Saturday, February 25, 2012

Consciences happen when you need them

I haven’t always had an easy time distinguishing wrong from right. Or more accurately, I haven’t always been good at identifying why I should care between the two. For quite a while, as long as I felt the end justified the means, I slept like a baby at night.

Of course, a lot of that could have been the wine.

Mostly, I have required someone along the way to assist me in keeping my feet pointed in the right direction. The path of least resistance always looked like the shortest distance between two points to me, no matter how many innocent bystanders I had to run over to stay on course.

My first external conscience was a girlfriend in my late teens. She challenged me on just about everything and made me ask—and answer—lots of uncomfortable questions about myself. Unfortunately, Serious Crazy came along with that deal, so I had to cut her loose. I already had plenty of Crazy to go around without her.

Then a succession of friends, mostly one after the other over the years, has served the same purpose in my life. The most recent fellow is a perfect foil for Bad Fang in every way, including political affiliation. There is good reason for me to refer to him as The Last Boy Scout.

So TLBS is a Facebook pal with my wife. The Missus has been attending lots of pro-gay rights events here in our adopted state of Suburban America Circa 1949, and Facebooking about it. Yesterday, TLBS teased me about my wife’s increased level of activity, inquiring as to whether or not attending such events was her new full time job.

I wrote back:

I am proud of my little gay rights agitator. From what I’ve heard, a person can be legally terminated from their job here in this stupid state just for being suspected of being gay.

You will agree, that is pretty fucking stupid. And definitely not in the spirit of “All men are created equal.”

I’m glad she’s out there representing the family, leaving me free to avoid the front lines for the front room with a clear conscience. (The Boy got his fourth “stripe” today, making him eligible to test next weekend for Orange Belt. Whoo!)

Besides, working at a university is tantamount to a ticket to protest. Has been as long as I’ve been alive, anyhow. Plus, The Missus is being a great role model for The Boy. The world needs left-wingers to fuel its human rights machine. Many will get chewed up and spit out along the way, but in the long run, history proves that progress tends to favor the progressives.

When our kids are adults, I wonder what their generations’ civil rights battle will be? Whatever it is, I hope our kids are at the forefront of fighting for equality for all people, regardless of location or accident of birth.

TLBS responded, including a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that we ought to move back to a state where the political climate is less offensive to us.

Ooh, if only we could! He accidentally sucker-punched me in my Achilles Sore Spot.

I climbed immediately up on self-pity high horse (“Winged Empathy”), and fired off the following epistle:

That’s an interesting philosophy, “Move to where the civil rights already exist.” It was funny when Sam Kinison said the same thing during the Ethiopian famine, “Move to where the food is.”

It always got big laughs then, too.

In our case, however, we would have happily stayed in a state where gender equity is at least on a fast-track, if dire financial circumstances hadn’t conspired to move us back to the 1950s. People don’t have a choice where (or how) they’re born, and we don’t always have a big choice where we end up, especially in a shit economy.

But all that is besides the point.

Clarence Darrow said it as neatly as I’ve ever heard it: There will never be justice until those who are not injured are as indignant as those who are.

And there you go. Relegating otherwise useful members of our society to an arbitrary second-class status because of the consenting adults they choose to fuck is a) a losing strategy business-wise, the same way, say, ostracizing minorities from the workplace never works out well for those who try it, and b) the practice is at stark odds with the letter and intent of America’s foundational documents. They don’t say “All men except pantywaists are created equal” or “all men are created equal in some states, but not in others.”

It’s an open-and-shut case. Gender equity is the school-integration issue of our times.

Finally, and on an unintentionally related note, I’ve been pounding away at creating a sufferable version of “Man In Black” for Johnny Cash’s 80th birthday this weekend. I will append the lyrics below.

Dude, this guy is my role model. He never failed to take up others’ fights; it’s a big part of what makes him a heroic figure to me. Even in the depths of his meth-fueled junkie depravity, Cash never stopped caring more about The Little Guy than himself, whether it was the plight of the American Indian or the lifer on Death Row.

One time in the ’80s, during his career downturn, Cash was booked to play a one-nighter in New Zealand. But it was for a benefit and Cash had time on his hands, so he went. It turned out it was an outdoor gig and it rained cats and dogs that night. Nobody showed up. After he did his full show, the promoter came up to him backstage in a cold sweat. They didn’t have the expense money they had promised Cash and his road crew; the promoter fell all over himself promising to make good on the debt. Cash stopped him and asked him how much they had needed to raise that night to meet their goal. The promoter told him. Cash turned to his manager and told him to cut the guy a check for the full amount.

