"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
-- Sinclair Lewis
Monday, March 30, 2015
Catching up with the great Lee Camp
I feel bad about not keeping readers up to date with the doings of the great Lee Camp, the incredibly agile-minded, perpetually outraged, and fearlessly funny writer and comic. (I have to say "writer and comic," because as I've mentioned, you could read something Lee has written and think him a brilliantly incisive, poised stylist -- a wonderfully different effect from what we get when he performs his material.) The fact is, I haven't been keeping up so well myself.
I've known from Lee's regular e-mails that he's become involved in some kind of regular telecast called Redacted Tonight, airing Fridays at 8pm on RT America, but I'm just not much of a computer watcher, YouTube or otherwise, and I confess that I've never seen it. (Honestly, I don't know what RT America is.) I see the show is also available on both YouTube and Hulu.
So I thought you might be as interested as I am in finding out what Redacted Tonight is all about, and it so happens that Lee has just sent out a link for an appearance that he and two of his partners on the show, John F. O'Donnell and Abby Feldman, just made on Larry King's PoliticKing and explained the whole thing. (Huh, wait! Larry King has a show of some sort? Have I fallen asleep like Ichabod Crane but traveled backwards in time? I guess this means Larry is still alive and ambulatory?)
Then, if you're curious, here's an online posting of Redacted #41, apparently the March 20th episode.
Meanwhile, don't forget Lee's website, leecamp.net, where you can no doubt get some help figuring all of this out as well as tracking Lee's doings -- past, present, and future!
by Zach Wisniewski Throughout his career in politics-- a career that has spanned virtually his entire adult life-- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has tried to portray himself as a man of principles who can't and won't be intimidated by standing up for what he believes. In fact, Gov. Walker is so desperate to convince folks outside Wisconsin that's he's got the mettle necessary to be president of the United States that he titled his ghostwritten memoir Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge. However, while Scott Walker wants us all to believe he's an unintimidated leader with steel in his spine, the fact is he's a political opportunist who's had almost as accomplished a career as a flip-flopper as former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Recent revelations showing that Gov. Walker has completely changed his position on immigration reform were certainly newsworthy, but it's absolutely not the first time he has flip-flopped a position when it suited his political ambitions. As noted in Todd Milewski's report for Madison's Cap Times, Gov. Walker is now opposed to the same amnesty programs he supported just two years ago when he supported a path to legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. Here he is admitting his flip-flop to Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace during a recent appearance on that show.
Wallace: But it's a little bit slippery here. Back when you were the Milwaukee County Executive, you actually supported the Kennedy-McCain comprehensive immigration plan. Are you basically saying that as part of a comprehensive plan, tough enforcement, E-Verify, the 11 million people already here pay penalty, they get citizenship? Walker: No, I'm not talking about amnesty. And the reason for that is, over time... Wallace: But you said you supported it. Walker: And my view has changed. I'm flat-out saying it. Candidates can say that. Sometimes they don't. I'm saying my view has... Wallace: So you've changed from 2013? Walker: Absolutely.
While Gov. Walker's flip-flop on immigration reform is the most recent example of his willingness to change his beliefs to further his political ambitions, it's certainly not the only example. In fact, Scott Walker has made a career out of changing his beliefs when it benefits his political ambitions most. With that in mind, let's take a look at just a few of Scott Walker's most blatant flip-flops during his career as a politician. Scott Walker's Flip-Flop on Contributions From the Gaming Industry
As reported by Josh Israel of ThinkProgress, back in 1999, then-State Representative Scott Walker issued a press release calling for a ban on political contributions by gambling interests, who Walker felt held too much sway over the election of Democratic governors in other states. Here's an excerpt from Walker's press release.
We have witnessed problems with gambling contributions at the federal level and in other states, Walker told his colleagues at a September committee hearing on the 1999 version of the bill. With gambling interests seeking to expand all across Wisconsin, he urged, "We must act now before problems evolve in this state. Our measure will act as a protection against corruption here in Wisconsin."
Fast-forward just 13 years and Gov. Scott Walker seemed to have no problem accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who donated $250,000 to Gov. Walker's recall campaign. What's more, Adelson made a $650,000 gift to the Republican Party of Wisconsin. While Sheldon Adelson is by far the largest gaming-related donor to Scott Walker's campaign, he's not alone. As the ThinkProgress report noted, Gov. Walker has taken thousands of dollars from other individuals and groups with ties to the gaming industry.
