Sunday, May 17, 2009

Obama Should Have Played The Impotent Sea Snakes For The Notre Dame Graduates

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And Maybe If The Graduating Class Was Capable Of Critical Thinking They Would Have Protested Something Else


I don't know who gave the commencement address at "my" graduation. One step ahead of the law, I had already left the country in the spring and was in the Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech on graduation day. I called a couple of college friends and none of them could remember who spoke; Taroundant, where I spent that week, was amazing. I still have a small white stone statue I watched someone carving and then got from him by exchanging some detritus from my old life.

A decade later I was back in America, living in San Francisco and playing punk rock on KUSF, the radio station owned by the University of San Francisco, not just a Catholic university-- a Jesuit one. The school's mission statement:
VISION:

The University of San Francisco will be internationally recognized as a premier Jesuit Catholic, urban University with a global perspective that educates leaders who will fashion a more humane and just world.

MISSION:

The core mission of the University is to promote learning in the Jesuit Catholic tradition. The University offers undergraduate, graduate and professional students the knowledge and skills needed to succeed as persons and professionals, and the values and sensitivity necessary to be men and women for others.

The University will distinguish itself as a diverse, socially responsible learning community of high quality scholarship and academic rigor sustained by a faith that does justice. The University will draw from the cultural, intellectual and economic resources of the San Francisco Bay Area and its location on the Pacific Rim to enrich and strengthen its educational programs.

I never took any classes there. I was the radio station's "professional advisor," or something like that. I didn't get paid. I just had a chance to play music I loved on the radio. Earlier I had been fired by KSJO for having the Sex Pistols live on the air-- the show is part of a bootleggish release, Big Tits Over America-- and then from KSAN for... gee, I don't remember. There were so many firing offenses every week that I can't even recall which one they finally got me on, months and months after every other free-form dj on the station had been cashiered by the new (corporate) regime. That was because I was on after midnight and none of the new bosses had ever heard my show so when they first told me I was fired I asked why and they didn't know so they actually let me stay until something outraging their sensibilities reached them.

But KUSF, the Jesuit station never bothered me. Well... almost never. I just couldn't resist playing a tape I had gotten in the mail from a band in Tampa called the Impotent Sea Snakes. A more accommodating dj would have just stuck to something less offensive, like "I Wanna Fuck Your Dad," but I only wanted to blast "Pope John Paul Can Suck My Dick," over the Catholic airwaves. Every time I played it I would get a note asking me to please not play it again, which, of course, encouraged me to play it again and again and again.

Have you watched any of the prissy little assholes being interviewed on CNN about how they don't want President Obama coming to their campus-- another Catholic school-- to give a commencement address because they disagree with his policies? My blood boils as I look at the ugly, distorted faces of future torturers, banksters, Klan sympathizers and Evan Bayh supporters. If they don't want a gay marriage they shouldn't have one. If they don't want an abortion, no one is forcing them. If they don't like stem cell research I hope they have the courage of their convictions to die a miserable and painful death from a combination of Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, a spinal chord injury and cancer.

And why not? They're so sure they're going to be playing harps in the heavenly clouds while the rest of us burn in hell, they should just leave us alone on earth and keep their ignorant, primitive superstitions, religionist quackery and Know Nothing prejudices to themselves.

If you want to protest something about Obama, how about something real? John Cusack wrote about A Hollow and Horrible Equivocation, the subject of which would have certainly caused protests at my college in the mid-60s. Personally I have very mixed feelings about the release of the pornographic torture photos because of my concern for the young men and women fighting overseas. I have a tendency to want the photos to be seen only by a jury debating whether Bush, Cheney and their co-conspirators should get life imprisonment or... something that better suits their crimes against humanity. On the other hand, I agree with everything Cusack says.
The release of the photos was won by ACLU lawyers who have fought to bring to light the full extent of the brutality and torture that U.S. Army and intelligence services have perpetrated against human beings in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and at CIA "black sites" around the world. Torture that was sanctioned and effectively legalized under the former administration, and that, if we are to be honest, most Americans knew-- or should have known-- was being carried out in our names.

Only now is the knowledge starting to give rise to the widespread outrage and calls for accountability that such crimes against humanity deserve. Growing numbers of citizens are demanding the independent investigation and prosecution of the members of the Bush administration responsible for the vitiation of fundamental legal principles like habeas corpus and the flagrant violation of both international and domestic laws against torture. The pundits, hacks and shills who dismiss these calls for investigation and prosecution-- integral to any serious definition of accountability-- disgrace themselves and their country.

