Oh, Sweet Jesus

If you click the title to this post you’ll be taken to Newsweek’s site, specifically an article titled Overturning the Gospels by Melinda Henneberger. The dastardly Liberal press? Maybe, but a dastard is also a coward (look it up.) I don’t think that this particular article is at all cowardly, but read it if you will and judge for yourself. The article talks about something I’ve touched on myself a few times, mostly in a comedic vein: the gap between the public Christianity of the current conservative religious right and what Mr. Nazareth actually taught way back when. I’ll be a little more explicit now, in my ranting venue, so this shouldn’t be confused with mere jokes. (As if any truly good joke could be trivial, but that’s another posting.)

A great many Americans get Jesus pretty much backwards, according to the article. For one thing, apparently they think that Jesus said that “God helps him who helps himself.” Jesus said no such thing. Ben Franklin said that, as befits a cynical and humorous man. It was an observation of how things really seem to work from someone not disposed to give a fig about any god or demon, but it was definitely not in the vein of Jesus’ work. What Jesus said was, for example, to “sell your valuables and give the money to the poor.” That does not even come close to meaning the same thing as Franklin’s observation, in fact if anything it means the opposite. Here are a few other things that Jesus of Nazareth said. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” In other words, pay your taxes, which also doesn’t really jibe with what many fundamentalist Christians think their religion is all about. Anything else? Well, how about “it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven.” Not what the average “screw the poor they must deserve it” American wants to hear, I think. Or how about “Love your neighbor as yourself” or “blessed are the meek?” A bit out of the mainstream Conservative American Christian tradition, I believe.

I can’t presume to interpret Jesus of Nazareth, but I have read the primary books about him, especially those Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ones you find in what Christians call the “New Testament.” You know, that book where they say god reveals himself as loving and kind? Funny that they don’t seem to believe in loving kindness, at least not in their public persona. But, hey, they do have a long tradition behind them. I’ve been watching and greatly enjoying the HBO series Rome. On the HBO web site is all sorts of information not only about the series but also about Rome itself, including a presentation on Roman Gods, titled “The Gods Are Out to Get You,” in which it is said that the Roman attitude toward their many gods was that the gods seemed to say, “If you do everything exactly right, with no mistakes, I’ll make your life and afterlife wonderful. Otherwise, you’re screwed, human.” Substitute the word God for the word gods, and you’ve got the apparent attitude of the fundamentalist Christian movement. Isn’t that odd? Here all these Protestant reformers went to all sorts of trouble and sacrifice, sometimes getting burned at the stake for their efforts, to separate Christianity from Rome, and here’s a major movement in twenty-first century America that’s running right back home, by Jove.

My personal heresy (heresy is asking questions; look it up) began when I read the old family bible that used to live on top of the desk in the front alcove. It was an ornate old edition of the King James text that had a list of ancestors on my mother’s side written in the back. It also had every example of text that was quoted from Jesus of Nazareth printed in red ink, whereas the rest of the text, from Adam to the Beast 666, was in plain black. Once I decided just to read the red text. Imagine my surprise to find out that a whole lot of what I’d been taught about Jesus apparently came from somebody else, because I noticed that he never said a lot of the things I’d heard attributed to him. He did suggest that we be generous, charitable, and loving. He said that the virtuous thing to do was to visit the imprisoned, tend to the sick, give your money to the poor, and comfort the afflicted. Not a word about the virtues of self-reliance. If there’s any evidence that the USA is not a Christian nation, that ought to do it. In spite of what you hear daily, and much like the other disinformation that they spout, the religious right is lying about Jesus, too. Oh, yes, Jesus disapproved of lying by the way.