In January, Walker rejected a proposed Menominee tribal casino, in a move that reportedly benefited the Potawatomi tribe. Scott Walker's Flip-Flop on Outsourcing of Jobs to Foreign Countries During the 2012 presidential campaign Gov. Walker shared his thoughts about what he thought of President Barack Obama's attacks on his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, over the issue of outsourcing. At the time, Gov. Walker was unambiguous that he felt President Obama was attacking Romney on outsourcing to distract voters from President Obama's poor job performance, saying, "The president's team desperately does not want to run on his record, so they are desperately trying to have it about anything other than his record." However, during his own 2014 gubernatorial campaign against Democratic challenger Mary Burke, Gov. Walker's campaign ran a number of ads attacking Mary Burke for supposedly profiting from outsourcing done by Trek. There's a certain amount of irony in Gov. Walker's attacks on Mary Burke for outsourcing, given that Gov. Walker's own job creation agency gave millions in tax dollars to companies that sent Wisconsin jobs to foreign countries. Scott Walker's Flip-Flop on Federal Stimulus Dollars In 2009, then-Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker said "Thanks but no thanks" to any federal economic stimulus money for county projects, saying the only federal economic stimuli he endorsed were tax cuts. However, just two short years later, then-Gov. Walker asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to designate four Wisconsin counties as disaster areas due to crop losses caused in part by unseasonably cold, wet weather. While it's a fair point to note that federal stimulus dollars aren't exactly the same thing as federal disaster relief dollars, I'd argue that the federal stimulus dollars Scott Walker refused for Milwaukee County were absolutely a federal response to a disaster, albeit a nontraditional disaster, in the form of the "great recession" that began under Republican President George W. Bush. Scott Walker's refusal in 2009 to take federal stimulus dollars on behalf of the citizens of Milwaukee County was likely due to his desire to further bolster his conservative credentials to augment his chances heading into the 2010 gubernatorial race here in Wisconsin at the expense of the Milwaukee County citizens he was elected to represent. These are but four examples of how Scott Walker has completely reversed his stated beliefs when it benefits him or his political ambitions, but there are many more flip-flops and reversals to be found littered throughout his career as a politician. In the interest of keeping this post to a manageable length, I've decided to break his flip-flops into a series of posts, so there will absolutely be more to come in the very near future. Until then, enjoy!
I found the following piece, by Graeme Wood writing at The Atlantic, a compelling and riveting read. First, it attempts to answer the question: What is ISIS, really? Second, it sounds an alarm — that misunderstanding ISIS has accounted for, and will account for, major American policy and strategic mistakes. As you'll read below, the author says (my emphasis):
“We have not defeated the [ISIS] idea,” [the U.S. Special Operations commander in the Middle East] said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Bottom line: ISIS is a religious group, very unlike al-Qaeda, and very much interested in conquered territory. Also, very seventh-century. Below is the piece's introduction. Do click through for the rest. Even if you don't end up agreeing with all the points made, the article is meticulously researched and you'll learn much, including how to watch this Middle East news as it unfolds. Graeme Wood did extensive in-region interviews for this article.
Four points to note before I present the piece itself:
For ISIS adherents, all Shiites and all Muslim heads of state are "apostates" to Islam, not just "sinners," and thus must be marked for death. He who refuses to kill them is himself a "sinner."
Executions for apostasy happen "more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks" in ISIS-held territory.
ISIS adherents, like many Christian fundamentalists, are trying to bring about the Apocalypse.
The way ISIS's interpretation of Sharia constrains and controls its war planning is not well understood in the West, but it offers crucial advantages to those who do understand it.
As the piece says, in a part not quoted below, "Following takfiri doctrine [which deals with proper treatment of apostates], the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people." Now the article:
What ISIS Really Wants
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The group seized Mosul, Iraq, last June, and already rules an area larger than the United Kingdom. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since May 2010, but until last summer, his most recent known appearance on film was a grainy mug shot from a stay in U.S. captivity at Camp Bucca during the occupation of Iraq. Then, on July 5 of last year, he stepped into the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, to deliver a Ramadan sermon as the first caliph in generations—upgrading his resolution from grainy to high-definition, and his position from hunted guerrilla to commander of all Muslims. The inflow of jihadists that followed, from around the world, was unprecedented in its pace and volume, and is continuing.
Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned. Baghdadi has spoken on camera only once. But his address, and the Islamic State’s countless other propaganda videos and encyclicals, are online, and the caliphate’s supporters have toiled mightily to make their project knowable. We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.
The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.
We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it. The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as “Sheikh Osama,” a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaeda’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.
Bin Laden viewed his terrorism as a prologue to a caliphate he did not expect to see in his lifetime. His organization was flexible, operating as a geographically diffuse network of autonomous cells. The Islamic State, by contrast, requires territory to remain legitimate, and a top-down structure to rule it. (Its bureaucracy is divided into civil and military arms, and its territory into provinces.)
We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. Peter Bergen, who produced the first interview with bin Laden in 1997, titled his first book Holy War, Inc. in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world. Bin Laden corporatized terror and franchised it out. He requested specific political concessions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. His foot soldiers navigated the modern world confidently. On Mohamed Atta’s last full day of life, he shopped at Walmart and ate dinner at Pizza Hut.
There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.
The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.
To take one example: In September, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” To Western ears, the biblical-sounding punishments—the stoning and crop destruction—juxtaposed strangely with his more modern-sounding call to vehicular homicide. (As if to show that he could terrorize by imagery alone, Adnani also referred to Secretary of State John Kerry as an “uncircumcised geezer.”)
But Adnani was not merely talking trash. His speech was laced with theological and legal discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Muhammad to leave well water and crops alone—unless the armies of Islam were in a defensive position, in which case Muslims in the lands of kuffar, or infidels, should be unmerciful, and poison away.
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.
There follow a number of sections discussing the nature of the religious devotion of the ISIS fighters, their belief in the imminent Apocalypse, and how adherence to strict seventh-century Islam constrains the way ISIS can conduct its war.
About ISIS as a religious movement, the author quotes Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel and notes:
All Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs, and that the laws of war passed down in the Koran and in the narrations of the Prophet’s rule were calibrated to fit a turbulent and violent time. In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war.
