Thursday, December 20, 2007

On the Road

Somehow Mrs. RSI has the idea that 40 hours of driving will be a fun way to spend the holidays. So, we've driving from Kentucky to Venice, Florida to visit her mother for Christmas. Given that Mrs. RSI's mom doesn't have an internet hookup, it looks like opportunities for blogging will be few and far between over the next eight days.

Have a great Christmas everyone. Happy Holidays as well.

Ric Caric

Merry Christmas and Remember to Forget Jesus

This is another Christmas post from last year. Unfortunately, the war against enjoying Christmas continues.

The "War on Christmas" has turned out to be a great fundraiser for right-wing Christian organizations. According to the LA Times, The American Family Assn., the Liberty Counsel and other conservative groups have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of "Merry Christmas" items.

But what about Jesus?

Of course, a big part of Christmas is the nativity scenes of shepherds, wise men, and parents standing aside the cradle in the manger. After all, the Christian gloss on the old Roman Saturnalia is that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus.But what does the birth of Jesus have to do with Jesus?

The baby Jesus wasn't saying anything yet. It wasn't the baby Jesus who was supposed to have rejected temptation in the desert, spoken the Sermon on the Mount, attracted followers, formulated a "new law" for the Hebrew people, come into conflict with the Temple authorities, or been resurrected after a cruel execution. In celebrating Christmas, Christians seem to be celebrating the least "Christian" part of Jesus, the time when Jesus was least connected to the work and doctrine of his adulthood.

In fact, Christmas seems to be more about creating a personal mythology around Jesus than anything that Jesus would ever say or do. Given the resemblance to the story of Moses in Herod's killing of the young children in Bethlehem, the story of the birth of Jesus in Matthew 2 is one of the most mythological parts of the gospel. That's a big reason why it was easy for popular writers to use Christmas as a hook for stories about failing bankers and jolly old elves flying in the night or songs about the wonders of snow. Christmas has always been about creating and embellishing a "heart-warming story" first.

But why would Christians want the biggest holiday of the year to celebrate something as far away from the core of their religion as the birth of a Jesus? In Christian doctrine, Jesus is the "Word [of God] made flesh." To the contrary, what Christians are celebrating at Christmas is a wordless Jesus. Perhaps that is what Christians in fact mean to celebrate--the silent Jesus, the Jesus whose words no longer have authority in their lives, the Jesus who does not condemn wealth, possessions, authority, social respectability, family ties and other things that most people value in life.

Christianity is a very demanding religion. Even the most simple formulations to "love god with all your heart" and "love your neighbor as yourself" involve breathtaking claims on human affection that religions like that of the ancient Greeks never dreamed of. By celebrating the infant, silent Jesus instead of the Jesus who speaks this particularly harsh doctrine, Christmas gives Christians an opportunity to take an extended break from the adult Jesus and his doctrine just as it gives them a holiday from their jobs, schools, businesses, and other avocations.

No doubt, the Christmas "vacation from Jesus" was one of the reasons why our Puritan forebears sought to ban Christmas celebrations. Celebrating Christmas is a way for Christians to be "Christians" and revel in Christian mythology without dealing without everything that's discomfiting about the adult "Jesus." For Christians, Christmas isn't so much about the birth of Jesus as it is about the sense of comfort and release in having Christianity without having to deal with the person of Jesus at all. Christmas is about forgetting Jesus. This puts an ironic twist on the whole "Merry Christmas" business. If Christmas is about forgetting Jesus, then the secularization of Christmas means that Christians won't be able to forget Jesus during the "holiday season." Instead of celebrating Baby Jesus between Thanksgiving and New Years, they'll be stuck with the Jesus of "woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:25) all year long. That's a sure-fire prescription for guilt, failure, inadequacy, and self-doubt and a number of other burdensome feelings.

So Everybody! Give your Christian brothers a break. Say "Merry Christmas" and remember that you're helping them forget Jesus.

Why I Like Santa Better Than Jesus

This is a repost from last Christmas and my "Jolly Santa" op-ed. But I thought new readers of Red State Impressions might enjoy it.