I’m not the first person to notice this, of course. Tom Jefferson noticed the same thing, and edited a version of the new testament, still in print, where he only put in the parts that he thought Jesus would approve of. (It’s called the Jefferson Bible, and it’s available from Amazon, among other places.) I’m not going to be so presumptuous, but I will point out another version of the new testament, called The Gospel According to Jesus. No, Jesus didn’t write down his own scripture. Would that he had, but then Siddhartha did, including saying that he was not to be worshipped, and you see how effective that was, so maybe it would’ve made no difference. This book, also widely available, is a report on a study in which computerized linguistic analysis techniques were applied to the original documents of the books of the gospel. That is, the texts were examined with an eye to syntax, word usage, quirks in construction and other aspects (explained in this text) to differentiate authorship of the various portions. Surprise, there are quite a few apparent authors. There is one core bit of gospel from one author, writing as Matthew. It begins “When Jesus was about thirty years old he came down . . .” and ends with his execution at the hands of the Romans. The single reported miracle is breathing life back into the dead girl, which you can be trained to do by the Red Cross to this day. This is not the Jesus we’ve come to know over the centuries, but it is the most authentic picture extant of what the man really taught. Unfortunately for the right wing of Christianity, what’s left in still includes the same advice on humility, frugality, and loving enemies. Maybe the rest of the testament, and the other things tacked on over the millennia, really are just rich people’s way to obscure the ugly truth about Jesus of Nazareth. But what do I know? I just read books, I don’t interpret them on TV. I drive my own used car, too.

My point is that I fully agree with the author of the Newsweek article which you can read for yourself by clicking on the title of this post. A whole lot of Americans have got Mr. Nazareth just about totally backwards. Honestly, I’m not advocating for Jesus here, I’m advocating for honesty and integrity. There are arguments for being the way Americans have always been. We’re generous when the negative effects of not being generous hit us upside the head hard enough, like they’re doing right now. Otherwise we tend to get all tied up in the virtues of being industrious and enterprising. That’s fine, and well and good, but it’s not Christian and it never was. I wish people would quit misquoting that poor Nazarene and just tell the truth, is all.

Better Funny Pages

For those who may wish to know, I’ve been doing further work cleaning up my Funny Pages web site. This includes making the front page easier to read and less cluttered, as well as ensuring proper operation of the shared border links. Low bandwidth users can get to my low graphics start page here. Or, to be really lazy about reading the current article go directly to the archives, click on the current year, then on the bottom link furthest to the right. The archives can be accessed right here.

Also don’t forget the FAQ page, right here. I’ve put a better label on the start page, and fixed a problem I didn’t even know I had with the mail link on the FAQ page. No wonder no one ever mailed me suggestions any more: it went to an address I haven’t had in almost three years. If you tried that, I’m sorry. It’s fixed now. Anyhow, be sure to check out the Funny Pages list of Frequently Asked Questions.

By the way, if you have a faster connection or lots of patience and want to go directly to the current article, it’s right here.

The Worst Is Over But Yet To Come

The worst that is over is the damage from Hurricane Katrina. All ready there are people planning to reopen restaurants, re-invigorate New Orleans, rebuild casinos along the Mississippi coast, and generally get back to living life. That’s a step up from the despair of last week, and an indication that, like most people, the people of the Gulf Coast are a pretty resilient bunch when the chips are down, or not down in the case of those casinos (yuk yuk.)

The worst that is yet to come is the political fallout from the whole thing. Public perception of the current administration is in about the same shape as most of New Orleans, and I include the things floating around in the flood water, if you get my drift. Of course, as seems to be typical, everyone within our elected government has a strong opinion about what should be done. Unfortunately, this usually involves hanging the opposition party (opposed to the party of the speaker I mean) for crimes and misdemeanors. The administration “isn’t going to play the blame game” (as their opponents certainly are.) Rather, they’re simply going to point out how the State and local authorities are entirely responsible for the entire mess. Senator Frist proposes a bi-partisan investigation of the problems and Senator Reid tears him a new one. Huh?

