Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday help

In this season of celebration, when even families of humble means somehow find reasons for comfort and joy, we shouldn’t forget those who are truly suffering deprivation and hardship.

An eloquent plea to ease such suffering came last week from Dan Akerson, CEO of General Motors, and it’s truly heart-wrenching.

In a speech to the Economic Club in Washington, Akerson said government limits on executive compensation at bailed-out companies are hurting GM’s ability to keep top talent. “We have to be able,” Akerson said, “to attract and retain great people.”

Let’s presume he means a different set of “great people” from the ones who steered the American auto industry into bankruptcy, then flew to Washington in private corporate jets to schmooze Congress for twelve-digit welfare.

Mind you, Akerson, who says GM has learned “a lesson in humility,” isn’t pleading his own case. He’ll unselfishly make do on the meager $9 million a year the heavy hand of big government grudgingly allows him.

No, he’s arguing on behalf of the other GM executives he had the unhappy duty of telling not to expect increases or bonuses next year. Think about it: There are people in Detroit who might not be able to buy that chalet in Aspen, or build another wing on the house at Grosse Pointe. The yacht on Lake Erie might have to go another year without a new Jacuzzi.

If you can live with that, Ebenezer Scrooge has nothing on you.

We’ve heard this “best and the brightest” argument before. In fact, a historian named David Halberstam wrote a book by that name. It’s about the Ivy League brain trust that led the Kennedy and Johnson administrations deeper and deeper into the Vietnam War.

By the way … how’d that work out?

I’m not comparing General Motors to Vietnam, but they do have this in common: Both are on the American taxpayer’s tab. In fact, we still own a third of GM.

So it’s up to us. Yes, I know budgets are already strained this time of year. I know some of us are having a tough time just getting by. I know unemployment is close to double digits. And I know we’ve already given GM close to $50 billion. But that’s clearly not enough.

So let’s open our hearts and wallets just a little wider for those who really need it. If you’d like to help, call 1-800-55-GIMME.

Or just write a big check to General Motors. By now, we should all be used to that.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

None of the below

A semi-regular e-mail correspondent -- an articulate heckler, really -- sent me something about the Beckstock festival in Washington. The gist of it was that he fully expected the likes of Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews to mock the spectacle of thousands of people in prayer.

I didn’t respond. I seldom do. He’s a Last Word obsessive, so it’s easier just to let his first word and his last be the same. Life is just too damn short for some forms of aggravation.

But the idea of Glenn Beck (speaking of hecklers) leading a spiritual renewal of America is like a sick joke that’s perversely funny and mostly just disgusting. If that weren’t greeted by hoots of derision, and not just by the likes of Olbermann and Matthews, I’d be greatly disappointed.

Mocking prayer per se would indeed be immoral. Mocking a made-for-TV prayer choreographed for a bomb-lobbing commentator’s political propaganda and profit is a moral imperative.

A critic – I think Oscar Wilde, but might be wrong – supposedly said of Dickens’ tearjerker The Old Curiosity Shop that “anybody who didn’t laugh when Little Nell died has a heart of stone.” The principle seems relevant and applicable here.

So does Barry Goldwater’s famous comment on the so-called Moral Majority, when he declared that good Christians should “line up and kick Jerry Falwell’s ass.”

Point being: Mocking God and mocking charlatans who claim to speak for Him aren’t, never have been, and never will be the same thing.

And speaking of charlatans…

While Beck and his flock were gathered on the mall once filled for Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech, the Right Reverend Al Sharpton was in another part of town holding a counter … whatever.

Sharpton, as he no doubt would like everybody to forget, rose to national prominence in 1987 as enabler-in-chief of the Tawana Brawley hoax. That breathtakingly reckless episode brought New York to the brink of racial meltdown over the alleged gang rape of a 15-year-old black girl by white men -- including, supposedly, a New York police officer. The whole thing was later exposed as a hoax, for which Sharpton and others were ordered to pay defamation damages, but for which he has refused for more than two decades to apologize.

Maybe in Al’s world, being a venerable civil rights leader means never having to say you’re sorry. In my world, he’s hardly any less absurd an heir to the MLK legacy than Glenn Beck.

It occurs to me that maybe that’s the real message of these dueling gasbags: Do they really represent what America has to choose between? If so, then we really do have reason to pray.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ebbs and eddies

Cognitive dissonance
I call your attention to an excellent story in the online edition of the Athens Banner-Herald. This should be required reading for anybody who takes seriously Republicans’ self-serving and self-evidently ludicrous blather about their deep and abiding respect for the Constitution, and how it’s being destroyed by the (activists, socialists, Marxists, radicals, Dementors, Legions of Lord Voldemort … pick your bug-eyed epithet of choice) of the “democrat party” and the Obama administration.

Trust me: When people who totally trashed the Bill of Rights in the name of fighting terror tell you how much they love the Constitution, you should definitely listen.

But that’s not what the Athens piece is about. It’s about the curious ways some Republicans have of squaring their supposed reverence for the Constitution with their agenda to rewrite it.

Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia explains: "We need to do a lot of tweaking to make the Constitution as it was originally intended, instead of some perverse idea of what the Constitution says and does."

OK, linguists and logicians. Break that one down.

So … the Constitution needs “tweaking” to make it “as it was originally intended.” Which, it should go without saying, is something the likes of Paul Broun and Jeff Sessions and Michele Bachmann understand infinitely better than intellectual midgets like James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, etc., who wrote it in the first place.