There's a lot of "blood and guts" in many early versions of modern religions, including the Christian and the Hebrew Bibles. It needs to be said that ISIS fighters are taking that aspect of their religion literally, in the sense that they're following the whole of the early how-we-fight-pagans prescriptions. It also needs to be said that almost all of the world's Muslims don't take that aspect of their religions literally:
Leaders of the Islamic State have taken emulation of Muhammad as strict duty, and have revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years. “What’s striking about them is not just the literalism, but also the seriousness with which they read these texts,” Haykel said. “There is an assiduous, obsessive seriousness that Muslims don’t normally have.”
This includes adherence to slavery, a worldwide custom in the ancient and early medieval world:
“We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,” Adnani, the [ISIS] spokesman, promised in one of his periodic valentines to the West. “If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
He means that literally, and U.S. policy-makers should understand that he does. In the section called "The Fight," the writer says:
The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions. Osama bin Laden was seldom predictable. He ended his first television interview cryptically. CNN’s Peter Arnett asked him, “What are your future plans?” Bin Laden replied, “You’ll see them and hear about them in the media, God willing.” By contrast, the Islamic State boasts openly about its plans—not all of them, but enough so that by listening carefully, we can deduce how it intends to govern and expand. ...
It’s hard to overstate how hamstrung the Islamic State [and its ability to wage war] will be by its radicalism.
I'll let you read why. The section on Apocalypse makes fascinating reading as well. If you're inclined to expand your understanding of this group, I urge you to take a long look at this fascinating article.
Mike Pence-- Pandering To The Worst Of The Republican Party Base
C.S. Lewis, probably best known for The Chronicles of Narnia, died on November 22, 1963, the same day Aldous Huxley died and the same day JFK was assassinated. When Lewis passed away, Mike Pence, who went on ABC's This Week to insist he isn't a bigot, was just 4 years old. Perhaps when he was 4, he wasn't a bigot. But he has been for his entire public career. Lewis could well have been referencing the future Mr. Pence when he wrote
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for there good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good, will torment us without end.
When Pence was the most extreme right-wing member of the House Republican leadership, he ratted out Boehner for having had an affair with Beltway lobbyist Lisbeth Lyons but lost the ensuing power struggle and retired from Congress. Now he's governor of Indiana. He doesn't win in places like Bloomington, Gary and Indianapolis-- and when he runs for president eventually, he knows those aren't the kinds of places where his support will be coming from. The corporate media seems to be trying to define him as "mainstream," but he was on with George Stephanopoulos to defend the viciously homophobic, widely condemned "religious liberty" law he signed last week. "This is not about discrimination," he blathered. "This is about empowering people to confront government overreach." Sure it is! Jennifer Pizer, Senior Councel for Lambda Legal patiently explained-- though not to George Stephanouplos' audience-- just how ugly and bigoted Pence's new law is.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence rushed today to sign SB 101, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)”-- so-called, though it’s not restoring religious rights; it’s expanding them. In his signing statement, Gov. Pence gave Hoosiers a misleading picture of how dangerous this new law is. Passed by the Indiana Senate in February, and the Indiana House of Representatives just days ago, one has to wonder: What’s the rush? The truth is, Indiana’s RFRA is designed to allow and in some respects, invites people to disregard laws that should apply to everyone conducting a business-- laws to prevent people from harming each other in the name of religion. At Lambda Legal, our top concern is religiously motivated discrimination against people already vulnerable to exclusion and mistreatment, especially the LGBT community. Gov. Pence, in his signing statement, said, "This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved." He’s wrong, or disingenuous, on both points. If this new law does not seek to facilitate discrimination, why did legislators pressing for its passage say it’s “needed” to allow businesses to turn away same-sex couples? And why did a majority of Indiana legislators then reject amendments offered to specify that these enhanced religious rights cannot be used to excuse discrimination? Further, about disputes between private parties, the law says explicitly, “A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” This language was included to allow private parties to object to following a law that otherwise would apply to them, and to assert these expanded religious rights in a dispute with another private party. A stark problem for LGBT Hoosiers is that unlike in other states, Indiana law does not include sexual orientation and gender identity within the state’s nondiscrimination framework. When antigay lawmakers say laws like this are “needed,” and they point to cases from other states where we successfully resisted use of religion to defend discrimination, they don’t acknowledge that a statewide nondiscrimination law was on the books in those places. Currently, less than half the states have such laws. A dozen Indiana municipalities do have nondiscrimination protections in place... Gov. Pence and the law’s supporters say it doesn’t dictate the outcome of conflicts, and that LGBT people will still be able to argue about their needs in court. But this is precisely why we are so concerned. Most people lack the desire, let alone the resources, to litigate when refused service, when rejected and turned away, when publicly humiliated just for who they are. They don’t run to court; instead, they simply absorb the hurtful, demeaning message of being unwelcome, and they go elsewhere. It is no secret that many of those pressing so intensely to enact laws of this type are doing so in negative response to same-sex couples being newly able to marry (as they can in Indiana thanks to litigation of which Lambda Legal is very proud). When the politically endorsed message is that religious reasons for conduct should be elevated above other shared civic values and interests, that message encourages the exclusions, the hostile rhetoric, and the social stigma that enact a terrible toll on the health of LGBT people. As Indiana business leaders, Republican mayors and others said when urging Gov. Pence to pause and consider before signing, this new law takes Indiana in the wrong direction. Now, while Lambda Legal stands by to do our best to help those turned away from businesses, refused jobs, housing or medical care, protest campaigns are emerging by Athlete Ally (#final4fairness), convention planners and religious groups. The economic and legal consequences for Indiana will unfold with time. But two things are certain. This confusing, needless law will bring an increase in discord, discrimination and litigation. And, it would have been far, far better for the good people of Indiana if Gov. Pence had opened his eyes wider to the needs of his state, and vetoed rather than embracing this bill.