I recall a talk given by a Public Relations guy from Quincy Massachusetts who said that the only way to come through a situation where you messed up and be intact is to own up to it and make it good so far as you’re able. It is significant to me that this fellow was also a former Unitarian minister. Somehow the church with no intrinsic fear of hell and damnation manages to get the ethical issues right more often than those who “fear god.” If the administration at any point simply said anything at all like, “Oh, rats, we were wrong. We’re going to do whatever it takes to make up for it. We’re really sorry,” then they’d have no credibility problems. They could do that about the WMDs, about the intelligence failures of 2001, and now about the response to the disaster in the South. Bush did actually admit that something went wrong this time, which makes once, but he failed to go all the way and say he was responsible and was going to try to fix it all up. If he did that, about anything people have reason to doubt about the last five years, Senator Reid would perforce have to shut up. As it is, I guess Mr. Bush is okay with the slippery slope he’s on, and doesn’t mind the thought of being remembered as being a President of similar caliber to, oh, WH Taft, maybe. Teapot Dome, anyone?

I’m not excusing the critics who blame Bush for everything from the flooding to their hangnails. That’s just not possible, although in a way it’s sort of fitting given the amount of poison talk I’ve heard and read about Clinton over the years. But, that poison talk and writing is wrong, and so is blaming the administration for everything. Still, refusing to admit you’ve made mistakes is a dangerous position to take. Just think, if Nixon had said, “Oh, damn! They did what? Man, my bad for hiring those jerks. Heads will roll!” he could have fired a couple of aides and be known today as one of the greatest Presidents of the Twentieth century. So maybe could GW Bush, if he just owned up a bit. I don’t think I’ll hold my breath though. In this case, that could prove fatal.

Let’s Get Real Here

Is there something in the water at Ivy League business schools? Why is it that I see such a pattern with Ivy League MBAs that I don’t see in graduates from any other class of colleges? What pattern, you ask? I thought you’d never.
Actually there is more than one. First is the ethical bit. The ethical bit is that attitude that makes it okay for you to take someone else’s money and lend it to a third party without a reasonable expectation of it ever being repaid. Good for you, if you work it right; maybe it maximizes return for the stockholders even, but ethical? No, not by any reasonable standard. So, for the benefit of any Yale, Harvard or other Ivy League MBA who might read this some day, here’s how it goes: If it isn’t your money, you must be careful to do nothing that would jeopardize the capital worth of the money. In plain non-economic terms, don’t screw around with other people’s stuff.
Then there’s the “Flexibility is good” school of corporate organization. The theory is that being able to react to changing circumstances quickly makes an organization more competitive. That’s probably true. It is frequently interpreted by the MBA as meaning that every time a new idea comes along, you should totally reorganize your operation to adapt to it. There’s nothing in the idea of adaptation that calls for a total reorganization, but every time there is a real or perceived crisis, that’s what you do. If you’re an Ivy League MBA, that is.
As a CEO, GW Bush makes a good doorstop. He makes one doubleplusgood middle manager, though. A middle manager with an Ivy League MBA, no less. Herewith, some examples.
Ethically, I’m not sure Mr. Bush himself is to blame for much. However, he surrounds himself with persons of dubious ethical standards. His party complains, and rightly so, that he is accused of being a liar and a cheat. Fair enough, but his supporters lie and cheat all the time, and have been all along. For instance, I once received an email with a story about a congressional hearing where Al Gore presided, involving Oliver North and his story about a dangerous man in Afghanistan named Osama Bin Laden. Gore, says the story, ignored the warning. That story has been repeated over and over to the point where it’s easy to “know” that it really happened and be really glad that Gore didn’t win that election. Oh, sorry, or that Gore got cheated out of that election (better, my Liberal friends?) In fact, according to Colonel North, the hearings never happened. Certainly Oliver North is no big fan of Al Gore, but the true story has somehow failed to circulate widely, leaving many benighted folks believing the lie. (That’s why I put in that “cheated out of the election” thing. If you’re a Bush supporter, this paragraph has some things for you to think about, such as how not to speak of your opposition.) The number of lies promulgated by Bush’s supporters is amazing. From Ann Coulter with her non-existent footnotes (they’re endnotes and frequently not there) to Rush Limbaugh pulling supposed facts out of his rear end to Bill O’Reilly doing pretty much anything, the tactic seems to be to come up with the most outrageous story possible, back it up with bombast, and let the Internet gossip mill do the rest. With a crowd like that speaking on his behalf, Mr. Bush should expect to be tainted by association, and frequently.
Mr. Bush’s corporate reorganization came in response to the attacks of 9/11/01. A good MBA, he put his corporate smarts to work in deciding to centralize responsibility for planning, prevention, and response to terrorism in America. As is usually the case, this effort has so far led to less efficiency, upset employees, unclear missions, and most distressing, an appallingly slow response to the greatest natural disaster to hit our shores in many decades. In a corporate environment this sort of thing generally yields a few resignations, lowered productivity, and poor morale. This is because, to put it bluntly, enforced change always sucks! When an organization changes properly there is a buy in by the entire workforce, a subtle thing to accomplish at best. Unfortunately, our President may be intelligent enough, but he is not a bit subtle.
So, the score so far includes overreaction to a terrorist threat that is probably considerably less now than it was prior to 9/11, a denser and more opaque bureaucracy with lowered usefulness to the public at large, a perceived diminishing of personal liberties, increased inconvenience in all phases of life, and a severely late response to a terrible natural disaster.
I guess that so far I’m quite pleased with how Mr. Bush has conducted his business. How about you?