I like Santa Claus a whole lot better than Jesus. I know that the figure of Santa Claus is too commercialized in the United States, but I also believe that the deification of Santa is one of the really good things about American society. At a time when our workaholism gives us all a lean, hungry, and cynical look, it's a wonderful relief to contemplate Santa's boundless generosity, bottomless well of happiness, and most pleasing plumpness. Santa's become even better over the last few decades as naughty/nice lists and the specter of coal have faded into cultural memory.

Santa Claus is also one of the few white European figures who translates easily into other cultures. In our pale-faced household, we have a black "Rocking Santa" figure who sings “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” in Peggy Lee's voice. Multi-racial, transgendered--Santa makes is an extremely flexible symbol of a giving spirit who demands nothing in return. We also have a "Saxophone Santa" and the Christmas season doesn't really get under way until he belts out a couple versions of "Jingle Bells."

To the contrary, I really don't understand the appeal of Jesus. Although I had a half-hearted Christian upbringing, the Jesus story is becoming increasingly less attractive and plausible as the years go by. Where Santa is a carnivalesque figure of fun, merriment, consumption, and over-consumption, Jesus strikes me as an essentially Lenten God of suffering, self-denial, and other-worldliness. How many gods condemn human happiness with the finality that Jesus condemns laughter in Luke. “Woe unto you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:25). How many would tell their followers to hate their fathers, mothers, wives, children, or brothers, “yeah and his own life also?” (Luke 14:26) In many ways, Jesus is the pre-eminent Western god of violence against self.

Of course, it is not hard to understand why we identify so much with Jesus in the United States. Given the unhappy, over-extended character of so much of our lives in the United States, most of us chronically feel like we're bearing our own cross. However, just like I often hope for a better society, I also hope for a better god--a god who represents a joy that is not contingent on walking through the valley of the shadow of death.The other extremely unattractive element in the Jesus story is the weird narcissism of the Christian God. Where most gods are adjuncts to family, clan, and nation, the Christian god needs men and women to love him more than they love anything else in the world. Doesn't Jesus call on people to put him before their families and everything in their earthly lives? Why? Why have a god who needs so much? Why have a God who cooks up the unlikely plan of tearing his substance apart in order to create a "son" who is man, god, and spirit all in one. Why make the gruesome sacrifice of that son into the key evidence of the God's "love" for humanity and human kind's only hope for escaping an eternity of suffering? I'm not sure there's much difference between the Christian God's killing of his son to demonstrate his love for humanity and John Hinckley's shooting Reagan to demonstrate his love for Jody Foster.

Moreover, isn't there a big element of petulance in throwing into the flames of hell anybody who doesn't believe the whole implausible story? I know that lots of people like a little sadomasochism with their narcissism and neediness. After all, Mel Gibson isn't the only action hero who is a macho version of Jesus.To the contrary, Santa Claus does not demand that we love him in return. Santa gives and gives and gives without expecting anything in return.

I’ve seen conservative columnists refer to people as worshipping Santa. But that’s precisely wrong. Worship is an exchange relationship in which people pray to, praise, and reverence the god in exchange for the god’s favors. Santa Claus is one of the few divinities who give to us without demanding anything in return. It’s this spirit of generous freedom that carries the most promise of “peace on earth, good will among men.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Who's Jamie Lynn Spears?

CNN asks: "How do you talk to kids about Britney's sister?"--that's Jamie Lynn Spears, the sixteen year-old sister who's pregnant. Mrs. RSI gives a decisive answer: "Who is Jamie Lynn Spears?" Blissfully unaware of the whole tabloid world, Mrs. RSI doesn't even know that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are splitting up--again.

I don't think our ten year old daughter knows either. We don't have a television and Tess doesn't follow news on the internet. So I doubt she would be aware of "Zoey 101," Jamie Lynn Spears, or Jamie Lynn's delicate state.

So, how do we talk to our kids about Britney's sister. Actually, we don't.

Could I Have a Beer With That Bible?

The little tiff over the cross in the Mike Huckabee "What Really Matters" ad reminds of the song "Cross to Bear" off the Allman Brothers great first album. I picked that album out of a bargain bin at a W. T. Grant's store in South Waverly, PA after my first year in college.

What a find!

But the Huckabee cross reminds me even more about why Mike Huckabee isn't going to be elected president. In 2000, George Bush pulled off the unlikely feat of appealing to both the bible-thumping evangelical crowd and the kind of party-hearty rowdies who moon the traffic outside their frat house. People thought they would rather have a beer with Bush than Gore even though Bush didn't actually drink anymore.