You probably think this picture is a mistake. That's how much you know. It's hip contemporary design! (With a brief "Godfather" "explanatory update")
You're probably figuring that the person who cropped this photo for publication was either thinking about something else at the time, or maybe drunk, or just plain stupid. Well, surprise! Apparently this is "contemporary design." (I know I shouldn't have centered it here, but old habits die hard.)
Awhile ago, as some of you may remember, I got myself enmeshed in a profiile of defrocked Russian plutocrat Mikhail Khodorkovsky, by Julia Ioffe, which appeared in the January 12 New Yorker. Accompanying that profile was the above, er, photo. Maybe I should say "image," since I have to wonder whether it qualifies any longer as a photo.
Okay, I get what's going on here. This is new and hot. It's artistic, creative. Images that are centered or symmetrical -- feh! How old-fashioned! Why, it's as if the person publishing the photo thought he had something more important to do than to, you know, show the reader something -- like dazzling, or more likely hornswoggling, the poor bugger.
I don't mean to single out The New Yorker, because now that I've crawled out of my tightly constrained little media world, I see that I had somehow missed this trend. Now I see that it's all over. (Let's make it clear: I do mean to ridicule and despise the perpetrators at The New Yorker. Just because they're hardly the worst offenders doesn't mean they shouldn't be humiliated and fired -- and also the people who hired them. And oh yes, it's nothing personal, it's just business. [EXPLANATORY UPDATE: As some of you may recall, on Saturday I was scheduled to see a day-night double-header of Godfather I and II. Well, as you can see, I did -- and what a grand day it was!])
In case you haven't seen much of it yourself, it started with eccentric cropping of photos, losing most everything from mid-forehead up and from about bottom chin down. Then it leapt to positioning of images such that the nominal subject of a photo an image is scooted way the hell off to one side, or top or bottom, or corner, in addition to being bizarrely cropped so as to render the nominal subject more or less beyond recognition. And this is supposed to be chic, with it, hip as hell. Oh jeez!
In many years in and around publishing I've known a heap of art editors, art directors, graphic designers, or whatever they're calling themselves now. Some of them were brilliant, and I learned an unbelievable amount from them about how the eye "works" a page and how visual elements can serve and enhance that. They also produced a lot of damned fine pages. Interestingly, they were also the ones who cared most about what the editors involved were looking for in the design, what we were hoping to communicate. They were awesome.
Many more of those so-called designers, alas, were pompous hacks, producing more and more elaborate design garbage as the software enhanced their physical, but not artistic, capabilities. I saw "design," or just plain "graphics," take over magazines and even newspapers. I guess it has something to do with the prevailing assumption that so-called readers don't read, or apparently even attempt to receive information. They just look randomly and blindly.
Still, I was surprised by this new wave of graphic imbecility. Me, when I insert a picture or other graphics in these posts, it's 'cause I hope I have something to show you, and maybe to make the space look a little nicer. Nevertheless, here I thought I was beyond being surprised by crap like this. Well, surprise!
I don't suppose there's any point in asking if somebody can make this stop.
Garry Wills, contemplating Pope Francis and his critics, says there are "two forms of Christianity now on offer" -- and it's up to Catholics to choose
A homeless man uses an umbrella to shield himself from the water from the system installed by San Francisco's Cardinal Sal "The Faucet" Cordileone to drench riffraff trying to sleep under the overhang of St. Mary's Cathedral -- in Jesus's name, of course.
"I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal the wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds."
By the above standard, the pope should have a place toward the top of the list for the rampaging American so-called Christians who are waging a war of terror against, well, anyone who doesn't agree with them, to preserve their God-given right to do unto anyone they fucking well please. (Hey, man, Jesus did say something about doing unto others, didn't he?) You know, the kind of people Indiana Gov. Mike Pence says are afraid they're being picked on, and so need Right to Discriminate laws to be able to stick it to their goddamn prevert enemies.
In the depths of their delusions and just plain prevarications, and considering the threat they pose to decent folk, aren't these people among the world's most grievously wounded, mentally and morally?
In a new NYRB blogpost, "The Pope Is a Christian!," Garry Wills tells us about a man who asked him, at a recent talk he gave about the pope, "Why do more non-Catholics like the pope than Catholics do?" In fact, Wills says,
A Pew poll two months ago found that 90 percent of Catholics like what the pope is doing—and the number is even higher (95 percent) among the most observant, Mass attending Catholics. The percentage of non-Catholics who view the pope favorably does not get above the 70s.
"Yet the question was understandable," he says. Because the Catholic naysayers are really noisy, and "extremists get more press coverage than blander types."
[S]ome Catholic bloggers have suggested that the pope is not truly Catholic. They are right to be in a panic. They are not used to having a pope who is a Christian. They call Francis a radical because he deplores the sequestration of great wealth for a rich few and deprivation of the many poor. But Francis is a moderate. Jesus was the radical.