Lessons from a Disaster

There’s a tremendous amount of noise being made about the response to the disaster of the Gulf Coast, some of it even true. I even plan to rant a bit myself, but not just here. Check back for a later post when I’ll go ape shit on somebody maybe, but for now, this is more of a philosophical ramble.

The hard core conservative base that seems to have our President where they want him seems to strongly advocate rugged individualism and self reliance. Both virtues, no doubt about it. But like any virtue either one can be overdone to the point of becoming harmful. For those with both intelligence and compassion (the intelligence to know what the word “compassion” means, most importantly) the situation in my country in the past few decades has deteriorated steadily into that very state of rugged individualistic pathology. Remember the 1980s? The “Me” decade, they called it. Michael Milliken, junk stocks, “He who dies with the most toys wins”, even “Shit Happens.” Those things didn’t start out being bad, but the longer they were around the worse people made them. Some background.

“Shit Happens” is true enough. In this case, ‘shit’ is another way to say ‘stuff.’ Some people don’t like words like ‘shit’ but there’s a great deal of it loose in the world. In fact, it’s fair to say we wouldn’t be here without it. I think this phrase goes back to the origins of my generation, which was rising to power in those days. I think Paul Simon was writing about us when he penned the song Born at the Right Time. I know I was, and so were most of us. Even in the 1980s we had to remind ourselves that some things are bad, and they just happen and there’s nothing we can do about it. We keep forgetting that lesson though, witness hurricane Katrina, which is one big ‘ol bunch of shit that happened to the Gulf Coast. Worse, by far, than any terrorist attack could possibly be. New Orleans these days is literally full of shit, as it happened to bubble up out of the sewers for a week. That’s one thing.

Junk Bonds and Penny Stocks? Not a thing wrong with them, until somebody uses them as a means to rob his clients. Those clients were forgetting, in spite of the bumper stickers, that “shit happens.” These stocks will always go up. I’m only paying three cents a share, what could go wrong? A portfolio-churning, weaseling, conniving thief of a stockbroker, that’s what could go wrong. And that’s another thing.

The “Me” decade? Well, there’s not a thing in the world wrong with taking care of yourself so far as you are able. But, can you get petroleum out of the ground, refine it into motor fuel, and put it into the automobile you’ve built yourself from scratch? No? Then I guess you need other people. See, you might be involved in some way with building the automobile. You don’t build them from scratch, but maybe the factory you work in does. You might keep the books, program the robots, or detail the paint job, but you’re involved in making the car. Somebody else is involved in getting petroleum out of the rocks and into the refinery, then converting the petroleum to gasoline and other fuels. Actually, to make the car and fuel it, even one car, takes thousands and thousands of people all working together. I thought at the time that the “Me” thing was an aberration. Oops. My generation was largely misled as they came of age. Dang ‘em.

