Saturday, June 06, 2009

Newt Gingrich: a Powerful Force for Paganism

Today, at a speech in Virginia, Newtie complained about paganism.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee urged Christians to get involved in politics to preserve the presence of religion in American life.

"I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history," Gingrich said. "We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism."

Newt Gingrich has a Ph.D. in history from Tulane, but is as terrible a historian as he is skilled at politics. Paganism has lots of divine personalities like Zeus, Hera, and Apollo from the religion of classic Greece and the religious practice of paganism involves sacrificing animals (and the occasional human) to those divinities. Paganism also associates divinity with natural phenomena like thunder and specific places like groves and river. And sacrifices animals to them as well. If I remember right, Achilles was almost killed by a river god in the Iliad. But what anchored paganism was ancestor worship where the primary religious practice was within families and revolved around songs, prayers, and other forms of worshipping deceased male heads of household. Ancestor worship involves constant animal sacrifice.

In other words, paganism is a bloody mess. Even the few people I know who would claim themselves as pagans (including one of my wife's cousins) are too genteel to practice any form of animal sacrifice.

Likewise, most people who think of themselves as pagans are thumbing their noses at their families. As a result, the last thing they would undertake is ancestor worship.

So, rest easy Newt.

You're not surrounded by pagans.

But I can see where Newt Gingrich and other paragons of the right could see themselves as surrounded by people who reject the agenda of religious conservatism. At least two thirds of American rejects Protestant fundamentalism, Catholic traditionalism, conventional Mormonism, and Orthodox Judaism. About 15% of the American population is now either atheistic, agnostic, or vaguely spiritual as well. Perhaps what Gingrich means by "paganism" is the rejection of religious conservatism and he's certainly right that most Americans reject religious conservatism. Religious conservatism isn't even all that popular in Bible Belt areas like Eastern Kentucky.

But why is that the case?

Here I think Newt Gingrich should look in the mirror. Now that Newt is one of the premier voices for the conservative effort to claim the U. S. as a Christian nation, he's also become a powerful force for the rejection of religious conservatism. Newt's Gingrich is legendary for his relentless self-centereded, sanctimoniousness, hypocrysy, and inhumanity toward his fellow human beings. How could he not be. Gingrich is a prominent public figure who is extremely aggressive about all his bad character traits. Everything that anybody needs to know about Newt Gingrich can be summed up by the fact that he informed his first wife that he was divorcing her while she was in the hospital for cancer treatment.

As a spokesperson for the Republican Party, Gingrich drives people away from the Republican Party. Now that Gingrich is a spokesperson for religious conservatism, he's driving people away from religious conservatism. As some evangelicals like Michael Spencer are beginning to realise, the association of Protestant evangelicism and Christianity with political conservatism and the religious right is undermining Christianity. Now that moderates and liberals are starting to identify Christianity with people like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and the guy who murdered George Tiller, they're also starting to reject Christianity.

If Newt Gingrich lives to be 100, we might be going back to ancestor worship and animal sacrifice after all.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Not Bad for Someone With an Allergy

Last night, I was drinking very liberally for a guy with an allergy to booze.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Big Day in New Hampshire

It gives me enormous pleasure to put the gay pride flag over this post. The expansion of gay marriage rights--really the expansion of gay rights in general--is one of the most inspiring trends in American life over the last 25 years. Why last 25 years! My own thinking is that the movement for gay marriage grew out of the surge in gay rights activism in the early 1980's around the AIDS epidemic. I was working as a cook and bus boy in a gay bar in Philadelphia as AIDS was really taking hold, have made many gay friends and acquaintances since then, and have always felt a great deal of happiness for them as the cause of gay marriage has moved forward.

Yesterday, the cause moved forward again as New Hampshire Governor John Lynch signed a bill legalizing gay marriage in New Hampshire. That makes six states that now recognize gay marriage rights with more states like New York likely to come in the near future. It's probably too much to hope for at this point, but I'd really like to see the federal government rescind the pernicious Defense of Marriage Act from the Clinton years.
Anyway, congratulations to everyone who supports gay rights. It was another good day.