So you see, all the cold, hard logic in the world will never convince me that doing the right thing isn’t its own reward, no matter how counter it may seem to run to my own short-term best interests.

Jimmy Stewart said it as well as I’ve ever heard it said in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, “[Lost causes] are the only causes worth fighting for.” Well, in Idaho, championing gay rights is as close as a left-winger—or any American of conscience—is going to get to a good, solid, lost cause these days.

I say, cry fabulous and let slip the poodles of social disobedience!

After I sent the email, it occurred to me that another seminal piece of American pop fiction was ringing around in my brain. It was part and parcel of my rant on Johnny Cash, and it goes right to our responsibility as Americans to the least able of our society. Not because they deserve it, but because we do. Cash instinctively understood that to live in the kind of civil society in which it would be safe to raise one’s own family, justice had to be meted out equally to everyone’s family.

And that by extension, we are all family.

In John Ford’s 1940 film adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath, Henry Fonda says,

“I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be ever’-where – wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise, and livin’ in the houses they build—I’ll be there, too.”

Except for all the apostrophes, that could be a clause from the Declaration of Independence, or the Bill of Rights.

Or a Johnny Cash composition from any period of his career.

How we treat the downtrodden of our society is not a referendum on their merit, but is rather a reflection on our own humanity. We don’t owe it to them to do the right thing, we owe it to ourselves. 

That is the late-in-life lesson that Johnny Cash finally, eventually taught me. When Cash died, Bob Dylan was quoted as saying, “Johnny Cash was like the north star; you could chart your course by him.”

A person could do a lot worse for a role model, or a conscience.

Happy birthday, Johnny. As always, love to my Dad, Elvis, Jesus and June…


[Addendum Disclaimer: Yes, wearing one color exclusively—even black—isn’t going to solve a damned thing. However, having the balls to sing this song on his prime-time network TV show when everybody else who was opening their mouths about political subjects was getting cancelled, that counts for something. It’s also worth nothing that his show was cancelled two episodes later!] 

Man In Black 
by Johnny Cash

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone?
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

Well we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen’ that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen’ that we all were on their side.

Well there’s things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin’ everywhere you go,
But ‘til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
’Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Liveblogging the bloodletting

The GOP may not care much about women’s rights, but at least they don’t rape the Star Spangled Banner at their gatherings. Very nicely done.

Newt is making his opening remarks, but I can’t hear him over my brain yelling “Moon Base! Moon Base!”

Rick Santorum fields a softball from the audience. Bottom line: Obama is bad. Yay! Santorum is also going to cut entitlements to the bone. Entitlements-reliant crowd of working poor and pensioners eats it up. You have to give the audience points for non-critical thinking. “Pretty white man who is not Obama is speaking. Clap hands!”

Romney has been “attacked” by Li’l Rick, so he gets to speak next. Then the question is thrown to Moon Base! Gingrich, who bloviates endlessly based on his questionable mastery of American history.

The evening’s marginalization of Ron Paul has officially begun.

Wait, now it’s Ron Paul’s term. And the first thing he says is that Rick Santorum, sitting immediately to his left, is “a fake.” Without rancor or apology. If his ideas weren’t so damned crazy, he’d be a paragon of virtue.

Okay, this first part is all budget shit. Not only do I not understand it, I don’t care and I don’t believe them.

I don’t believe Obama either. I don’t see how the economy is anything but hopelessly fucked. We’re inextricably tied to the world economy which is—us oh!—fucked.

Any time spent making promises about the economy is time that is never coming back that could have been better spent telling lies on any number of more interesting topics.

Newt Gingrich. He sounds like the angry professor whose students never do the reading. And whatever it is he’s saying, the crowd is loving it.

Now the CNN guy (where are you, Larry King?) is trying to turn the candidates on each other. He’s successful, but it’s all about earmarks, so szzssnnnzzzzzzkkttt

Kudos to Romney. He just admitted he didn’t follow Santorum’s anti-earmark rant either. Then he opened up a can of bridge-to-nowhere on Santorum.

The crowd is booing, but politely. It’s not the deep South, after all.

Yay! Ron Paul was just criticized by name, so he is required by CNN’s own rules to be allowed time to to speak. Moderator looks disappointed, then throws the question to Gingrich.

Polite crowd becomes just a little less polite. Apparently some believe First Amendment protections actually extend as far as to Ron Paul.