Finally, a glimmer of hope for those following us Boomers through life. Remember that the phrase is “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That doesn’t say a thing about money. Just “toys”, which means any nice stuff that our parent’s never had. Really, it’s that simple, so if you make sure we have “toys” we’ll let you keep more of your money. I am not making this up.

And it is my generation which is responsible for the past two Presidents. Kennedy had affairs, but he knew how to be discreet. Clinton has one intern go down on him and we all get to hear about it. I’ll bet JFK is laughing, wherever he is, at how inept Clinton was at philandering. And GW Bush? He’s referred to as the “CEO” president, but any CEO who was as sloppy as he is would get fired by the board before he could do any more damage. Like so many, George fails to see the importance of actually doing good works, as opposed to always looking like you’re doing good works. Add that to his well-known C average grades, and you’ve got the picture of a man who will appear, and probably, like all Presidents, be disconnected somewhat from ordinary people.

So when disasters occur, be they natural or manufactured by Saudi Arabians, a president who’s not the brightest will be at a disadvantage when he responds. It’s reasonable to expect some poorly thought out choices. Where, for instance, are those WMDs we invaded Iraq to do away with. (Obviously our attack was extremely successful.) And why not keep reading a children’s book when the country is under attack, and why not take the Secret Service’s word on where to go when you finally leave the school? Leadership, to many a Boomer, is all image and words. Substance is for sissies! When the hurricane devastates one of your major cities, chop some more brush. Hey, it’s your brush, and the city is only yours in name. Got to take care of yourself, right?

But now here’s the really hopeful part. Thanks to a disaster of immense proportions, much larger, as I said, than the disaster of 9/11, it has finally become obvious to all but the most obtuse of my co-generationists that it’s important for people to watch out for each other, and even take care of each other from time to time. That’s why the progressive income tax was introduced: the rich can better afford to pay than the rest of us, so they are taxed at a higher rate. The money goes to programs that benefit all of us, including the rich but also including the very poorest, so we’re all better off because the income tax is progressive. Except the rich, who are no worse off than they would have been if they weren’t taxed at all. The inheritance tax is a similar way to keep the wealth spread around. (Unless your estate will be worth $750,000.00, you aren’t going to be paying any tax after you die.) What taking half of large estates does is ensure that the wealth keeps circulating and not piling up in a few families’ money vaults. Gasoline tax? It pays for the roads. Sales tax? It pays for your local services. Some things paid by taxes include the National Guard, bridges and tunnels, traffic signals, cops, roads and highways, street lights, programs to aid farmers, flood control projects, the entire military, and so on for a long, long way.

I’ve been dismissed on religious grounds (did I throw a single religious reason in that paragraph?), on the grounds that I’m hopelessly naïve (nyah nyah) and simply thrown away as a damned liberal (which I’m not particularly.) But, if you will, here’s a religious reason to go ahead and pay your taxes: Jesus said you should. Jesus also said to sell your valuables and give the money to the poor, but I’m less inclined to follow that bit of advice. What the religious right thinks Jesus said is quite a bit different from those two ideas, but then I’ve never been a fundamentalist, so maybe my reading of the text is flawed. For the record, I seriously doubt it. But, religion aside, which is where I prefer to keep it anyway, events have shown quite clearly why we should concern ourselves with the welfare of our fellow humans. Hurricanes in Mississippi; earthquakes in California; tornadoes in Okalahoma; drought all over the place; landslides, avalanches, forest fires; the world is a dangerous place, and we survive and thrive by helping each other survive and thrive. Simple, but for a lot of my generation, pretty difficult to grasp. Our loss.

Activist Judges and Other Snarky Stuff

A snark is a creature that doesn’t exist, in case you’re wondering. So are activist judges. I’ve heard a lot of malarky from the self described conservative wing to the effect that the judiciary is getting to be entirely too activist, hell-bent on making new law, unwilling to consider the Constitution, and so on for quite a while. Yeah. Right. What some call “Judicial Activism” is actually a good thing. Consider the following.

