rightly so because it would show that I have some kind of fundamental reasoning problem. Let’s say I got the job, did poorly, and the boss called me into his office to fire me. If I said, “You can’t fire me. I’m a Christian. The things I’ve done here are of God…don’t be so short sighted” the boss would probably call security to escort me out.
But isn’t this more or less what the president has said to us during his job interview and during the time when we should have fired him? It is hopeful, yes, but also foolish and illogical to think that just because someone is religious they are also necessarily competent for any given job—except, maybe, minister. (I put the “maybe” in there because I’ve known plenty of devout Christians who made terrible ministers.) Aren’t such leaders who use their divine affiliations praying—pun?—on the hopes and fears of their constituents? Don’t Christians want Bush to be a good Christian president so badly that they will give him much more leeway than a religiously neutral president?
Having said all of this, shouldn’t we be kind of insulted when the President touts Mrs. Miers’ religious faith as a qualifying attribute for the Supreme Court? Does her faith have anything to do with her job qualifications as a judge? And if it does, shouldn’t that fact on the face of it disqualify her?
Perhaps the worst thing the President could have done was to tie Mrs. Miers’ nomination to religion. The President has already used all of the religious capital this country was willing to give out. I think many people have come to the sobering conclusion that just because someone is religious does not mean they are capable. Hardly a week goes by where we do not see a Priest involved in a scandal. Here are people who devote their whole lives to religion and there is no guarantee that they are capable or even moral.
I think we have all learned a hard lesson. I would even predict that religion tied into politics is in its last throes. It may be in greater danger of dying out before the Iraqi insurgency—perhaps before the century is out. I just can’t imagine that politicians in more progressive countries use religion for political leverage. How often does the Prime Minister of France talk about being a devout Catholic? Is he even a Catholic? Does anyone in
We would like to think that someone’s fear of God will drive them to be good, responsible, moral and ethical. But there is no direct correlation to this. I’m not saying that Christians cant be good at a certain job, it’s just that it is a not even a variable in the formula. You get a job based on your qualifications and you keep the job based on your performance. It’s pretty simple. To enter religion into that formula would be crazy. If a person wants to be a Christian that’s wonderful, but it should be a non-issue when it comes to a person’s job. Overlooking or excusing mistakes because someone believes in God would not be acceptable where you work, and it shouldn’t be accepted for our political leaders.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Bono: We need wealthy nations to donate more. We need to relieve the debt of poor countries.
Bush: Are you going to eat that last piece of chicken?
Bono: It's crucial to not only the health and lifestyle of millions, but to security as well.
Bush: 13 original spices never tasted so good.
Bono: Because millions are starving.
Bush: Finger-licking good.
Bono: That's why, personally, Mr. President, I have made this my cause. We live in luxury, you and I, but millions suffer. Outside, it's America. Outside, it's America.
Bush: I know exactly what you're saying, Bono. I loved your album "The Joshua Tree". "Bullet the Blue Sky" that's what I always say!
Bono: Mr. President...
Bush: (singing) Wooo oooo ooo ooooo, bullet the blue sky!
Bono: What I meant was...
Bush: And that video, with you and that fella on the guitar, walking through Las Vegas....I loved that!
Bono: The Edge?
Bush: Yes, it was.
Bono: No, his name is The Edge. The guitar player.
Bush: The Edge huh? I like nicknames too. Looky here, we got Scooter, Rummy, Condi, Brownie....
Bono: Mr. President, about poverty...
Bush: Poverty is a terrible thing. A terrible thing. We're going to do all we can, Bono. We're going to do the hard work. It's hard. It's hard work! But we're going to roll up our sleeves and do it. And do you know why? Because this is America. Give us your poor, Bono. Give us your tired, your poor and your huddled masses. Such ideals have made America great and we're going to lead the fight against poverty. Now, pass them mashed taters will ya? I love them taters.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Anyone who is from Chicago (as I am) knows why #1 is so amazing. Growing up there I did not just play baseball, I inherited a family tradition. Mine was the cross to bear as Chicago teams failed to win the pennant for 46 years, not to mention a solid 78 years since a World Series title.
Baseball was probably the only thing my father and I had in common, and it was a big part of our lives. I remember taking a family vacation to Maryland, but on the way we stopped in Cincinnati to watch Pete Rose as he closed in on Ty Cobb’s career hit record. We then drove to Cooperstown New York to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame. On the way my dad and I talked about Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and Reggie Jackson.