Newt lectures us some more, then rhapsodizes again over  the good old days when he was Speaker of the House during the Clinton administration.

Finally it’s Paul’s turn. Aaaand, he defends earmarking. Don’t blame him for not wanting to be President. I wouldn’t either.

CNN guy invites candidates to piss all over government bailout that benefited local crowd. Nice.

Santorum: Takes opportunity to remind crowd that Romney is a nogoodnik. Romney’s frozen spastic smile becoming more sad, less hilarious.

Romney responds, opening with a limp-wristed rhetorical slap at Santorum for his impertinence. Has talking-points in order, though. OS seems to be running at maximum efficiency. Hum and joints clicking barely audible.

Then it’s Newt’s turn for some crazy talk, which the crowd loves.

It’s been another ten minutes Ron Paul-free. Just because he can’t win doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable at advancing an honest, wide-ranging conversation. Marginalizing him makes for bad TV, CNN guy!

[Pair of oral surgeries earlier today really beginning to take their toll. Must. Hang. On.]

Ooooh! Crowd turns ugly when CNN Guy tries to turn conversation to recent birth control brouhaha that Santorum, for one, has been flogging daily on the campaign trail. Since when is the hot-button issue of the day off-limits? Can’t wait to see who jumps in to vilify the media first…

Thank God for DVR. Let’s go to the zeroes and ones…

Oh, it’s Newt. This is his wheelhouse! He uses “Elite Media” in his third sentence, and accuses Obama of killing babies in his fourth.

Now Romney is accusing Obama of religious intolerance, another popular talking point-du jour.

Please don’t get me started on religion.

Now Li’l Rick is asked about “the dangers of contraception,” and his first answer is to refer to the problem of teens giving birth out of wedlock. Audience response? Hushed reverence.

Palms get sweaty and I can feel myself getting angry.

But it’s only politics. Right? The problem with Santorum is, he really seems to believe the nonsense he is espousing. Cynical calculation is the name of the game in politics; wide-eyed ignorance is downright dangerous. The last Bible-based, easily-manipulated tool we had in the White House got us into a war with the wrong country. It was a plot straight out of a Marx Brothers movie.

Santorum still speaking. Facts sprinkled in along the way to his Draconian, 19th-century solutions. Naturally, the crowd thinks he is a fucking genius. Me? I want to buy Girl Scout cookies from his daughters.

What’s-his-name speaks. The Suit.

Man, I’m tired.

Wow, Newtie’s tie is severely purple. What up with that?

We’re a little more than half-way through, and so far it’s about a draw. No one has delivered a killing blow, or a viral moment. Bordering on boring.

Wow, the crowd is turning on Santorum!

Of all of them, Newt’s tie is having the best night by far.

Once again, however, Romney has his talking points down well. He just used them to give Santorum a nice little spanking. The crowd approves.

Now Santorum is browbeating Romney with his own set of carefully-selected facts.

CNN Guy is forced to intervene and change the subject. Members of the crowd begin to twist lengths of rope into lassos.

Oh man, now it’s Newt’s turn to throw red meat to the base. He makes it so easy to hate him. He’s like a George Lucas character that is supposed to be cute and cuddly but is instead irritating and insulting, like the Ewoks, or Jar Jar Binks.

Now it’s all about immigration. I’m so sick of human beings being referred to as “illegals.” Didn’t I read somewhere that everyone is endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, not just Americans?

I don’t recall the term “illegals” appearing anywhere in any of our foundational documents. But “freedom?” Freedom is absolutely everywhere.

Question from the audience: Describe yourself in one word. Ron Paul: (with authority) “Consistent.”

Crowd, and this reporter, goes nuts.

Santorum and Romney: bla bla.

Gingrich: Cheerful.

Very funny. Point to Newtie, round to Ron Paul.

Now they’re trying to paint Obama as weak on foreign policy.

Oh, do bring it on. This shit may fly with the base during the primary, many of whom don’t even believe Obama was born in America, or on Earth; but it will be a road to ruin in the general election. It’s hard to argue that the guy who got us out of Iraq and killed the mastermind of 9/11 doesn’t know his ass from his elbow about foreign affairs.

The GOP finally lost their deathgrip on The War On Terror.

How many strikes is that? I’ve lost count, but that could just be the oral surgery this morning muddying things up.

Yay! Ron Paul comes out against unnecessary foreign wars. Have I mentioned that I love this guy, especially when his crazy ideas happen to dovetail nicely with mine?