If somebody didn’t like the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election, that somebody could then agree with those who make the argument about activist judges. After all, since when does the Supreme Court have the right to intervene in a State matter? Even if that State is Florida and it can’t tell a hanging chad from a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Obviously the Supreme Court was meddling with the Constitution in a most illegal manner and making new law up out of whole cloth. This argument, like the ones being made by the, um, conservative wing today, is pretty much a load of hooey.

That the Supreme Court has the right to do what it does was established in the decision Marbury v Madison in, I think it was 1803. The Constitution doesn’t say anything about the Supreme Court being the final authority on anything in particular, just that it is the court of last resort. I never went to law school so I don’t know which side made the argument that the Court agreed with that being the court of last resort implies that the Supreme Court is also the final authority on exactly what any given law, including the Constitution, means. Well, heck, I’d have decided that too if I’d been on the court. Who wouldn’t? But, the important thing is that nobody challenged that decision at the time, and by now it’s been so long that the basic principle of common law favors that decision as being true and correct. In other words, what the Supreme Court decides, whether you agree or disagree, is entirely within it’s powers. And why, some ask, is that so gosh darned important?

It is important to have one final authority in law because unlike every other country at the time our Constitution was being written, and unlike a great many countries today, our charter does not come from a supreme being. In fact, the Preamble states quite clearly that “We the People Do Ordain and Establish this Constitution . . .” With no holy writ to back it up, there is no way to appeal to any supposedly infallible documentation to interpret the law. What we have is something called Precedent. The Constitution is a marvelous document, and anyone saying it isn’t subject to varying interpretation is trying to sell you something. Into slavery, maybe. For instance, what does “free speech” mean? Can you say anything you want any time you want? Well, no, according to court decisions going back two centuries. You can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, you can’t interfere with other people’s legal business, even for political purpose, and you can burn an American flag to make your point. All those things have been decided by the Supreme Court over a long period of time. According to the Court, the thing most intended to be protected by the first amendment is political speech. That’s why flag burning, as a form of political protest, is protected. (It’s also a non-issue. When’s the last time you saw anyone in this country burn one in protest?) That’s also why shouting a false alarm in a theater is not protected: there’s no political purpose to it. As to the non-interference with legal activities, you are still permitted to stand on the sidelines and picket and yell all you want. These things get argued first in a local court, then in a court of appeals, and then if the Supreme Court thinks the issue is important enough, decided for the final time by the same Supreme Court.

The fact that arguments happen all the time over the meaning of one Constitutional provision or another is proof that the document is open to varying interpretation. Those who insist that a “strict constructionist” approach will yield interpretations that, taa-daa, agree with their own opinions are, as I said, trying to avoid the unpleasant aspects of arguing out the issues by selling you a bogus version of their arguments.

The strongest argument in favor of not listening to the “strict constructionist” side too seriously is that they object to the judges “not being answerable to anyone.” Maybe they slept through their high-school civics class, but that is exactly what the people who wrote the constitution had in mind. A Federal judge, on any level, can’t be bought with political favors, and the pay is high enough to keep them honest as well. It’s only when an opposing opinion is presented well enough to convince the Justices to adopt it that this becomes a problem. Often, advocates of these opinions use Case Law, which relies on the idea of Precedent, to do the convincing. According to his judicial record, current nominee Roberts hews quite close to Precedent, for example, which should gladden the hearts of anyone who knows the law.

For the hard-core who think the courts are activist, here are some unpleasant (for them) Precedential facts:

The Confederacy lost the Civil War, or War Between the States, or War of Northern Aggression. It doesn’t matter what you call it, they lost. That’s a strong precedent for a strong Federal government, and the courts always agree. Always.

The Supreme Court is not living in a vacuum. Being humans, they are going to be swayed by public opinion, to a point at least. And as public opinion changes over time, the court will, as attorneys find ways to present their arguments, begin to accumulate precedents that pull the country along in a particular direction. For instance, the direction so derided by those who decry ‘activist judges.’ As an ever longer string of precedent has accumulated it is very unlikely that any justice appointed will be able, or want, to change much about that direction.