The GOP Is Already Losing the 2010 Elections

This should be filed under the "Duh! What did you think was going to happen?" file. Andy McCarthy of National Review Online is in a blather because the Obama administration has withdrawn approval for the state of Georgia's vote suppression policies.

In the heated imaginations of people like Andy McCarthy, vote suppression was one of the Rove-era tactics that was going to bring about 1,000 years of conservative political domination. The general idea of vote suppression was to use the immigration issue as a wedge to lower the voting rates of less affluent Democratic constituencies like African-Americans, legal Hispanics, and poor whites. Under the cover of keeping illegal immigrants out of the voting booth, vote suppression gurus like Hans von Spakovsky sought to load up poorer Democratic constituencies with identification requirements that a certain percentage of them would not be able to meet. Lower voting rates among these groups means fewer votes for Democrats, more victories for Republicans, and a better life for the Andy McCarthy's and Michelle Malkins of the world.

Georgia was the state that bought into vote suppression in a big way and enacted a voter ID policy that withstood a number of court challenges. But it looks like the Georgia system is going to go the way of the dinosaurs, slavery, and segregation because the Obama administration is reversing the Bush administration's vote surpression policies. No surprise here! The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed precisley to end vote suppression in Southern states like Georgia. Andy McCarthy calls the Voting Rights Act an "anachronism," but the fact that Georgia was pursuing an onerous voter ID policy is strong evidence that the state still needs to be supervised under the Voting Rights Act. As a result, the Obama Department of Justice has withdrawn approval for Georgia's voter ID requirement. Hopefully, the Obama DOJ will be promoting policies that make it easier for minorities and poor people to vote.

Andy McCarthy claims that the end of the vote suppression era means that the Democrats are "already winning the elections of 2010." That's absurd. If McCarthy wants to know why the Democrats are going to win in 2010, all he has to do is look at Republican behavior in states like Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Whether it's pushing Republican senators like Arlen Specter into switching parties or ruining the chances of Republican incumbents like Jim Bunning to win re-election, the Republican Party is acting like its no.1 priority is electing more Democrats.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Shorter Mark Sanford

State Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Richland) nails Mark Sanford, South Carolina's right-wing zealot of a governor, after Sanford's veto of legislation regulating payday loan-sharking.
[Sanford's] vision for South Carolina is for ineffective, underfunded schools, for kids buying cheap cigarettes and for unprotected consumers."
As always, the key to understanding conservatives is that they frankly don't give a damn about the welfare of their villages, towns, states . . . or country.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Kentucky Not Least Great After All

As a citizen of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I almost instinctively flinch whenever I see a headline like "Which State Was Least Great in 2008?" on the Atlantic site. Kentucky is near the bottom of so many things that it used to be a joke that everybody in Kentucky said a prayer of thanks for Mississippi so we could be 49th rather than 50th.

But this measure of the recession wasn't so bad for Kentucky. We've lost .1% of our GDP (39th), 2.6% on our unemployment rate (31st), and another 1.3% (tied for 8th) on our home prices. Given that the recession has taken a bite out of the economy and unemployment has risen (it's about 10% in my county), we not exactly doing well. But we're not really that close to being a big recession state like Florida or Alaska either. In particular, people in Kentucky have hardly lost anything on their homes.

Kentucky might not have the "Unbridled Spirit" emblazoned on our license plates, but we're not the "Least Great in 2008" either.

Brian Williams Still Sucking Up to Power

It's reassuring to know that guys like NBC's Brian Williams know how to suck up to power even though President Obama is a Democrat.
Williams talks of "walking through the West Wing and Secretary [Hillary] Clinton drops by to see the president. To be in the hallway when the president walks by with a handful of M&Ms, popping them in his mouth as he goes to visit his chief of staff — it was unbelievable."
Talk about nauseating. All the same, I was pleasantly nauseated because Williams was sucking up to Obama rather than Bush.

Sotomayor Loses the Arrogant Prick Vote

But to Rick Santorum's credit, he did manage to get through his rejection article without saying anything particularly racist, misogynist, or homophobic. Good for him.