There is no crying in baseball and there is also no parity in baseball. And that latter way it is like life. There are the Haves and the Have Nots. One team, the Yankees, has been to the World Series 39 times, including 15 since the last time either Chicago team made it. Some people are born into that type of perennial dynasty, others live to see it once.
Another team, the Houston Astros, has never been to the World Series in their entire 43 year history; this despite nine post-season appearances since 1980. Houston was within one game last year, until the Cardinals took two and won the NLCS. In fact Houston is 0-5 in NLCS clinching games. Last night they were one strike away from winning the NLCS and realizing that 43 year-old dream. The announcers had all but given them the title as their un-hittable closer, Brad Lidge, took the hill in the 9th inning with the Astros winning 4-2 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Hitting a relief pitcher is probably the hardest thing to do in sports. Unlike a starting pitcher that you see three or four at bats against per game, you only get one chance to hit against a relief pitcher. They are paid to simply come in and get three outs and end the game. Lidge is nearly un-touchable due to a 98 mph fast ball and a devastating slider.
So, after two outs (strikeouts) I don’t think anyone in Houston was too concerned when Cardinal David Eckstein squeaked a two-strike hit between third-base and shortstop. The next batter, Jim Edmonds drew a walk, which set the stage for a classic match up: Lidge vs the great slugger Albert Pujols. On the 0-1 pitch Pujols connected with that devastating slider. The ball went sailing up into the electric light, up over left field. It traveled at a fantastic speed over the left field wall, up over the stands, and caromed off the back of the dome. Pujols, holding his bat parallel to the ground like a club watched his handiwork, then jogged around the bases.
43,000 Houston fans were instantly silenced. The Cardinals suddenly were up 5-4. The Astros came up in the bottom of the ninth and went three up and three down. The dream was dramatically dashed, at least for a day, by one magic swing. The Cardinals suddenly had new life.
This is baseball.
Why are sports so popular? I can think of three reasons. First, In our mostly scripted and automated life, we live vicariously through our athletes who represent us in competition. Most of us go to jobs which we know deep down have no meaning. If I don’t do my job someone else will do it. Nothing will be missed. I don’t have to rely on my skills for my next meal. All I have to do is go to the grocery store. There is not much competition in life anymore, but we can get it in sports.
Second, in sports there is a winner and a loser. Period. It is rare to find something so quantifiable in our vague and confusing lives. We can break games down by stats, we can analyze and question why certain things happen and extrapolate accurately the answer and not make the same mistake twice. The winning team or the winning player is the one who does this the best. And, unfortunately, real life is rarely so obvious.
And third, sports provide a community. I’ve sat in bars and celebrated with people I didn’t even know over a special victory. I’ve made friends through playing sports. It provides commonality among a wide group of people. Everyone in St. Louis knows what Pujols did Monday night, and if they don’t I don’t trust them!
The highs and lows are great in sports because when it’s over, it’s over. Everyone knows what happens if Lidge strikes out Pujols. I know how I felt when the Cubs collapsed in 2003. I know where I was when Kirk Gibson hit the game winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. I cried when the Cardinals lost game 6 of the 1985 World Series. Sometimes it is not fair, sometimes it is great and sometimes it burns, but it is always eternal.
Monday, October 17, 2005
I'm the geek in the pink pink pink
I'm the geek in the pink
I'm the geek in the pink
All y'all geek is the new color for fall
All I want to know is where have you gone, Simon and Garfunkel?
I may be skinny at times but I'm fat fulla rhymes
Isn't it delicious crazy way that I'm kissin'
Cause baby listen to this don't wanna miss it while I'm hittin'
I once met a girl in Milwaukee. She was a lovely, intelligent woman full of laughter. I took her to see Jason Mraz and she loved it. She sang all the lyrics, and I liked it too. But after hearing "Wordplay" and now this I'm glad she never called me again. All I've got to say to her is:
If we never get down it wouldn't be the let down
But sugar don't forget what you already know
I could be the one to turn you on
You could be the talk across the town
Don't judge it by the color, confuse it with another
You might regret what you let slip away
Something like that
Sunday, October 16, 2005
The room seemed to glow, not so much from those Christmas lights, but from the energy radiating from the bards at the front of the room, and the people joining them in song, bluegrass stories of days gone bye, knew every word. I observed the scene from my vantage point somewhere behind the stage and I could imagine it not being much different than the way people have communed for thousands of years. Outside the night air carried a September chill, but inside people warmed themselves in the ancient art of song.