On a Federal level the pattern since 1865 has been to expand what you might call “opportunity rights” of individuals, which has the effect at the same time of limiting how much territory each individual actually controls. For example, your lunch counter can refuse service to anyone, but not on the basis of race, religion, age, or physical condition. If that old black handicapped Muslim is disturbing your other customers, you can throw her out for that. But not if the disturbance is because she’s an old black handicapped Muslim. I’m not advocating anything here except understanding what’s been going on with the courts, so don’t write me about my stating what is just the way things are after sixty years of precedent. You want to go back to Jim Crow, you’ll have to find some legitimate legal arguments on why we should do that. Go ahead, I dare you.

It’s that diminished ability for a person to be sure, just by looking around, that he’s doing the right thing, because everyone else looks just like him, that is moving the critics of the courts to decry their ‘activism.’ Sorry, but consider some countries that tried disenfranchising some of their citizens as a way to maintain that illusion. South Africa and Apartheid. Germany under the Nazis. Any country ruled by religious law. Are those nice places? No, they’re not, are they? So, like it or not, we’re stuck with being a nation of minorities, and we all have to get along somehow. Those so-called activist courts are an important part of getting along, not least because they not only answer to no human, but also they don’t look to any ‘infallible’ scripture as their guide.

See? I told you it was a good thing.

So . . .

So, don’t pull a FEMA; give some help to those poor people on the gulf coast.

So remember that France (remember them?) is a leader in offering aid, including gasoline, in the aftermath of the hurricane.

And also note how the policies embraced by the “moral majority” descended hard-core right wing are coming home to roost. A lack of will to spend Federal money other than on pork and military adventures resulted in a FEMA unable to respond in the virtually instantaneous manner to which we’d become accustomed. The drive for security above other considerations has distorted the ability of government agencies on all levels to plan for and respond to sudden catastrophe. The “good versus evil” view of politics has only served to weaken our ability to keep each others’ needs in mind and focussed us as a society on the disfunctional side of rugged individualism. Yee-hah!

Okay it isn’t maybe all that godawful but I do believe that someone with more brains than an Ivy League MBA seems to need might have done a bit better job of responding to the crises of this decade, and maybe even have been far sighted enough to know that disasters really do happen, that a war is easy to start but one heckuva bastard to finish, and that in spite of idealist rhetoric, some things really are best provided by the largest possible corporate enterprise, which, around these parts, is the Federal government.

Will we learn from our mistakes of the past ten years or so? Nah, why break a precedent now. Cynical? Me? Never!

Stress vs GW

GW Bush, that is. I’ve mentioned once or twice that while I think our President is basically an honest man and probably would be fun to party with if he still did that sort of thing, he doesn’t strike me as having what it takes to control the situation he’s in as President. I’ve tried not to bash any President. After all, I wouldn’t take that job if both parties drafted me and Congress passed a law that somehow said I had to. For that I’d move to Canada. But because being President is such a damned tough job it seems to me that we should be careful to not elect good old boys to the office. It seems to me that the two most effective presidents I can remember are Nixon and Clinton (but then I don’t believe that Ron Reagan was responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union.) Nixon and Clinton were not nice men as President. In fact both were weasels of the first order. And a weasel is just what the job calls for: you need to be slippery, flexible, and intelligent to be a good Prez.

Now it seems as if Bush is trying as hard as he can to drive his party from power. Maybe it’s a long suppressed desire for revenge for some slight from his youth, but he keeps pushing on with attitudes that are causing Republicans to try to put a little distance between themselves and him, and Democrats to (finally for Pete’s sake) actually attack the man. I wish they’d have attacked him in 2000 or 2004, but there you go. I don’t for a minute think that losing sixty gulf oil rigs is Bush’s fault, but his consistently pro big oil energy policies make that sound reasonable enough that the less intelligent (who can vote just as well as you or I) are starting to talk as if it were perfectly true. People are noticing that Bush’s well publicised economic recovery seems to have benefited those with lots of money rather than most of us, and that’s adding to his problems as well. Then there’s the issue of misinformation about the reasons for the war in Iraq. Maybe it was a good idea to do it to “spread democracy” but that’s not the reasons we heard at the time. And people are noticing that from a country where al-quaida feared to tread we have turned Iraq into a favorite breeding ground for new cells. Lucky us.