UH-OH, AMERICA'S RAMPAGING CHRISTIANS
REALLY DON'T LIKE TALK ABOUT JESUS
At least they really don't like real talk about Jesus, which is to say talk about what he actually believed, taught, and did. The Jesus they like to talk about, or maybe pay lip service to, is more of a mental and moral defective created in their own image. It's not as if they lack role models.
So are we ready for Jesus the radical?
“How hard it will be for the wealthy man to enter the kingdom of God….It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:23,26). In the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31), when the rich man (Dives) calls for succor from hell, Abraham, holding the poor man (Lazarus) in his bosom, answers: “All the good things fell to you while you were alive, and all the bad to Lazarus; now he has his consolation here, and it is you who are in agony.”
Not only rich people, but not-so-rich people who identify with the rich people and in their own way fund the churches that demand the right to do unto others, never enjoy hearing about that camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle being a better bet than that rich man entering the kingdom of God.
Jesus must have been misquoted. Or maybe quoted out of context.
"Some right wing Catholics," Wills says, "would haul Dives up and enshrine him in the one percent of rich men who trickle wealth down on the rest of us."
They are also descendants of those Pharisees who tried to keep people away from Jesus because “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2). The modern Pharisees try to refuse the Eucharist to politicians who do not meet their doctrinal tests. Pope Francis’s response to this patrolling of the communion line is in his major statement so far, The Joy of the Gospel (No. 47):
The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.
And just to make it worse, there's that damned Jesus mouthing off for a change, saying, "It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick; I did not come to invite virtuous people, but sinners."
At which point you'd think those right-wing Catholics would have the practical sense to wave their arms and shout, "Ooh, ooh, sinners! Pick us!"
TWO WAYS OF CARRYING FORTH JESUS'S MISSION
We've already seen Pope Francis's "battle" image, wherein he "see[s] the church as a field hospital after battle." "Some 'traditional' Catholics," says Wills, "also see the church as a battlefield; but they go out after battle to shoot the wounded."
Cardinal Sal "The Faucet"
They are typified by hierarchs like Cardinal Raymond Burke, who says Catholics who remarry outside the church are like murderers, living defiantly in public sin. Or like Cardinal Salvatore Cordileone, who issued a guide for teachers in the Catholic schools of San Francisco, requiring them to oppose—in the classroom and in their private lives—abortion, contraception, artificial insemination, same sex marriage, adultery, fornication, masturbation, and pornography. He also installed a water system in the overhang at Saint Mary’s Cathedral to soak homeless people who were trying to sleep there. Every hour or half hour, for 75 seconds, the pipes would gush down on those below and flush them away like human refuse.
I bet Jesus would just laugh, and laugh, and laugh some more. Pope Francis, not so much. "Contrast that," says Wills, "with the reaction of Pope Francis when he found that homeless people were sleeping at the entrance to the Vatican piazza."
He sent bedrolls out to them, set up showers for them to use in the morning, and sent four hundred more bed rolls to be distributed to the homeless around Rome. The difference between flushing people away and comforting them recalls one of the pope’s favorite parables, that of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A man wounded almost to death lies by the road. A Temple priest and a member of the priestly (Levite) tribe pass him by so as not to be polluted by a corpse. But a Samaritan (whom Jews thought of as an outcast) rescued the man and paid for his healing. The pope also loves the story of the prodigal son, who wastes his patrimony but is welcomed back by his father, though the prodigal’s elder brother resents this treatment of a sinner.
INSTEAD OF A "CATHOLIC RIGHT" AND "CATHOLIC LEFT" --
"It may be more fitting," Wills suggests, to think of the "Catholic right" as "the defenders of Dives, or the Pharisees who do not want people to eat with Jesus, or the flushers of the homeless, or the priestly Levites, or the prodigal’s elder brother," and "their opposites" as "the lovers of Lazarus, or the sinners who eat with Jesus, or the bedroll people, or the 'outcast' Samaritan, or the prodigal's father."
"These are the two forms of Christianity now on offer," he concludes. "Let Catholics make their choice."
Sunday Classics snapshots: Count Almaviva goes a-wooing, then and now
Urged on by Figaro (Ross Benoliel), "Lindoro" (Luigi Boccia as Count Almaviva) identifies himself to Rosina (Stephanie Lauricella), with Enrico Granafei playing the guitar and Jason Tramm conducting, at New Jersey State Opera, June 2012. (For English text, see below.)
I'd like to think we established the premise well enough in last week's "snapshots" post, "Rosina I and Rosina II," where we heard aural snapshots of young Rosina first as the spitfire being wooed by the supposed poor student Lindoro in the opera Rossini fashioned from the popular Beaumarchais play The Barber of Seville, and then, a mere three years later, as the desolate, pretty much emotionally abandoned Countess Almaviva in the opera Mozart fashioned from Beaumarchais's equally popular sequel, The Marriage of Figaro.
I HOPE AURAL TRANSFORMATION OF ROSINA
CAME AS A SHOCK -- A REALLY HORRIBLE SHOCK
Does Patrick Murphy's Voting Record Make It Impossible For Him To Win A Statewide Democratic Primary?
