Monday, May 31, 2004

One of the surest signs that a facist authority is in place is that art and artists are attacked. In the last few days, we have experienced some horrific examples of this.

Last week, Lori Haigh, owner of the Capobianco Gallery in San Francisco's North Beach, was punched in the face because she exhibited a painting of one of the incidents at Abu Ghurayb. Prior to being physically assaulted, Haigh's gallery had been vandalized, and she had been spat at and threatened with death. Fearing for her children, she closed the gallery, but a number of volunteers have since come forward and offered to serve as a security force if she will open the gallery again. The volunteers realize that any assault on a piece of art puts all art in danger.

Also last week, Steve Kurtz of Buffalo called 911 when his wife died in her sleep of cardiac arrest. He got help, all right. The police arrived and confiscated Kurtz's computers, art supplies, and manuscripts. For good measure, they also took his wife's body.

Kurtz, an art professor, is a member of the Critical Art Ensemble, but he was arrested on suspicion of being a bioterrorist. The equipment Professor Kurtz had in his house was legally obtained, and none of it could have possibly been used to create terrorist havoc. But that didn't stop the police from creating a nightmare for a man who had just discovered his wife dead.

There is no longer any freedom of expression guaranteed by the U.S. government. Under the alleged leadership of a right-wing philistine (why do those two things so often go together?), the government can now do anything it wants. If your senators and Congresspeople voted for the Patriot Act, they are partly to blame for this, and they should pay.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Create a testosterone-loaded atmosphere, and the repressed homoeroticism will always come to the surface. Consider, for instance, all of that ass-touching that goes on during a football game. Or Hardball host Chris Matthew's constant adoration of Bush's body and how he looked when he walked around in that tight-fitting flight suit.

Now it's Zell Miller, the right-wing Democrat from Georgia, who continues to insist that what went on in Abu Ghraib was nothing more than what happens in a fraternity hazing. (Even that statement is suspicious, since we now know that horrifying things go in fraternity hazings, but that's another issue.)

Now, Miller says that the most humiliating thing that ever happened to him was that he had to shower with other men when he was in the Marines. Poor Zell. He says it didn't kill him, of course, but it did appear to traumatize him.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Catholic Church has a peculiar reward and punishment system. If you molest children, you are simply moved to another parish. If you cover up massive sex abuse in Boston, such as Vicar General Alfred Hughes did, you get to become Archbishop of New Orleans (and in fairness to Hughes, you don't exactly hear the Catholics in New Orleans complaining about the appointment).

However, if you are Cardinal Bernard Law and the buck stopped with you in the massive cover-up of multiple sex abuse cases in Boston, you get a nice cushy appointment in Rome. Law has been named Archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica, a highly visible post, albeit a ceremonial one.

To say that the Pope doesn't get it would be whacking understatement in the face.

The Church is very busy these days, what with trying to punish pro-choice Democrats. The odd thing is, no attempt is being made to punish pro-choice Republicans. And no priest or bishop has stepped forward to refuse Holy Communion to Catholic office-holders who favor capital punishment or who are divorced.

It's so confusing.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Bill Nevins, a high school teacher in New Mexico, is awaiting his day in court. His crime? He taught poetry and he had the stupidity to believe in the First Amendment.

Last year, Nevins--who taught poetry and who sponsored his school's poetry slam team--was fired because one of his students, at an open mic event, read poems that criticized the war in Iraq and the administration's failure to fund "No Child Left Behind." The school administation accused the student of being un-American, of course. The principal asked her mother--also a teacher--to destroy her child's poems. The mother refused, and her job is also in danger.

Nevins was suspended for not censoring his students' poetry before it was performed. Later, he was fired.

It gets worse. Nevins was offered a job by another school, but that school cannot hire him until his former school, Rio Rancho High School, sends over his credentials. The principal of Rio Rancho refuses to do so.

And it gets even worse. The principal and his thugs also tore down art that they deemed "un-American," and the art teachers who didn't censor their students' work were not given contracts to return to the school.

The case is pending in federal court. And though there is little doubt that the principal and other administrators will be found in violation of practically everything there is to violate, several lives have been made miserable, much income has been lost, and--perhaps worst of all--students have been taught, once again, that in this country, it doesn't pay to voice your convictions.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

In an extraordinary and frightening blow to America's so-called freedom of religion, the Texas State Comptroller has taken away the Unitarian Church's tax exempt status. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn declared that the church isn't a religious organization because it "does not have one system of belief."

Using that reasoning, Strayhorn will have to take the tax-exempt status away from Christianity, too. To say that the Catholic church and the Pentecostal church do not represent "one system of belief" is stretching understatement to its breaking point.

The Unitarian Church does not have a doctrinal creed; hence, it attracts everyone from Christians to Jews to agnostics to atheists. The church does have a set of guides for living, and the concept of God is very real to
many Unitarians. Unitarian ministers go through ordination, just like other ministers, and they preside over births, marriages and deaths.