The group gladly referred to themselves as "old hippies", and seeing their assembly I held them in awe. Many of them shared a bond created during a tumultuous time of questioning, now simply referred to as “the 60s”. But they did not seem stuck in the 60s. They seemed very much aware of current circumstances. They spoke with one another about fellow friends. They live in the same world as everyone else, with aging, and disease, but they approached it with a rational pragmatism, buoyed by a love for music, and poetry, and history and ideals. This was a world I was unaccustomed to yet they were all were friendly and welcoming.
“What do you think of the chili?” they asked. "Did you get enough?"
Chili was the food that brought them all together, once a year, into the small town of Lupus, Missouri, on the banks of the river of the same name. Drive west from Columbia and you would be hard pressed to find it. The town is probably more accessible by canoe, which is how many of the musicians arrived. And the numbers slowly swelled. So many of them were so obviously talented--one was a poetry professor, one was an author--that they also shared, in concerts inside or behind the General Store, what they had learned over the years. And people keep coming back every year to listen, and it is not hard to see why.
Someone opened a book by Herman Hesse and read a poem, or was it a holy Psalm? Who could tell or what was the difference? It was about transcendence and change and growing older and phasing into new things. Its timeless message resonated with every person in the room and when the words were concluded everyone applauded their amens. They were, after all, like everyone else: moving through life. But they employed the timeless use of friendship, and writing, and music to help them on their way.
The experience was very humbling to me. There are so many facets to life; no one can experience them all. And had I never traveled to Lupus that one September day I would have missed something. But now it stands as a reminder of how things should be. We all have this cross to bare: life. It is both something feared and embraced all at the same time. But with simple tools, like we have done since time ageless, we come alive. We were an assembly transforming a room into a hearth of burning coals, stoked with Gnostic fervor. And I would like to think that such communion will continue to transform our own society one person at a time, turning us all into a living stones.
The event touched on things universal, and even though these sages age, they live in the vein of eternity, doing what humans have always done. One would lead in song, and then another with poem, but all were, for a time, a type of high priest, and the connection between us all was undeniable. For a short time no one was an individual. Technology is said have made the world smaller, but I feel positively alienated compared to this experience with people I'd never met before. To me the most telling event was what didn't happen. No one’s cell phone rudely interrupted the celebration, and it allowed me to appreciate this one all the more.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9672058/ How long does it take for a popular president to lose his political capital? About five years. Five years not without a budget surplus-wasted, one major terrorist attack, 2000 men and women killed for an ill-conceived war. Five years of grammar shredding, smirking, strutting, back-stepping religious arrogance leading this country down a hole and one president who has led it all is finally seeing his support dwindling. A latest MSNBC / WSJ poll shows Bush's approval ratings down below 40%, and only 28% of the people believing that the country is headed in the right direction. It appears that the middle is finally turning on their beloved president.
And oh you can feel the desperation from the White House. Bush made a media appearance the other day, not just in the Blue Shirt of Compassion, but the Hard Hat of Strength, the Working Gloves of Labor, and the Tool Belt of Capability. They are pulling out all the stops, and they should. On top of every other failure in leadership and vision the president’s right-hand man, Karl Rove is under investigation for conspiracy.After all this, who are those 28% that are holding out? Can Morgan Spurlock infiltrate their cloister and figure out what they're thinking? Because, while the rest of us are weary of this nonsense, they believe we're headed in the right direction. They must be the mud-flap, bare-crack, six-pack, flag-waiving, fun-loving crowd who believe Bush really can raise a house in New Orleans with one hand and fight terrorism with the other. The other 72% deal in reality: that the man can't even walk and chew gum at the same time. Faith runs deep in the heartland. The 28% are the remnant of a once proud clan of NASCAR Dads and Church ladies. Others have forsaken their great leader, but they will not. Every week they return to the alter to give thanks and take communion in the idea of small government, tough defense, and conservative Christianity...regardless of how pragmatic those ideals are.
Bush has been inept the entire time but what has changed recently that has removed the scales from so many people’s eyes?