Oh, now it’s getting serious. The holy price of gas has just been brought up. And surprise, Romney has the right answer! He points out that the important issue is the possibility of Iran with fissile materials… then he follows up with a boilerplate list of Obama’s alleged failings. It was a beautiful pop fly that just did not make it to the fence.

And now Santorum just licked Romney’s balls. I’ve said for a couple of months that Santorum is playing for number two man on Romney’s ticket, and this makes me think it’s still Li’l Rick’s backup plan.

And now he’s just preaching. Yawn. Somebody get this man a pulpit, a good analyst, or both.

Now Ron Paul is demanding legal declarations of war for future extended military engagements. What the hell? Goddamn, he is one crazy motherfucker. If his poll numbers ever made him a serious contender, he’d be dead within a week.

Things are winding down and we’re back to “Obama is bad.”

Ooh, Santorum just accused somebody of being a “prolific proliferator” of terror (probably Iran, but I was laughing so hard I missed that part). Dear Santa, please get little Ricky a teleprompter for Christmas—wait, that will be too late. Do you think you could hook me up with the Easter Bunny?

Now Newtie is rhapsodizing about eliminating the EPA. It seems like all these guys want to burn the fucking country down because they think there is money to be made in rebuilding the place afterwards. It’s a pretty chilling calculation.

Thank God, it’s almost over. Santorum is defending an unpopular vote on No Child Left Behind and is [gasp!] admitting a mistake. Style point to Santorum. On the facts? Please.

Romney’s last pitch, also on teaching to the test. I don’t understand the issue well enough to know exactly how full of shit he is.

Newtie throws Obama a splinter before he goes after him with a thigh bone, then goes on to bore everyone with a bullet-pointed list of institutional failings that he is trying to tie to the guy who has been the titular head of the public education program for the last three years.

Ron Paul? Burn down the Department of Education. Next stupid question, please.

Final question. What is the biggest myth about you?

Ron Paul: “That I can’t win!”

Newt Gingrich: That people actually appreciate all the hard work he’s done for them. (No one appreciates poor Newtie!)

Romney: Ignores the question and proceeds with his stump closing statement, this after chastising the moderator for trying to get him to answer the question. The crowd is not impressed.

Santorum: Obama is bad. (Yawn…) Well, at least he inadvertently admitted that this canard is a myth. This guy is not the sharpest Exacto® knife in the crafts kit.

But then neither was W. Let’s hope the country isn’t in the mood for another cheap date this soon.

Dispatch from poor-decision-making hell

I fucked up and never took care of my teeth. That’s why this morning’s scary root canal just metastasized into a full-on emergency extraction. Don’t worry—even though the root canal was a failure, we still owe them a shitpile of money.

The tooth soon-to-be extracted was one of two anchors for a lower partial plate. Now I will wobble top and bottom. Forever, or for life, depending on which comes first.

By the time I get to the tooth-puller at noon, the drugs they gave me for the root canal this morning should just be wearing off.

Then I will come home and thank my lucky stars that I still have a job to scramble to complete in time to make our regularly-scheduled press deadline. And try to stay awake and coherent enough to get the job done.

And I won’t be eating. Haven’t all day, except for a potpourri of heavy megatonnage meds.

This is the sort of thing, why I don’t blog anymore. Who wants to remember?

Except for politics. I’m thinking of jumping all over tonight’s GOP debate, if I’m at all conscious. You just don’t see this kind of bloodsport on basic cable these days.

Mostly, I see it in the dentist’s chair.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sarah Palin’s America

(Or: “I See white people—in the White House”)

Now I’m not the kind of guy who sees racism under every rock and around every turn. For instance,  I had to date a Jewish girl before I realized anti-Semitism didn’t go out with goose-stepping and Benny Goodman records. (She was so Jewish that when we went to a stage performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” I had to explain the plot and characters to her.)

So if I hear an incitement to the worser angels of our nature in what is supposed to be a standard political stump speech, it is not because I went into it looking for racially-sensitive areas over which to wring my hands and gnash my teeth.

Usually, that’s the sort of thing that has to be pointed out to me. A speaker would have to really go out of his or her way to make my ears perk up at what sounds like overt race-baiting.

Which brings me to Sarah Palin, and her appearance this week at the big gathering of Conservative heavy-hitters in Washington (CPAC).