What Pro-Lifers Really Hate is Our Freedom

William Saletan of Slate keeps up his "abortion is tragedy" blather but undercuts his own argument when he points out that pro-life advocates don't propose to punish the women who get abortions as murderers.
The reason these pro-life groups have held their fire, both rhetorically and literally, is that they don't really equate fetuses with old or disabled people. They oppose abortion, as most of us do. But they don't treat abortionists the way they'd treat mass murderers of the old or disabled. And this self-restraint can't simply be chalked up to nonviolence or respect for the law. Look up the bills these organizations have written, pushed, or passed to restrict abortions. I challenge you to find a single bill that treats a woman who procures an abortion as a murderer. They don't even propose that she go to jail.
Why? If they really think abortion is murder, pro-life groups should be proposing that every woman who gets an abortion should either get a life sentence in a maximum security jail or the death sentence. The doctors, nurses, attendants, clerks, and anybody else who works at an abortion clinic or a hospital that provides abortion services should also be going to jail. So should anyone connected to dumping the spare embryos that will never be brought to term but are still "babies" in the mental world of pro-life activism.

For all their belligerent posturing, the pro-life side doesn't believe their own claim that abortion is murder. Here's a case where I think that Bush administration anti-terrorism rhetoric applies well. What the pro-life right really hates is freedom--the freedom of women (and men) to live our own sexual lives without the sword of pregnancy hanging over their heads to punish women and couples for any missteps. The right wants to make sure that sex is more feared than enjoyed, seen more as temptation than pleasure, and anticipated more with dread than joy.

It's all B.S. They might as well carry signs claiming "Freedom is Murder!"

The reason that abortions--the termination of pregnancies--are a right under Roe v Wade is that women can not be free beings if the existence of an embryo can determine how they are going to live the next 20 plus years of their lives. The pro-life movement does not want women to have that fundamental freedom of determining their own lives according to their own ambitions, plans, whims, or meanderings. But that's why abortion rights need to be defended and extended as part of the right of women to negotiate their way through their own lives. In this light, abortion rights are an extension of the right of women to manage their own lives that also include dating, marrying the person of their choice, and divorce rights. They're also an extension of the contraception, adaption, and fertility strategies that allow women to space out children as they see fit and allow women to be gay and still have children.

The right-wing opposes almost all of this freedom. They're just as opposed to the contraception, divorce, non-marital sex, gay people, homosexual adaption, and other elements of sexual freedom. Some Christian schools don't even allow dancing, hand-holding, and kissing--all because they're seen as "gateways" to unmarital sex. Actually, I'm kind of surprised that I haven't seen any defenses of arranged marriages coming out of the pro-life movement.

But just as bin Laden is ultimately going to lose his terror war, the American right will ultimately lose its war on freedom.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Tom Tancredo's Dangerously Racist Aide

A couple of years ago, Marcus Epstein, formerly a speechwriter for anti-immigration zealot Tom Tancredo (R-Co) and now the executive director of Tancredo's political action committee, was convicted of an attack on an African-American woman in D.C.
On July 7, 2007, at approximately 7:15 p.m. at Jefferson and M Street, Northwest, in Washington, D.C., defendant was walking down the street making offensive remarks when he encountered the complainant, Ms. [REDACTED], who is African-American. The defendant uttered, "Nigger," as he delivered a karate chop to Ms. [REDACTED]'s head.
The Talking Points Memo headline focuses more on the "n-word" than anything else. But Epstein also gets out some of the meaning of the n-word and what makes it so offensive. What's particularly interesting about Epstein's assault is that he uses the n-word as he is "delivering a karate chop to the head" of the poor African-American woman. Here, Epstein didn't just use the n-word as a pejorative that demeans African-Americans. What the "n-word" meant to Epstein was that he had a "right" to attack the woman without any other provocation than the fact that she was African-American. In Epstein's view, his status as a white man gives him such superior human status that he is free to assault an unknown black woman just for being black. If the laws had not changed to the disadvantage of racist murderers, Epstein probably would have contended that he had a right to killer her as well. This is what the whites in the Algiers Point neighborhood in New Orleans thought during the chaos of Hurricane Katrina. They thought the "n-word" meant open season on black people--"like pheasant season in South Dakota."