It's an interesting thing, where on the timeline people turn on a president. With Bush for some it was his pre-election smirking and terrible English. For others it was the look on his face when answering a challenging question. For some it was the loss of liberties after 9/11. For others it was the lack of WMDs in Iraq. (That was my personal tipping point.... all of these events, for the heartland of the country, were vague academic concerns, debatable on news shows. And then there was Hurricane Katrina which ushered in the unveiling of the new and improved Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. The country witnessed where all their tax dollars had gone when Michael Brown, a crony, led a man-made disaster that killed more people than the natural one the preceded it. This is our powerful defense mechanism designed to save us from unseen enemies? This is what we've gotten for five years of macho cowboy talk, a 66% increase in defense spending, and the Patriot Act? Wasn't that what got Bush re-elected? The perception that he would be tougher on defense than a war hero like John Kerry? And now as the economy is going badly, so NASCAR dads in their giant trucks have to spend a small fortune to fill up their tanks and go muddin'. This has brought about what the administration has tried so hard to shield voters from: accountability. A war in Iraq and runaway spending were all kept safely out of people's consciousness because there were no taxes or rationing to go along with them. But Katrina changed all of that. Now we're all being asked to pay more, and conserve more, because of lack of leadership and foresight.
Yesterday, Bush, trying to salvage his image, held a televised “conversation” with troops in Iraq. I say “conversation” because it was actually a tightly choreographed event where every soldier knew the questions in advance and who would answer them. This is certainly nothing new but it illustrates the weakness of this administration: an inability to think dynamically and in real-time. Even events that are supposed to be casual are tightly rehearsed. We are led by people dealing in fantasy, surrounding itself with zealots. The real losers: You and me. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, these people have a nice retirement to look forward to. And unlike them: the rest of us have to live in the real world. The only people still buying into this are the 28% of Americans who are clearly insane.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Christians, usually the first to get used, and the last to know. They represent a goldmine of unending faith and energy which leaders have tapped in to for 2000 years. Need a war? Make it a crusade. Need followership? Threaten with hell. Need money? Play on their fears. Lately Republicans have schrewdly tapped into this jet stream of zealousness to deny but with President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers a storm is brewing from the Christian right.
What are they so upset about?
Before I get into that--full disclosure--I am sympathetic to those Christians who voted for Bush and hoping for some radical religious change in this country. Five years later they have Vietnam Part 2 (Iraq), a huge deficit, high gas prices, inept government agencies, and now a blown opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court bench. These Christians are fodder for their inept ministers--of which Bush is the head--trying desperately to be taken seriously in a world that left them behind 100 years ago.
Bush will never be accused of being logical, and this time he has managed to both anger conservatives and baffle Democrats by picking Harriet Miers to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. In the process the president also officially ruined the life of Alberto Gonzalez, whom he joked about nominating, and did not. Meirs' defining characteristics are that she is from
Liberals are complaining of cronyism.
Conservatives have much more to be angry about.
William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and long-time Bush supporter, wrote that he is "disappointed, depressed, and demoralized."
David Frum had this to say in National Review--a conservative stronghold: "There is no reason at all to believe that she is a legal conservative."
This is the president who ran on a platform that he would nominate judges in the mold of Thomas and Scalia, known as the two most conservative justices on the bench. One justice, O'Connor, retired. Another, Rehnquist, passed away shortly after that. This was answered prayers to Christians. O'Connor was a moderate, Rehnquist was a moderate conservative. Their vacancies left two openings, Christians eagerly awaited the Thomas or Scilia-like nominations from the White House.
First came Roberts, probably a moderate. He was happily confirmed by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Now Meirs, a woman Democrat Harry Reid actually recommended to the president! Many are already comparing her to the moderate O'Connor.
So, for all the effort, Christians who elected Bush for this very reason have gained....nothing. Probably less than nothing. There is also the tendency for judges, once they are on the bench to move to the left. This is probably because--unlike politicians like President Bush or Tom DeLay, Justices are appointed for life. There is no motivation to work off the fears of the masses for re-election. So, if history is any guide, these already moderate choices will probably drift left.
Of course, this pattern of using Christians is hardly anything new. The Catholic Chuch kept the Bible in Latin for hundreds of years while Christians toiled in fields. Christianity fought against science for hundreds of years until it rendered itself ineffectual while science cured diseases and improved quality of life. And today many Christians are still in the dark, with the help from ministers, televangelists, and politicians. They are busy toiling the fields while those they keep in leadership keep them in the dark.