The situation in which we now find ourselves is so bizarre, it's hard to fathom. New revelations continue to surface-- we learn that Vice President Cheney's office ordered and specified how a man was to be tortured, and mounting evidence suggests the United States tortured to extract false confessions that would justify preemptive war on Iraq. Yet a Democratic president leads a Democratic congress to whitewash institutionalized torture and in effect trash any conceivable notion of the rule of law, all in the name of "looking forward."

One more thing about "Catholic teaching," while supporting every travesty in the history of what horrors man could visit on his fellow men-- from torture and slavery to global imperialism and subjegation of women and the poor-- Catholic teaching should now be about learning, as Pope John Paul suggested, from its own mistakes so it stops committing them some day. These arrogant and over-wrought assholes should start over in kindergarten:



Obama didn't play the Impotent Sea Snakes for them. Instead, he made a gracious, memorable and challenging address that I'm sure the ones willing to listen will remember for their whole lives. Here's just a very few paragraphs:
Your class has come of age at a moment of great consequence for our nation and the world – a rare inflection point in history where the size and scope of the challenges before us require that we remake our world to renew its promise; that we align our deepest values and commitments to the demands of a new age. It is a privilege and a responsibility afforded to few generations – and a task that you are now called to fulfill.

This is the generation that must find a path back to prosperity and decide how we respond to a global economy that left millions behind even before this crisis hit – an economy where greed and short-term thinking were too often rewarded at the expense of fairness, and diligence, and an honest day’s work.

We must decide how to save God’s creation from a changing climate that threatens to destroy it. We must seek peace at a time when there are those who will stop at nothing to do us harm, and when weapons in the hands of a few can destroy the many. And we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity – diversity of thought, of culture, and of belief.

In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.

It is this last challenge that I’d like to talk about today. For the major threats we face in the 21st century – whether it’s global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease – do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups.

Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.

Unfortunately, finding that common ground – recognizing that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a “single garment of destiny” – is not easy. Part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man – our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin. We too often seek advantage over others. We cling to outworn prejudice and fear those who are unfamiliar. Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game. The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice. And so, for all our technology and scientific advances, we see around the globe violence and want and strife that would seem sadly familiar to those in ancient times.

We know these things; and hopefully one of the benefits of the wonderful education you have received is that you have had time to consider these wrongs in the world, and grown determined, each in your own way, to right them. And yet, one of the vexing things for those of us interested in promoting greater understanding and cooperation among people is the discovery that even bringing together persons of good will, men and women of principle and purpose, can be difficult.

The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardships can be relieved.

The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.

As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called The Audacity of Hope. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that’s not what was preventing him from voting for me.

What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website – an entry that said I would fight “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, “I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.”

Fair-minded words.

After I read the doctor’s letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn’t change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that – when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do – that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

That’s when we begin to say, “Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.

So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”

Understand – I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it – indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory – the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

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6 Comments:

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a graduate of a Jesuit school, I appreciate your comments. The Jesuits were a fairly open minded group for a religious order. I wish the hierarchy of the church had retained something of that character...they have not. They begin to resemble the Baptists and other fundamentalist sects in their narrowness, embarassing those of us who at one time long ago and far away had an attachment to the religion.
The mention of tempering speech in Obama's remarks is charming. I wonder, though, if Obama had been on the front lines of the debate over race 40 years ago whether he may not have valued the assertiveness of Malcolm X in confronting bigots. For gays, we still have not won the battle of acceptance and equal rights in this society. The derogatory jokes that can no longer be expressed about blacks are commonplace when referring to gays. You won't hear anyone defending the use of the "n" word, but in print evangelicals weep over the distortion of their beloved word "gay" to refer to nasty homos. If you don't have hate mongers attacking you for who you are, it is easy to be tolerant of the other side. As a gay person, I don't have that luxury.

 
At 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only a queer could appreciate your article

 
At 8:57 PM, Blogger AmPowerBlog said...

Hey man, I don't post anonymously, so you can look me up.

I didn't just "play" punk. I was a punk. I'm pro-life today and I can think just fine. Notre Dame's protesters did right by me. President Obama, a.k.a, President Infanticide, needs to yank his head on reproductive issues.

 
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