Bush’s speeches are starting to remind me of LBJ’s “Light at the End of the Tunnel” rhetoric, and they’re apparently just as convincing. There is one important difference that I see between Iraq and Vietnam, though. Our heavy involvement in the Vietnam War was the result of the Tonkin Gulf Incident that, we now know, was made up by LBJ. I knew at the time that LBJ was lying (it’s a gift), which is why I’m pretty sure that Bush thinks he’s telling the truth about Iraq whenever he talks about it. If the truth is “the facts as best you remember them” then he is, by definition, telling the truth. His facts appear to be pulled out of someone’s ear, but that’s another story. My point is that the poor guy sticks to those fabricated stories in the face of tremendous evidence to the contratrary, and that’s hurting his popularity as well.

But maybe he doesn’t care. After all, he can’t run again anyway, and he’s not a lawyer so the Supreme Court (the only possible promotional opportunity in government) is out, so he’s willing to jeopardize the Republican advantage on Capitol Hill just to avoid looking like he made a mistake. For a person who owes his political career and presidency to his party, that seems a tad ungrateful and none too bright.

Could GW Bush be that dumb? Hmmmm.

PS — Sept. 4 2005

I don’t doubt for an instant that the anguish you saw in the President when he visited the stricken areas was other than absolutely real. If he were as bad as his most strident critics, heck if he were as bad as Clinton’s most strident critics say that Clinton is, he’d still have to be moved by scenes like that.

The Aristocrats

This is a movie review. The link will take you to the web site of the movie and its producers. One of those producers is Penn Gillette, beloved, amazingly enough, resident of Las Vegas. Well, in short, The Aristocrats is the punch line of an old joke. A very old joke. Here is the joke, or that is, the parts I can post here without getting banned from the blogs:

A man, a woman, a boy, and a girl walk into a talent agent’s office. They tell the agent that they have a wonderful family act and they’d love to show it to him. The agent says, “Okay, go ahead,” and they begin.

Now comes the middle part of the joke, which is simply a description of the most obscene, disgusting, distasteful activities you can imagine that group performing. George Carlin’s tops the disgusting list, but they’re all pretty obscene. The one featuring the South Park kids is way more obscene and disgusting than the South Park Movie. Honest.

Any way, after as much of that sort of thing you can work in, they finish up, “Taa Daa!”

The talent agent says, “Wow. That’s quite an act. What do you call it?”

The father says, “The Aristocrats!”

Don’t think that’s funny? Neither do I. But, seeing it delivered by a hundred top comics is really really funny. The movie isn’t really the joke per se. It’s a documentary about comedy and comedians that’s really very insightful and thoughtful. You get to see Gilbert Gotfried deliver the joke to a comedy roast shortly after 9-11. Did the audience need that? Did they eat it up? Hoo-boy, is the Pope German? Sara Silverman, who is a sweet looking young woman, tells the joke as if it actually involved her and her family. Pretty much every headliner comedian and some not so well known ones contribute. You’ll even get to hear how Teller was “shocked mute.” Sure he was. The real value of the film is in the telling of how the joke, and comedians, work, grow and evolve into ever more complex forms. It’s a joke comedians tell to other comedians, sometimes for hours on end, so it is fascinating to see the wide variety of delivery styles, all of which are, amazingly, quite effective.

On the other hand, if you’re offended by unspeakable obscenity, then do not attend the film. The theater where we attended won’t let anyone under 18 in anyway, but even if they do, at least see the film first before taking a minor. But, given those caveats, if you’d like to learn a lot about the serious business of comedy, and laugh yourself silly to boot, then you’ll be glad you went to see The Aristocrats.