Bush asks conservatives to trust him and his nominees. Is there any reason to think that this isn't business as usual? Tom DeLay can barely go a few months without being censured or--now--indicted. Pat Robertson and other televangelists have collected millions of dollars from people in the name of irrational fears. Millions of Christians happily piled into their Church’s busses, drove to the voting booths, and elected a guy who promised to change the Supreme Court bench if given the chance. He has broken every other promise he has given. It is time to stop having faith, and start looking at the facts.
If I were a Christian who had voted for Bush, I'd feel pretty stupid. In fact, that is how I felt about two years ago, before any of this. How much will Bush's Christians supporters put up with? Republicans have made fools out of them and abused their trust. Probably not unlike other Christian leaders they're involved with.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Enter Tom DeLay, the bulldoggish House Majority Leader credited with increasing the Republican majority in congress. DeLay is no stranger to morals and ethics and not shy to weigh in on contemporary issues. On Teri Schiavo he predicted that "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today." He assessed the Supreme Court as "an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary." If this sounds a lot like Pat Robertson, I suspect it is because they are receiving the same talking points. But the bell tolled for Mr. DeLay this week when he was indicted on a charge of conspiring to violate Texas campaign finance laws.
Not to be out-done, Bill Bennett, former education czar and author of the "Book of Virtues", claimed--in a hypothetical--that "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could--if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country." Bennett was not getting many "amens" for that one, a statement so imbued with racism it was made flippantly, and can almost be dismissed.
There will be a certain percentage of devout followers who will write-off both of these examples. Mr. DeLay is already calling the charges against him "partisan". He should know when something is “partisan” since he used that tactic to wrest control of the House. There's nothing we can do about the percentage of zealots who will follow Pat Robertson, Tom DeLay, and Bill Bennett down. But maybe the reasonable middle of the country will realize they are following people who themselves can not even run their own lives.
I am under no illusions that leaders, or those in the public spotlight, will be perfect people. But I think those who attempt to tell other people how to run their lives, what to be afraid of, and who to listen to, should be judged with a certain amount of extra scrutiny. What does it say about someone who is elected under the guise of being ethical, when that person is indicted for being unethical? If someone writes a book of virtues, is it worth reading or following if that person has trouble with virtues?
The Republicans are in power because they are the party of small government, strong defense, and traditional values. They are a resounding zero for three in these areas. We have a government that spends out-of-control, refuses to keep itself in check, spends the lives of its soldiers rashly, and wants to tell you who you can sleep with while those very leaders are burdened by moral and ethical problems. What have we gotten for ourselves?
Wouldn't it be better to just leave every one alone if they are not hurting anyone? If I'm terminally ill and I want the right to die, why isn't that acceptable? Who is going to tell me I can't do that? People like Bill Bennett? Who is going to tell you who to be afraid of? Who is going to protect the sanctity of your marriage? Someone like Tom DeLay? I'm not saying Democrats are any better. But at least they do not want to get involved in peoples' personal lives.
I'm not against "values" or even, necessarily, conservative Christian values, but I don't need elected officials to enact my beliefs for me. I don't need to vote for these people or send them money. I don't need to read the "Book of Virtues" to know what is right or wrong; even less now that the author has a well-known gambling problem. But we all have our problems so why believe people who claim to have all the answers? Isn't that an immediate red flag? Where did all this subversive followership come from in what is supposed to be a staunchly independent country? Canada, maybe! But they are making us look like lemmings when it comes to religion and civil rights. I can't figure it out. (that was a joke about Canada. Thank you Canada for your smooth beer, beautiful women, and edgy comedians.)
As I write this the football stadium down the street is filling up with thousands of women for Joyce Meyer's convention. Apparently people are still more than happy to pay good money and gather en-masse to have a complete stranger tell them how to live their lives. It is this same odd energy that Republicans happily tap into for votes, while they themselves--their lack of humility and ethical foundation--run wild. Are we better off because of any of this? Have the ends justified the means? If you are one of the 40% who say "yes" please place you’re offering in my bucket as it is passed down the isle. I'd tap into this but quicker politicians and preachers have already beat me to it.
Here's my answer. I say we ask our leaders to be responsible for less. Let's cut down on unnecessary reach in government. Mr. DeLay, you no longer have to worry about saving someone who has requested the right to die. Please just concentrate on building levees, disaster recovery, national security, health care, and education--areas your fellow Republcains in control have so far failed at miserably. Don't worry about personal issues. Worry about the public ones the average citizen can not fund or control. The next time a politician or author gets up and wants to tell you how to live your life--let's laugh him or her off the stage.