Ms. Strayhorn, who is wearing a huge cross in her official State of Texas photograph,
is the mother of the fundamentalist Christian right wing White House's official spokesman, Scott McClellan.

Of course, it's easy to understand the right wing's fear of the Unitarian Church because it is a church that encourages thinking. Several U.S. presidents were Unitarians, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore and William Howard Taft. Some of the other founding father Unitarians were Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine. Other notable American Unitarians were Abigail Adams, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, and Adlai Stevenson.

Today the Unitarians. Which religion on the Christian fundamentalist enemy list will be next?

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has a clue that the National Security Council's top Middle East aide consults with right-wing Christians whose main interest is the apocalypse. After all, appealing to the right wing of Christianity (is there another wing in this country these days?) was one of the tactics used by the White House to launch the War on Terror, invade Iraq, and stir up more hatred against the United States. Some want oil money; some want the Last Days.

It also shouldn't be a surprise when we consider the number of times the Bush administration has relied on the Christian right to provide its "expertise" on matters of health and science. The results have included a renewed war against women and girls here and abroad, the encouragement of unsafe sex, and the refusal to help citizens who are suffering from debilitating diseases and conditions.

They slipped a bit on the security project, however. That one they'd intended to keep secret, but the secret got out. The Village Voice obtained copies of an email describing a briefing given to the Apostolic Congress, whose members fear that if there is a Palestinian state, David's temple won't be rebuilt and Jesus will not be able to return to Earth.

Deputy National Security Advisor James Wilkinson met with the apostolic group on March 25. A few weeks later, Bush reversed America's Israel/Palestine policy. A coincidence? Maybe. Probably not, though, since Bush has been the patsy of the Christian right from Day One of his residency. And even if it is a coincidence, please take note of how your tax money is being spent, and how your government is being run. It is being run by people who are immoral, crazy, ignorant, or all of the above.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Those Catholic Church rules sure are confusing. Yesterday, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans took a stand against gay marriage. Mind you, this is the same Archbishop Hughes who--when he was in Boston--chose to cover up dozens of cases of sexual abuse of children. Why he is permitted to be Archbishop of New Orleans is a holy mystery until itself.

So it's okay to permit massive sexual abuse of children, but not to let two adults who are committed to one another get married.

And there's more: In January,the Bishop of the La Crosse, Wisconsin diocese declared that public office-holders who support a woman's right to choose may no longer receive Holy Communion in his parish. This is interesting, since he didn't say that office-holders who support capital punishment--also against the teachings of the Catholic Church--would be denied Holy Communion.

Of course, it's no secret that church laws that suppress women are the most important church laws of all. But the rules are pretty confusing, aren't they? On my way home today, I was driving behind a truck with a bumper sticker that said Help the Defenseless: Vote Pro-Life. I would be willing to bet a very large amount of money that the driver of that truck went home and ate a dinner that consisted of tortured and slaughtered cows or chickens, and that he has products all over his house that have been horrifically tested on cats, mice and rabbits.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The Pesticide Action Network recently analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in a study of about 2,650 people who were tested for levels of 34 different pesticides. PAN found that a large percentage of people who had their blood and urine tested carried pesticides above levels considered safe by government health and environmental agencies.

Women, children and Mexican Americans were found to be disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals, according to the report, which was released on Tuesday. Children ages 6 to 11 were exposed to the nerve-damaging pesticide chlorpyrifos at four times the level deemed acceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Dow Chemical Company, responsible for 80% of the chlorpyrifos found in people's bodies, claims that most of the pesticide leaves the body very quickly, without doing any harm to the individual. Evaluating blood and urine is not, Dow says, an accurate way of determining how much chlorpyifos has been retained by someone's body.

More testing--and testing of a more sophisticated nature--needs to be done to determine more precisely what type of effect potent, nerve-damaging pesticides have on people, and especially on children. However, the significantly higher levels of many cancers found among farm workers tells us that pesticides are dangerous and are not properly regulated.

Of course, there is a safe alternative--organic farming. Not only are organic methods safe for people and wildlife, but study after study shows that pests are better controlled and crops are healthier when organic methods are used. But organic farming is not healthy for the huge American chemical industry, so cancer it is.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

There was another good letter (see post of May 7, 2004) today--this one in one of my local newspapers--about the American thirst for violence and humiliation. The writer wondered why the administration and others are saying that the Iraq prison abuse (and torture, and worse, we have discovered) is "un-American."

He cited the local strip-searching of persons arrested for misdemeanors, the beatings and rapes of American prisoners by guards, a recent incident in which sorority girls made a pledge eat vomit, and the American obsession with reality television shows, which are all about public humiliation.

If you add to his list our long history of finding entertainment in the humiliation of non-white citizens and women, it is easy to understand why many Americans have no problem with what is going on in the Iraq prison. (Recall how many Americans were eager to see Michael Fay be caned by the government of Singapore.) According to both the International Red Cross and Amnesty International, there are atrocities and abuses taking place outside of the prisons, too, and not just in Iraq.