Patrick Murphy has a penchant for switching positions, parties, beliefs, values... everything
Patrick Murphy represents a swingy district-- the 18th district (all of Martin and St. Lucie counties and a chunk of northern Palm Beach County. Obama beat McCain there in 2008, 51% to 48% but lost to Romney in 2012, 52-48%. Obama won the state of Florida-- albeit narrowly-- in both elections. There are plenty of areas in the state where Obama is as desisted and reviled as he is in any of the worst and most disloyal, bigoted parts of the Old Confederacy. In 2012 Obama was able to cobble together a statewide win with victories in the big counties: 62% in Miami-Dade, 62% in Osceola, 61% in Leon, 67% in Broward, 53% in Hillsborough, 59% in Orange, 58% in Palm Beach, 52% in Pinellas, and 54% in Murphy's St. Lucie County. But Obama is absolutely hated in the reddest and most backward parts of the state. Look at these 2012 county totals in the half dozen worst-performing Florida counties for Obama:
They're all small counties, mostly in the rural panhandle, with tiny populations that elect very right-wing and very ignorant Republicans. Obama hatred runs high in those counties and another half dozen just like them. But those are counties where statewide elections are NOT won and lost. Only just over 8,000 voters went to the polls in Holmes County, quite a few less than the nearly 900,000 who voted in Miami-Dade or the over 700,000 who voted in Broward. And yet, ironically, Patrick Murphy's statewide strategy-- he wants to win the Democratic nomination to run for the Senate seat Marco Rubio is presumably giving up-- seems to be to cater to these anti-Obama voters. In terms of backing Boehner's agenda, Murphy has the 4th worst voting record among House Democrats this session. His ProgressivePunch Crucial Vote score is abysmal: 31.25, the same as conservative Republican Walter Jones'! He's best know for being a lock-step shill for Wall Street and working with the GOP to give predatory banksters a free hand to game the financial system again. But he's also on board with the Republicans whenever Boehner wants to be able to run to the press and tell them the extreme right legislation his party passes in the House has "bipartisan" support. Murphy is, more often than not, that "bipartisan" support. Last year, the House passed a Resolutioncondemning-- that was the word they used-- President Obama for trading 5 Taliban hostages for an American prisoner of war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The shockingly partisan resolution passed 249-163. Every single Republican voted for it, of course. But so did 22 of the least courageous, sniveling worms who call themselves Democrats-- like Murphy.
The vote castigating Obama came at a crucial moment for the administration as it sought to rally international and congressional support for steps to combat the rising threat of Islamic state militants in Iraq and Syria. The debate and vote coincided with a White House meeting in which the president was to discuss his strategy with House and Senate leaders. It also came on the eve of Obama’s address to the nation. “What poor timing for a resolution,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., suggested that the House vote on the measure less than two months before the election was simply an effort to appease core Republican voters.
There were no African-American Democrats who voted to condemn the president and I found it a little ironic that Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, recognizing what was behind that vote, decided to endorse Murphy this week. I think African-American voters in Florida will be less likely to overlook Murphy's decision to join the Republican decision condemning Obama. Maybe he thinks he can make up for it in Holmes County. Democrats have an alternative. Alan Grayson is mulling a run for that Senate seat and Blue America is asking for you to help us draft him into the race.
I've already admitted that Dilbert's coworker ("friend" seems kind of a stretch in Dilbert's world) Wally is a personal hero and role model, and when last we left him, it was Thursday of the second seeke of the stirring saga of his mentoring by the company's CEO, and as you can see above, he was, er, riding high! As, of all things, a vice president! Since it was, after all, Thursday, I wrote: "Which leaves us (presumably) with two days to follow."
It's a good thing I stuck that "presumably" in, because it turned out that the whole thing would become unstuck in morely one more day:
Oh well, easy come, easy go. And you never can tell, being a vice president might at some point have entailed (shudder) work, and we know that Wally doesn't readily go there. But imagine the surprise when this very week some mighty strange developments developed? (Such a coincidence! You don't suppose ol' Scott has maybe slipped some reruns in here on us?)
Thinking about the "Godfather" films in the spirit of "the one-dot theory of history"
Can we imagine The Godfather without Brando? Or Coppola?
"History is the prediction of the present. Historians explain why things turned out the way they did. Since we already know the outcome, this might seem a simple matter of looking back and connecting the dots. But there is a problem: too many dots. Even the dots have dots. Predicting the present is nearly as hard as predicting the future."
And I wonder whether what Louis Menand has in this wonderful piece to say about the inherent difficulties of writing history also apply to fictional history (not to mention the history of fiction).
Anyway, it's interesting approaching, or should I say re-approaching, the Godfather films (or at least the two great ones, I and II) with Menand's mediation on history fresh in mind. You really need to experience for yourself the way he uses the "too many dots" image to explain why none of the many ways we've devised for looking at history prove "wholly persuasive."
Here's just a taste:
No historian lines up all the dots. Every work of history is a ridiculously selective selection from the universe of possible dots. What the historian is claiming is that these are the particular dots that lead us from there to here, or from time step 1 to time step 1.1. Lots of other stuff happened, the historian will agree. But, if these things hadn’t happened, then life as we know it wouldn’t be, well, as we know it.