She emerged from relative seclusion for the event, looking eerily exactly like she did four years ago. I’m not suggesting she’s had work done, or owns a portrait of herself that is aging exceptionally poorly up in the attic… although either could be true, it’s important to remember the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

(Don’t cry “sexist!” at me. If I was writing about, say, John Edwards, I would also lead with how he looks if it was the first thing I noticed. When a big part of a celebrity’s appeal is their attractiveness, they themselves have put the subject on the table.)

I have a little bit more ad hominem attack left in me. Hang on… The only difference I saw between now and four years ago is, if possible, Palin’s Darth Vader helmet hair is even bigger, and her waist even tinier. How the latter can support the former remains a mystery to me. Maybe Palin’s avowed lack of trust in science makes circumventing its laws that much easier…

I remember how scared all us Lefties were the first time we heard her speak, at the last GOP convention. She came out, stuck to the script, and blew the roof off the dump. If she hadn’t gone all rogue-y on the ticket after her Katie Couric interview debacles, we might be trying to unseat an incumbent President McCain now.

Thank you, Sarah.

And now she’s back to help some more.

Addressing her fellow, eh, Conservatives (I am now leaving behind the ad hominem attack portion), Palin said, “We don’t have a red America and a blue America, we have a red, white and blue America!” The 99% Caucasian crowd went nuts. To make sure the gathering of both hard- as well as party-liners did not miss her point—that their opponent is not red, white, or blue—Palin added, “And Barack Obama, we’re through with you!”

Wow. She’s, like, the Maya Angelou of hate speech.

Thank you, Sarah. For making it rhyme so we could all understand it.

She also took the occasion to land a well-placed, barely-veiled f-bomb at the feet of the approving Family Values and Moral Majority crowd of totally non-hypocrites. While trash-talking Obama’s jobs program, she quipped [warning: hold your sides, big scripted-comedy moment ahead] that the acronym for the administration’s admittedly poorly-named Win The Future program is WTF.

Did you catch that? In spelling-challenged, but social media-savvy middle America, they may not know what the WPA was, but they are ROTFLOL if they don’t know what WTF means.

That Obama. WTF, right? Ohhh, thank you Sarah. Sometimes it’s good just to laugh.

She also took the occasion to say that she thinks a brokered GOP convention would be a good thing for her party, not the internationally televised circular firing squad it would actually be. The last time either party had a brokered convention was decades before the rise of the 24-hour news cycle and cell phone battlefront reporting.

When I think about it, I can suddenly understand the appeal of Roman gladiatorial combat (besides the leather dresses). Four candidates enter the ring, only one emerges; his bruised and battered body slick and hot with the blood and brain matter of his broken, humiliated opponents.

Wow, that really would be great for Democracy! In that it would tend to promote the re-election of the unflappable terrorist-killer from Kenya [REMEMBER HE’S NOT WHITE LIKE YOU AND ME] who currently occupies our country’s highest office.

Thank you, Sarah.

While pretending to support the GOP’s putative nominee on the Fox News Sunday morning politics show, she just coined the phrase “ObamneyCare” with an alleged slip of the lip.

Sarah, stop it! You are being just way too generous. People are going to start to talk.

What will Sarah Palin do next to help promote American democracy? (Third-party run! Third-party run!) After all she’s given already, is it too much to hope that she still has another card left to play this election cycle? (Third-party run! Third-party run!) It’s a little late in the game to be anything more than be a spoiler in the GOP nomination process (Third-party run! Third-party run!) and I can’t imagine what someone with her Gringrichian-scale delusions of grandeur could do to further her party’s opponent’s re-election (endorse somebody else’s third-party run! Third-party run!), setting herself or someone she anoints up as the Conservative front-runner in 2016 as soon as the polls close this November 6 (Third-party run! Third-party run!)…

Hey, it’s Sarah Palin! What am I worrying about? She’ll think of something.

Let me just say in advance… thank you, Sarah.

Friday, February 10, 2012

“My whole LIFE is art!!”

The Boy issued this pronouncement a few weeks ago, during a rare behavioral meltdown, right after I finally found a privilege from which to restrict him that he really couldn’t live without.

It was funny at the time—but Daddy must remain stern during behavioral malfunctions—and funnier now, because it’s so true.

Us: “What did you do in school today?”

Him: “Art.”

Next day, us: “What did you do in school today?”

Him: “Art.”

Next day, us: “What did you do in school today?”

Him: “Art.”

Next day, us: “What did you do in school today?”

Him: “Art.”

Us: “Didn’t you go on a field trip to the Wonka Chocolate Factory today?”

Him: “Uh huh. Then we came back to school for Art, though.”