Huckabee doesn't have anything like that broad of an appeal. Right now, he's scoring with the evangelical Republican vote. But most people want a candidate who can enjoy a beer with their bible and Huckabee doesn't quite fit that bill.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Merry Christmas to Protein Wisdom

I'm going away for a week on Friday and am not sure how much blogging I'm going to do. But I couldn't let the season pass without shouting out holiday greetings to all my fans at Protein Wisdom.

Merry Christmas guys.

I swear that there's occasions where the attention that this group of conservatives gives me would make a more modest guy blush. Not only did the bloggers over at PW hold a Ric Caric Celebration Day, but lead blogger Jeff Goldstein graciously let me win our spotlighted debate on colorblind racism. What a nice guy! In addition, Dan Collins has written three or four poetic tributes to my wonderfulness and that last "Canticle for Caric" was so beautiful it brought a little tear to my eye.

However, even more important than all the attention and praise given to me by the folks at Protein Wisdom has been the way they stimulated my own blogging. If I hadn't known about Protein Wisdom, I wouldn't have realized the effectiveness of my "weenie boy" concept in the
analysis of conservative masculinity or thought of the "fluff right" as the literary arm of the contemporary conservativism. Likewise, if I hadn't seen the full range of social bigotries on display in Protein Wisdom's blog posts and comments, I wouldn't have realized that people had "side bigotries" to go along with their racism and misogyny or how many conservatives are committed to pornographizing their hatreds.

Once again, thanks for all the good times. Merry Christmas to Protein Wisdom. I'm sure you folks will be even more eager to forget Jesus this Christmas than most.

Bill Clinton Unbound

Bill Clinton's comment that Hillary would be sending himself, Bush 41, and others around the world to repair the damage from W's presidency was a bonehead mistake. How many Democrats really wanted to hear about Hillary using anybody named Bush to help out her presidency? Likewise, how many Democrats really want to see a Democratic presidency "reaching out" to the other side like it was 1995 all over again. Hillary Clinton has left the 90's, but I'm wondering if that's really the case with Bill Clinton.

Much as I support Hillary's candidacy, I seriously doubt that this will be the last dumb mistake on Bill's part. The underlying problem is that Bill Clinton doesn't seem to be subject to much discipline while on the campaign trail. Bill Clinton's self-discipline problems are well-known, but he was subject to a variety of external disciplines while in the White House. There was the general surveillance of a President and the message discipline that applied to the whole administration. There was also the generally collaboative process of deciding policy and deciding how it would be promoted. Whether it was the famous late-night seminars or the circulation of ideas among senior staff outlined by Dick Morris in Behind the Oval Office, Bill could propose any number of non-starters and watch them all get shot down before he came up with something that really worked.

But it doesn't look like Bill Clinton is subject to that kind of critical give and take while out on the campaign trail as a Hillary surrogate. Because he doesn't have people with the stature of Leon Panetta around him, Bill seems to think he can say anything that comes to his head.

And that is a very bad idea for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

The Ike Turner Wifebeating Hall of Fame

Steely Dan's Donald Fagen has an obit of Ike Turner in Slate. According to Fagen, Turner's contribution to the history of popular music was mostly his organizational skills. Turner had a knack for recognizing talent and getting bands to recording dates and gigs on time and in their suits.

And they were great bands.

But Fagen believes that Ike never "got" the problem of hitting Tiny Turner "Obviously, there was something Ike just didn't get about the whole hitting problem."

But that's nonsense.

Fagen provides a telltale quote from Ike's book:
Sure, I've slapped Tina. … We had fights and there have been times when I punched her without thinking. … But I never beat her. … I did no more to Tina than I would mind somebody doing to my mother in the same circumstances.

I've heard the same thing from my own father in relation to my mother. Ike claims he was absolutely within his rights when he "punched her without thinking." But he also knew it was wrong. Otherwise, he wouldn't have rationalized the beatings in relation to his own mother. Turner just never believed that he would lose control to the extent that people would condemn him as a wifebeater. He never thought he would look like a chump.