Epstein was also walking down the street "making offensive comments" before he delivered his karate chop. This is slightly different because it raises the chicken and egg of what comes first--the general belligerence or the specific racism. My own argument would be that racism and a generalized belligerence and aggression are mutually reinforcing. But how does this work as a young conservative activist walks down the street calling out "racial epithets." What are black people doing to offend him. Mostly, they're enraging Epstein by walking down the street as though they had rights and felt secure in those rights because they were enforced by both law and social opinion. Near the end of The Souls of Black Folk, DuBois' portrays a fictional white judge threaten to lynch every black person within his reach if African-Americans started thinking they had a right to enter his front door. Like the judge, Epstein claims a general right of superiority over black people grounded in nature and seems enraged that blacks can now claim a right over their own persons. That's part of why he lashes out at this one woman.

Epstein was convicted for hitting an unnamed African-American woman instead of believing he had a right to do so, being enraged that African-Americans could claim rights of their own, and using the "n-word" to signify all of this. However, the fact that Tom Tancredo hired Epstein over other qualified people, put Epstein in positions of responsibility, and didn't even remove Epstein over his attack on the black woman is a strong indication that Tancredo holds the same blatantly racist opinions as Epstein. It doesn't take much imagination to think that a really big chunk of the population of conservative staff apparatchiks holds the same kind of views as well. People on the left generally view conservatives as covering their racism with a very thin veneer of political correctness. The case of a dangerous racist like Marcus Epstein confirms that view.

Red State PHILLY Impressions

I'm back in Philadelphia for five weeks of glorious research and writing. To honor the occasion, I'm once again changing the title of the blog to Red State Philly Impressions.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

George Tiller: Abortion Doctor and Credit to Humanity

Dr. George Tiller, a physician who performed abortions, was murdered in Kansas today by "an all-purpose right-wing nut" named Scott Roeder. Dr. Tiller's been a special target of right-wing figures like Bill O'Reilly because he's one of the few physicians who is willing to perform late-term abortions and Tiller had already been shot once by right-wing activists. Consequently, a lot of the commentary has been on the role of the right-wing media in tipping unbalanced people like Roeder into becoming murderers. For example, Jim D. Adkisson, who killed two people at a progressive Tennessee church, read books by Michael Savage and wrote in an apparent suicide note about the need to kill as many liberals as possible.

But I think it's more important to take an opportunity to give credit to George Tiller for being a courageous man and making an important contribution to human welfare. Abortion is a crucially important social asset as well as a legal right in American society. The fact that women are not forced to carry pregnancies to term has helped open up tremendous new vistas of freedom for American women and has been an incalculable benefit to our society as a result. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have always been mistaken in the idea that the number of abortions should be reduced to some "rare" minimum. Given that the material in a pregnant woman's uterus is a "fetus," a woman has as much right to control and/or dispose of that material as she has a right to contraception, regulating her periods, or anything else to do with gynecological health. As a result, there should be more abortions in this country rather than less. Abortions should be much more available in red-state areas like Kansas, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Mississippi. Those are the states that have the highest percentages of unwanted pregnancies. Abortions should be more available as a normal medical service to poor women and other women shouldn't feel so guilt-ridden about abortions that they choose to forego abortions that they would otherwise have done.

George Tiller deserves a lot of credit for performing abortions at all. I'm sure he could have made more money and had a more peaceful life doing some other kind of medicine. But he especially deserves credit for continuing to perform abortions and late-term abortions after the first armed attack on him by a pro-life activist named Shelley Shannon in 1993. I'm sure Tiller knew that he could be murdered at any time. But he kept providing abortion services to women in Kansas despite the vigilante death sentence hanging over his head. It's significant that Tiller died while attending a Christian church, the Reformation Lutheran Church of Wichita, Kansas. Not unlike Jesus, he died for the benefit of others.