Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Just when you think you've heard it all, you find out you haven't. Only this morning, I heard the most amazing thing. The president was talking to the news media about "remanents of terrism," and he opined that one of the major causes of the bad economy was, well...them. Using themes like "The Road to War" got the country so worked up, he said, that the weak economy became worse. This was, of course, after the administration had spent months declaring we were waging a war on terror and making it clear that we were going to invade Iraq.

He also said that Amurikans are too accustomed to finding things out really fast, and we have to change that expectation when it comes to uncovering weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Well, maybe, but that certainly wasn't what he said when the U.N. weapons inspectors were looking for them.

Monday, July 28, 2003

A few days after the death of the great Celia Cruz, I happened to be across the street from the funeral home where her body lay. Throngs of people lined the street, waiting to say a final farewell to the Queen of Salsa. Cuban flags and banners bearing Cruz's likeness were raised high in the street across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Cruz's powerful voice drifted through the air from a portable sound system.

A passerby asked "What's going on?" and a young woman crossing the street turned to her and said, with obvious impatience, "Some dead singer." The woman who had asked the question looked at me with curious eyes. I told her Celia Cruz had died. The younger woman shrugged. "She was the world's greatest salsa singer," I said. The young woman rolled her eyes and shrugged again.

This was not an adolescent, from whom we might expect contempt for that which isn't part of her narrow culture. This was a woman in her late 20's, who walked through waves of grief, only to metaphorically spit on the Queen of Salsa.

Some dead singer indeed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Hunting for Bambi. That's the name of a Las Vegas enterprise in which men pay thousands of dollars for the privelege of stalking and shooting naked women with a paintball gun. The game's creator is defending it as "good, clean fun for 'guys who thought they had done everything.'"

There are rules. The men aren't allowed to shoot the women above the waist. A paintball manufacturer has joined many women in protesting the game, but a spokesman for the game swears by its safety and considers it a harmless activity. The "hunters" get a videotape of their hunt, and the women get paid $1,000 for being prey, and $2,500 if they do not get hit (a rare event).

The game's spokesman seemed surprised that anyone would protest the activity. He said that “the women who think this is abusive and degrading need to put their attention where it should be, and I think that’s Afghanistan.”

So we have that old tactic again: If you think it's bad here, I can assure you it's worse somewhere else, so stop complaining. The game company's website displays pictures of the women "mounted" on the wall like hunted deer. The very name of the "game" (complete with bimboesque pun) implies that its thrill lies in stalking the defenseless. What kind of man thinks it's fun to stalk defenseless women? Not a man who is out for "good, clean fun," that's for sure. (Of course, some of us protest their stalking of the defenseless deer, also, but that's another matter altogether.) If it's such a benign lark, then why aren't they shooting at other naked men?

One supposes the women are in it for the money, but taking such a job is about as demeaning as it gets. On the other hand, the game company has assured everyone of its "respect" for women: "We love our girls."

Say no more.

Monday, July 14, 2003

The September 11 investigation is getting nowhere fast, but is anyone who is paying attention surprised? Both the Pentagon and and the Justice Department are dragging their heels in responding to the federal investigating commission, which has to finish its work by May of 2004.

More frightening, however, is the Bush administration's refusal to allow officials to be interviewed without the presence of their government colleagues. According to the commission's chairman, Tom Kean, this tactic amounts to the intimidation of witnesses.

Well, yes, of course it does.

But how sincere is Kean? Remember, he was chosen to replace Henry Kissinger, when Henry Kissinger resigned the position rather than reveal his list of business clients. But what about Kean's business associates? No one seems to care, but two of his business partners are Mohammed Hussein al Amoudi and Khalid bin Mahfouz, both of whom are suspected to have ties to the Taliban. Both were named in a lawsuit brought by families of the victims of September 11. bin Mahfouz is, in fact, Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

According to The New York Times, a woman in Missouri, when discussing the Natonal Do Not Call List, "...said she hates to turn telemarketers down and hurt their feelings.

"Sometimes it's less painful for everybody if I just say something like we don't own our home, or the house is brick."

Feelings? Painful?

The problem here isn't telemarketing--it's this woman's narcissistic belief that buying a product has an impact on the emotional life of the seller. Saying we don't want to buy a product--and especially saying so to an unwanted solicitor--does not make us a party to the emotional destruction of another person. Not buying a product, or not listening to a rude interruption. is in no way an example of inflicting pain on someone. Not engaging with a complete stranger is a perfectly acceptable behavior.

Like so many people, the woman in Missouri gives permission to others to treat her with rudeness (and it is definitely rude to make unsolicited calls to people at their homes), and thinks she is being rude if she withholds that permission.

What a mixed up psychology we practice when we need to be "liked" by a total stranger who has just interrupted our dinner to talk to us about aluminum siding.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

In his State of the Union address, the president said that Saddam Hussein had recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa. This highly significant statement, it turns out, was based on forged documents from the African nation of Niger, according to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The International Atomic Energy Agency has known about the falsehood for some time, and reported it to the United Nations four months ago.

Add to this the use of plagiarized documents used by the British government to create a "dossier" on Iraq. The documents, you will recall, came from a Monterey, California graduate student's Ph.D. thesis, and their exposure was a major embarrassment to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Those who continue to call Bush "honorable" need to take a close look at the plethora of lies he has told since the day he began his campaign for the presidency. That may take some time, but the lies about Iraq require immediate examination.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

“ religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Recognize that? It's is text from Article VI, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. But we know that it is generally ignored when push comes to shove. What chance would a Muslim, a B'Hai person, a Buddhist or an atheist have of getting elected to most offices in the United States? For that matter, how many Americans would vote for a Jewish person or a Unitarian?

Religion is supposed to be a private, deeply personal matter, not something that appears on a bumper sticker or in the lobby of a courthouse.

Here's another familiar quotation, from the Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...” But what about the "faith-based" initiative that is being promulgated by the White House? If permitted by Congress to stand as designed, it would exempt certain privileged religions from obeying the law of the land with regard to civil rights. Those privileged religions are bound to be conservative Christian sects, unless you really, really believe that the Bush administration is going to give grants to Hindu community centers and Wiccan organizations. (And if you do, I've got some voting machines in Florida I'll be happy to sell you.

John Adams, when he signed the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797, said “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

Thomas Jefferson said "“Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than on our opinions in physics and geometry. . . .”

And from James Madison: “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

Fundamentalist Christians (and even not-so-fundamentalist Christians) are constantly reminding us that our forefathers founded the nation on Judeo-Christian principles, and that they were men of faith. However, this is simply not true. Jefferson, though he greatly admired Jesus, was not a Christian, and stated so many times. Benjamin Franklin, though raised a Calvinist, became a Deist. John Adams was wary of all organized religion, and James Madison was very critical of it.

Because of the Bush crowd's pandering to very conservative Christians, the separation of church and state has all but disappeared, the civil rights of gay citizens are questioned, and the quest to cure terrible diseases has been stymied. Unless mainstream Christians and citizens of other religions (and citizens of no religion) fight back, and soon, the very thin line between church and state will become blurred beyond recognition.