But that was Ike Turner--great at getting bands to gigs, not such a special musician, and wife-beating chump. He deserves to be forgotten.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mike Adams: An Absolutely Excellent Racist

One of the interesting things about American racism is the creativity of the people who are hostile to the black civil rights movement, equality for women, and gay people. I'll just mention of few of the interesting ideas that have developed in relation to race. Probably the premier example of creative racism in the United States is the "color-blind" scam perpetrated by people like William Bennett. The audaciousness of "color-blind racism" is a thing of beauty. Quoting Martin Luther King, advocates of color-blindness argue that everyone should be evaluated "by the content of their character" while still claiming that African-Americans as a group deserve to be considered intellectually inferior and culturally inferior as well as deserve to be racially profiled, excluded from stores, and subject to random searches.

But color-blindness isn't the only interesting tactic employed by racists. People who plaster their cars with Confederate flag paraphernalia claim that they're "honoring tradition" without mentioning that the racist traditions of their families go back for generations. Confederate flags are now giving ways to nooses as symbols of racial hostility. But my students report that those who justify the nooses are saying "well, it's only a noose." Perhaps Kentucky high schools like Allen Central and Boone County that use Confederate flag symbols will start adapting nooses as "color-blind" symbols of "traditional Kentucky."

In today's column for, the conservative commentator Mike Adams developed another creative wrinkle on racism. Still unreconciled to the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday, Adams suggests that the federal holiday for MLK be replaced by a holiday for the gun inventor John Browning. According to Adams, Browning deserved a holiday because his "inventions helped us preserve freedom (read: civil rights) for all by winning two world wars. This is approximately two more world wars than MLK helped us win – although I do acknowledge that he was our second greatest civil rights leader."

Well, it was mighty generous of Adams to view King as the "second" most significant civil rights leader. Of course, the point for Adams is not that Browning deserves a holiday, but that he believes that almost any marginally significant white figure (and Browning is very marginal in his significance) deserves a holiday more than King. I'm surprised that Adams didn't suggest replacing King's birthday with a holiday for Charles Murray (of Bell Curve fame), William Bennett, or Strom Thurmond. Wouldn't Adams also view these kinds of figures as doing more for what he would call "real" civil rights than King?

The thing that bothers Adams and other racists is that Martin Luther King is such a revered figure in American society and that the defeat of racial segregation is viewed as such a pivotal moment in the development of American democracy. If King and the civil rights movement are to be viewed positively at all, conservatives like Adams want to see thousands of white figures as being much more significant for "civil rights."

Of course, Adams and other conservatives won't say that directly. They like to maintain a "plausible deniability" for their racism. But that's what's implied when he claims that John Browning was a more important civil rights figure than Martin Luther King.

The End of a Long Road

This semester is officially over. My grades are in. What a tough five months! The government faculty was supposed to have six people. But we lost Greg Goldey to cancer and Noelle N'Diaye to a drug arrest while a third very valuable colleague got a good offer from another university.

It seems like every day has been a scramble at work.

I know this sounds cliched, but there were many sources of inspiration and consolation as well. Like everyone else, I was inspired by the courage with which Greg dealt with his illness and how he kept growing as a person even as his health collapsed. My government colleagues really stepped up to the plate and I was privileged to see a number of students continue to grow in their academic skills and as people.

Our house at the edge of the forest has always been a healing place. Now it served to heal me. Or maybe it was just Mrs. RSI who seems more than ever to radiate a special kind of warmth.

Shakespeare writes in the "To Be or Not to Be" soliloguy in Hamlet that it's fear of what happens after death--"the undiscovered country"--that keeps us attached to life amongst a "sea of troubles." Having found myself and my friends surrounded by seas of troubles over the last six months, I find that to be fundamentally untrue. Even in the hardest of times, I've seen people here find many sources of love, friendship, collegiality, and fellow-feeling to inspire and console them as they weather the storms.

And, with that, I'll try to catch up on some sleep.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Lieberman Scenario or Not

So, Joe Lieberman is going to endorse John McCain for President. Big Whoop!

Obviously, McCain views the endorsement as useful because he asked for it. But why? Joe Lieberman has become a neo-con icon, but one has to assume that John McCain already has the support of the Main Street business types, independents, and moderate conservatives who would be impressed by a Lieberman endorsement.

Maybe McCain's got something up his sleeve, but it doesn't look like a Lieberman endorsement will help him get over 12%.