Between the time he gets dressed in the mornings and breakfast magically appears—usually about a minute or two—he’s at the crafts table, working on something. Between after breakfast and leaving, he’s back drawing or coloring or gluing or taping until he’s shoved into his coat on the way out the door.

We’ve learned not to tell him, “Let’s go, we’re leaving now!” and guarantee a scene, when it’s just as easy to tell him five minutes earlier, “Hey, we’re leaving in five.” My parents would say we are capitulating and letting the terrorists win, but I just see it as good conflict-resolution/avoidance skills. It also models reasonable behavior for The Boy, which is something I’ve read about in books.

But everything he touches does indeed turn into art. A little girl in his class gave him an early Valentine yesterday, and he immediately set about creating the masterpiece in tin foil below to give to her.

This next piece also happened last night. He was watching Sesame Street and yelled out for the DVR to be paused. He got out a sheet of paper and drew the image of Elmo, below, listening next to his wall. He added Elmo’s goldfish Dorothy, including the enlarged detail panel of the fishbowl interior on the top left of the drawing.

What the hell?

Then there’s the impromptu stuff he creates and forgets about, like the one below:

Unless we are actively interfering with his lifestyle by forcing him to do things like eat, bathe or sleep, he is constantly in a state of creative expression.

When he yelled at me that his whole life was art, it immediately recalled a panel I did back in my one-panel days. I am so grateful that the performance piece of my son’s life is taking a decidedly more upbeat tone than the one I glossed over in works like this:

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Greetings from The Land Of The Giants

Young Billy Maher brings home a Scarlet Letter

I love me my Bill Maher show on HBO. Most weeks, he tackles an issue or two on Friday from a perspective that I’ve been obsessing about since early in the week but nobody in the media has yet picked up on.

I usually don’t take exception to Maher’s end-of-show rants, even when he steps over the line… which is admittedly most of the time. It’s kind of what he does. A vibrant democracy needs voices of dissent like his to fuel its engines.

“It’s getting dark culturally; better throw a comedian on the barbie.”

But tonight he went off on a tear defending atheism, setting he and his fellow devout non-believers as the cool rational men of reason and science.

If I was his science teacher, I’d be sending him off to the guidance counselor to talk about changing his major.

It’s one thing to attack religion. They’ve made themselves fair game. They’ve set themselves up on a pretty high pedestal—what the fuck is up with granting them tax-exempt status when returning veterans, for instance, still have to feed the government beast?—it’s only natural to expect people to take a few swings at them. That’s why the houses on the hilltops always have gates around them; because modern animal-welfare laws make crocodile-infested moats such a tediously grey area, legally.

But Maher accidentally shone a spotlight on his argument’s weakness in the way he misframed the question tonight. By rising to the defense of Atheism, he capitalizes the “a,” and underscores all the ways Atheism is indeed like any other religion.

Technically, Maher is correct. Atheism is fundamentally different than religion in that it is unstructured, unmonetized, has no charismatic figureheads or spokespeople (sidebar: why are atheists always such assholes and Mormons always such nice people? Discuss.) … in every sense recognized by the law and society and society, atheism is no more a religious entity than that group of consumers who prefer Pepsi to Coke.

But as philosophical constructs, Atheism and Deism are indeed two sides of the same coin.

Is there groupthink? Is it unyielding, intolerant of any deviation from approved canon? Arrogant in its self-assurance and haughty about the desperate ignorance of the unconverted?

Tell me again how Atheism, capital A, is not like a religion.

And best of all, what is the difference between the religious zealot’s conviction in the existence of something unproveable and the Atheist’s conviction of something equally as unproveable? Isn’t his faith in sciences he doesn’t personally understand as unshakable as Billy Graham’s faith in the six-day creation of the earth that he doesn’t understand?

The only difference I see is that religious people don’t try to hide behind science when they drone on about their endlessly unproveable belief structures.

The only truly cool-headed conclusion to reach is that although science tends to suggest religion is a slowly dying, vestigial limb of an earlier time when the species required explanations for phenomena science hadn’t caught up with yet, science equally suggests that anyone with a truly open mind has to leave the door open to theories they cannot yet disprove, no matter how outrageous.

Maher tried to head this criticism off at the pass by saying that if Christ came back from Glory during the Superbowl half-time show, he’d say, “okay, I was wrong, praise the Lord.”

But that assertion rang as hollow as his insistence that forcing his faith-based belief structure down my throat was in no way like religion.

People in the grip of a religious fervor will tell you anything to sway you over to their side.