This can be an existentially entertaining thought—that, but for some fluky past event, experience would be entirely, or at least interestingly, different. We tend to imagine our own lives that way, a story of lucky breaks, bullets dodged, roads diverged on a snowy evening, and the like. Speculating about sparks that failed to ignite versus sparks that did and contingencies that failed to materialize versus contingencies that did is one of the reasons people like to write history and like to read it. There is even, to appeal to this taste, the subgenre of counterfactual history, in which Napoleon conquers Russia, or the Beatles give “The Ed Sullivan Show” a pass.
The problem: just too many dots. Which perhaps explains the appeal of the the "single dot," or "the x that changed the world" form, where everything that followed is explained according to the single person or event or year championed by the explainer of the moment. It's a form that Menand suggests is not only the most enjoyable kind of history to read but probably the most enjoyable to write.
They try to make the course of human events turn on a single phenomenon or a single year. Recent works in the single-phenomenon category include books on bananas, fracking, cod (that’s correct, the fish), the Treaty of Versailles, pepper, the color mauve, and (hmm) the color indigo. (All right, who’s the baddest color?) In the single-year category, we have books on 33, 1492 (huh?), 1816 (long story involving a volcano), 1944, 1945, 1959 (even though, without going to Wikipedia, you probably can’t come up with two important things that happened in 1959), 1968, 1969, and 1989.
This is part of Menand's way of leading up to writing about W. Joseph Campbell’s 1995: The Year the Future Began (California), "a worthy, informative, and sporting attempt to convince us that the world we live in was crucially shaped by things that happened in 1995" -- to which he adds parenthetically: "Campbell insists that there is a distinction between 'the x that changed the world' books and his own 'the year the future began' book, although it's hard to grasp."
"The book is not completely persuasive," Menand writes, "but that's not important. None of the 'x that changed the world' books are completely persuasive, for the reason that all dots have dots of their own." After all, "Whatever happened in 33 or 1959 or 1995 never would have happened unless certain things had happened in 32, 1958, and 1994. And so on, back into the protozoic slime. All points are turning points." Nevertheless, he argues, the valuable books of the single-dot genre are valuable because the make us look more closely at people, events, or whatever that we might not otherwise.
So how does this apply to the Godfather films? Well, only vaguely, since there are, after all, many fewer dots to connect in this species of history. Mostly it applies because this afternoon and evening I'm headed for screenings of both Godfather and Godfather II at the Museum of the Moving Image, in a series called See It Big, which in the case of these pictures I haven't in quite a while, and am really eager to. Only, to say that I haven't "seen them big" recently doesn't mean that I haven't seen them recently. In fact, I've never stopped watching them. I had them, and regularly watched them, on VHS and then on Laserdisk and now on Blu-ray -- and also the clever VHS Godfather Chronicles, which rearranged I and II in chronological format, gathering the "prequel" portions of II and placing them before I and gathering the "sequel" portions and placing them after.
For the record, I also have Godfather III on VHS, Laserdisk, and Blu-ray, and I'm here to tell you that I can actually watch the thing (though somehow I don't believe I've quite gotten around to watching the Blu-ray yet). As I've written here before, there are interesting things in it. But for our present purposes let's just say that in Godfather II Francis Ford Coppola made maybe the greatest sequel to anything ever, and then in Godfather III he didn't.
In case you hadn't detected it, I'm a little nervous. Am I possibly just a bit Godfather-ed out? I guess I'll find out.
Possibly by way of mental distraction, I found myself pondering a side question, which it occurred to me later is of the "single-dot" variety: Would the whole Godfather kaboodle have been what it was without Brando?
There is, of course, a vast literature about the Godfather films, which I've mostly tried to avoid dipping into. But I know enough to know that Paramount fought Coppola on almost all of his casting choices for I, generally preferring nice, safely bankable Hollywood types, and was prepared to dump him from the project over his fascination with Brando, of whom they were scared stiff, seeing him as a has-been who would make it impossible to get the picture made.
Honestly, I suppose there were any number of actors who could have made the part work. In much the same way that when Coppola went looking for an actor play the young Vito Corleone in Godfather II, with no "young Brando" available, he found Robert De Niro. There might even have been other actors who would have made the Godfather himself memorable. But, I'm thinking, not "Brando-memorable." And just think how much his presence saturates the Godfather films in which he didn't appear.
At some point in my idle speculations I found myself inadvertently bumping back into the question, what would the Godfather film(s) have been without Francis Ford Coppola? Certainly the first film would have been made, and with whatever version of a script Mario Puzo would have written for another director (I find it interesting that, for all my Godfather obsession, I've never been impelled to read Puzo himself), it probably would have been successful, maybe even very successful. But would it have achieved anything like the stature of the film Coppola made? And even if it had been successful enough to spawn a sequel, is it possible to imagine one of the quality of the one we got?
Which is all the more intriguing if we look at the rest of Coppola's filmography, where the closest thing there is to a point of interest is the mess that is Apocalypse Now. Hmm. What can I say except that in the grand scheme of thigns, when you make films of the quality of Godfather I and II, you really don't owe anyone any explanations or excuses.
And you know, it's been a long time since I looked at the Godfather Chronicles version. Yeah, I've only got it on VHS, but still . . . .