Monday, May 10, 2004

California is the only state that refuses to accept federal sex education money, because such acceptance requires public schools to teach only abstinence, and to avoid discussing contraception.

Now that the economy of California is in such terrible shape, there is concern that the state may be forced to accept federal funds and destroy its own program.

Why is that so terrible? Common sense should give you the answer, but facts are better: California's teen birth rate has dropped by more than 40% in the last decade.

The California schools teach that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid STD's and pregnancy, but they also teach (with parental permission) about various methods of contraception. Apparently, there are a lot of California parents with the wisdom to let their kids learn everything there is to know.

California's adolescent population is growing so rapidly, it is expected that there will again be a rise in teen pregnancy, but the program that prevents it is in danger because of a federal government whose policy is dictated by the Christian right and other religious groups.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Yesterday was letter day on NPR's "All Things Considered," and there was an especially insightful and intelligent letter sent in by a listener regarding the abuse of prisoners in Iraq. I wish I could quote the letter-writer, but I do not have a copy of his letter.

What he said, in essence, was this: that people shouldn't be so shocked by the photographs of the prisoner abuse, that the photos needed to be placed in context. And the context he placed them in was that of police brutality and fraternity hazing: the American approval of violence in the interest of group bonding.

That is indeed the issue. A few years ago, there was physical abuse of players by players at the New Orleans Saints training camp. No one was charged with anything; it was hardly mentioned in the news. In a culture of men, it is "weak" to accuse your perpetrators of abuse. And in a culture of athletics, it is acceptable to be abusive. Consider all of the decades that Bobby Knight was allowed--by schools, players and parents--to abuse the boys on his teams. Consider that Mike Tyson, who has been convicted of rape and multiple assaults, is still a hero to many boys and men.

It's no different with girls. Girls are beaten up in school and no one does anything. Parents don't even call the police because "she asked me not to." Every day, over and over, we teach children and adolescents that violence is not only acceptable, but is indeed part of a group transaction. The person who fights back--like the shotgun-toting mother in Dazed and Confused, is considered the strange one.

Thousands of American parents still hit their children with belts, extension cords, bats and fists. They hit each other. They cheer when prisoners and people accused of crimes are beaten by police. They take swings at other parents at soccer games. They threaten you with death if they don't like the sign you carry in a protest.

Considering how many American military women have been sexually assaulted, raped and then threatened by American military men, why is anyone surprised that non-defensive violence is popular in the military?

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

We need some kind of meter to count the White House lies; there are so many and they come so fast, it is hard to keep up with them. And many get no publicity.

Take, for example, the case of the recent dirty trick played on the state of Louisiana. Louisiana's coastline is disappearing at an alarming rate. It has taken the state's Congressional delegation years to get Washington to notice and to care about this huge wetlands crisis.

Recently, the White House agreed to help Louisiana, but only under the condition that the state scrap its well thought out, long-term plan to preserve its coastline. In its place, the White House substituted a cheaper, short-term plan. The state, desperate to get help, reluctantly agreed.

Now the administration is saying Louisiana's problem is no longer a priority and there may be no money available at all.

In the meantime, Gale Norton is calling Louisiana's wetlands a "treasure." Considering that Norton has made a career out of destroying the environment, that's probably the kiss of coastal death.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Dear barbaric, raving mad woman in the K-Mart parking lot:

I thought you were going to have a stroke, the way you were screaming at me. Mea culpa: I support gay rights and I think Bush is immoral. But do you really think I should "go move to California where all the gays are?" I didn't know "all the gays" were in California; I thought there were hundreds of gay people close by.

When we were inside the store, you were carrying on a civilized conversation, but--you sniveling coward--you waited until you saw me in the parking lot, and lucky you, my car was near yours, so you could scream at me as you drove away. You told me I was negative and "you don't like anyone."

I can understand why you would think that. In the course of our conversation, I said I was opposed to the March of Dimes, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and the White House. All Amurican institutions. Never mind that the March of Dimes commits sickening animal abuse on a massive scale. Never mind that the Salvation Army discriminates against gay citizens. Never mind that the Red Cross murdered several Americans in the 80's because they refused to stop giving AIDS-tainted blood transfusions, and that they have been involved in one financial scandal after another.

Never mind that Bush has done his best to destroy the environment, shower riches on corporations at the expense of the poor and middle class, create a phony war that has killed hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqui civilians. Never mind that he lies every time he opens his mouth. Never mind that he has appointed a carnival of felons to high posts. Never mind that he has gone to shocking extremes to quash free speech.

"You don't belong here," you screamed at me. "You should go somewhere else."

Why, I wonder, do so many conservatives refuse to let any kind of reality interfere with their homophobic, racist, sexist, religious fundamentalist values? And why do they have to scream in parking lots or on the radio or on the sidewalk or wherever they happen to encounter people who prefer thinking to blind allegiance?

Barbaric, raving mad woman in the K-Mart parking lot: It is you who does not belong among thinking, compassionate people with decent manners.