What GOP Primary Voters Need To Know About Scott Walker. Part I
Zach Wisniewski is DWT's new Wisconsin expert. He's a husband, a father, a public servant, a blogger, a proud liberal, and a fourth generation union member. A lifelong resident of Wisconsin, he talks about how proud he is to have been born and raised in a state that produced progressive icons like Bob La Follette, Bill Proxmire, Gaylord Nelson, and Russ Feingold, and he's going to help us understand the fight against the regressive policies of Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies. His first post for us, as Scott Walker surges among GOP primary voters in Iowa, explains how Wisconsin's middle class has shrunk more under Walker than any other state in the nation and emphasizes just how miserable Walker's record has been on job creation, the middle class, and the economy. Scott Walker's Biggest Success: Shrinking Wisconsin's Middle Class
by Zach Wisniewski As noted by CapTimes reporter Mike Ivey, a new report by the Pew Charitable Trust showed Wisconsin with the largest decline in the nation in the percentage of families considered to be middle class.
If you feel like you're working harder for less money, it's not your imagination. Wisconsin ranks worst among the 50 states in terms of a shrinking middle class, with real median household incomes here falling 14.7 percent since 2000, according to a new report. The Pew Charitable Trust report showed Wisconsin with the largest decline in the percentage of families considered "middle class," or those earning between 67 and 200 percent of their state's median income.
In 2000, 54.6 percent of Wisconsin families fell into the middle class category but that has fallen to 48.9 percent in 2013, according to U.S. Census figures compiled by Pew.
All other states showed some decline but none as great as Wisconsin's 5.7 percent figure.
The results of the Pew report should come as no shock to those of us here in Wisconsin who've felt the full weight of Gov. Scott Walker's attack on the middle class thanks to Act 10. After all, a vast majority of public employees are middle class wage earners, and the provisions of Act 10 empowered Gov. Walker and his Republican allies in the Legislature to further cut the take-home pay of public employees beyond the cuts those public employees had endured thanks to furloughs under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. In fact, I know a number of public employees whose take home pay is less now than it was nearly ten years ago (in some cases by nearly ten percent), and many of those solidly middle class public employees could ill afford a cut in their take home pay. While Gov. Walker's main purpose in "dropping the bomb" that was Act 10 on public employees may have been to weaken public employee unions politically, one of the most destructive side effects of Act 10 was the weakening of Wisconsin's middle class. It's widely accepted that a strong middle class with plenty of disposable income grows the economy far better than the trickle down theory of giving tax cuts to the richest individuals and corporations, and here in Wisconsin we're seeing that fact borne out in the struggles our state's middle class are facing. It's my hope that at some point during the 2016 Republican presidential primaries Gov. Scott Walker is going to have to answer for his absolutely miserable record on job creation and growing Wisconsin's economy. As proof of Gov. Walker's absolutely miserable record, one needs not look very far, whether it's his record of creating more low-wage jobs than middle-wage jobs, or the fact that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the quasi-public job creation agency created by Gov. Walker, sent millions of tax dollars to companies that outsourced jobs to foreign countries. And don't overlook the fact that Gov. Walker's job creation corporation also failed to track whether 99 businesses were repaying a total of $8 million in past-due loans over the course of a year. The $8 million in overdue loans the WEDC lost track of constituted 16% of that agency's $51 million loan portfolio. That's not the kind of job creation record I'd want to have if I were running for president, and given the fact that Republicans control all three branches of government in Wisconsin, Gov. Walker has no one to blame but himself for his absolutely miserable record on job creation and the economy. However, Gov. Walker has been quite successful in shrinking Wisconsin's middle class, which no doubt will play well with with folks like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, who are the very people who may decide which Republican will be that party's nominee in 2016.
Thursday night-- actually Friday morning at 2:30-- Eizabeth Warren and a handful of allies managed to get an important amendment voted on in the Budget debate. Although it lost, 42 to 56,it now has almost every senator on record for wanting to either expand or cut Social Security. Politically, it was a momentous vote. Only two arch-conservative Democrats, corporate whore Tom Carper (D-DE) and political coward Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) voted with the Republicans against expanding Social Security. Every other Democrat is now on record for expanding Social Security. The amendment was introduced by Warren, along with Joe Manchin (D-WV), Patty Murray (D-WA) Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI). "Our country," explained Senator Warren, "faces a growing retirement crisis. Two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for most of their income in retirement, and for 15 million people, Social Security is what stands between them and poverty. We need to keep our promises to America’s seniors, and that means strengthening and expanding Social Security." If she's the most liberal Democrat in the Senate, Joe Maanchin is usually thought of as the most conservative, although conservative and somewhat populist in a very West Virginia kind of way. He said that it's "time this Congress sets our priorities based on American values. In my eyes, the highest priority should be the seniors who belong to the greatest generation who helped build this nation into what it is today. We must make it clear that for those seniors, Social Security is a promise they can count on. This amendment begins the process of putting differences aside in order to keep our promises to our seniors by protecting Social Security beneficiaries while working to ensure the long-term solvency of this vital program. Senator Warren and I are committed to making sure the Social Security Trust Fund remain permanently solvent so that this great promise will be available for generations to come." Before the vote, the only senators on record for expanding Social Security were Warren, Brown, Merkley, Schatz and Hirono. Now there are 42. and it's a good argument for not recruiting Democratic candidates from among congressmen with unreliable records on protecting Social Security, like Chris Van Hollen in Maryland and, far worse, Patrick Murphy in Florida. We need more like Elizabeth Warren and fewer like Tom Carper and Heidi Heitkamp. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Alan Grayson (D-FL) with have been the 43rd and 44th yes vote on this amendment.