Bachmann’s proposed amendment is especially priceless. The founder of the congressional tea party caucus and one of the most consistently entertaining spokesloons of the Nutcase Right wants the Constitution to restrict the president's ability to sign international treaties. Why? Because she’s convinced the Obama administration could replace our monetary system with some sort of global currency.

‘Fess up, now: Weren’t you getting nostalgic for those halcyon days of black helicopters and unconditional U.S. surrender to the Trilateral Commission?

Still reeks

The Troy Anthony Davis case stinks. There’s just nothing about either the conviction – or, for that matter, some of the defenses of this guy -- that smells like justice.

Davis, in case you’ve been on Mars for the last 20 years, is on Death Row for the 1989 murder of Mark McPhail, a Savannah police officer who, although he was off duty at the time (working security for Burger King), heroically rushed to the defense of a homeless man who was being assaulted, and got shot to death for his trouble.

McPhail was a Columbus High alum, and his family still lives here. I can’t imagine what they must be feeling, and maybe I need to admit I’d probably feel exactly the way they do. They’ve been waiting more than 20 years for justice, and they want this over with.

But when people as distinguished, as different and as ideologically diverse as Jimmy Carter, Bob Barr, Desmond Tutu and former FBI chief Williams Sessions all say there’s something wrong with this conviction, you have to wonder.

U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. said of Davis’ latest – and perhaps last – evidentiary review that it “casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction” but is “largely smoke and mirrors."

Just how much “additional, minimal doubt” about the guilt of somebody sentenced to die should it take to give reasonable people pause?

The bigger question, and one that really eats at me: Why are we, as individuals and as a culture, so much more outraged about the possibility of somebody guilty getting off light than we are about somebody innocent being imprisoned or executed?

There’s just no moral stature in that. None.

Speaking of innocence …

A Houston man was set free last month after 27 years – twenty-seven years, man – for a gang rape he had no part in. DNA evidence excluded him as one of the perpetrators. Michael Anthony Green is 45, meaning he’s spent more than half his life in the pen for a violent crime he didn’t commit.

Oh, and here’s a nice footnote: Authorities now know who did do it, but the statute of limitations has expired. So three guilty guys are free, and Green has been in the slammer since he was 18.

The atrocious frequency of stories like this would trigger all our sanctimonious superiority about human rights and justice if they took place in places like Iran or Libya (which, no doubt, they do). So why does this keep happening here, and why does it keep getting relegated to the back rows of our collective consciousness and conscience?

Here’s what we should do. We pass laws that say whenever one of these wrongly convicted folks is cleared, there is an immediate and detailed review of the arrest, investigation, trial and conviction. And anybody found to have engaged in willful misconduct does the time society owes the dude who just got out. Every damn hour of it.

Police blotter

A Houston priest is free on bond after allegedly threatening insurance giant Aflac and its employees with violence.

John Rouse –Father John Rouse, according to his lawyer – is accused of suggesting to a customer service rep that if his claim wasn’t settled promptly, he’d be back with (a) a shotgun, (b) a bomb, and/or (3) an airplane.

Obviously, this guy hasn’t been convicted of anything, so let’s play it by the book and presume him innocent. But if he’s not, you have to wonder: Just what denomination does this Padre represent? Whatever it’s selling, I’m pretty sure I don’t want any.

Vocabulary update

TV puts people into totally artificial and contrived situations and calls it “reality.”

Sports fans wager real money on real games involving real players and call it "fantasy."

What am I missing?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Unhallowed reflections

How helpful it is that our convictions on the “Ground Zero Mosque” now define our loyalty as Americans – and, for some of us, as Christians.

The term itself, of course, is an exploitive lie, calculated to incite the easily flammable jingoist passion that passes among the devoutly ignorant as patriotism. It’s a term that ought to be, but hasn’t been, handled with care; it’s slimed with red-meat drippings and Fox mucus.

The proposed Islamic facility in question is two city blocks from the site of the World Trade Center that a bunch of Saudi Islamofascists (Saudis, remember, are our allies. The good guys. Our petro-partners.) destroyed not quite nine years ago, along with the lives of a couple of thousand Americans – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists.

May every murderous barbarian even remotely responsible for that attack who isn’t dead already die a violent death or a slow and excruciatingly painful one, and fry in Hell forever after. Amen.

Meanwhile, some of the arguments for why American citizens who own that property shouldn’t build – in some shrunken minds, shouldn’t be allowed to build – a community center and mosque there are enough to numb mind and soul alike.

First, there’s the charge that this is “insensitive.” Let’s pass over for a moment the grotesque irony of that argument coming from, among others, those legendary paragons of sensitivity at Radio Right. The historic “sensitivity” of some people acting in the name of Christianity should curdle the blood today as readily as it has spilled blood in centuries past.

Oh, so you don’t want to be tarred with the Crusades or the Inquisition? Then don’t tar American Muslims with 9-11. How damn hard is that? Wasn’t it President Bush who said, soon after Sept. 11 and many times afterward, that Islam is not the enemy? It was perhaps the finest and most principled message of his otherwise disastrous presidency.

(On a purely personal, and probably irrelevant, note re the “sensitivity” issue: A fellow Methodist who thinks some of my political convictions are un-Christian once brought me – I swear to God – an Ann Coulter book. I’m sure reading it would have brought me closer to Jesus, perhaps by infusing me with the proper contempt for the terror attack widows Coulter called “9-11 whores.”)

Then there’s the “sacred” or “hallowed” ground argument. Politicians are big on this one.

I’ve got news for you: If a two-block radius around Ground Zero is “hallowed,” then the Reverence Police have apparently missed a few strip clubs, porn shops and other, more respectable caverns of commerce. (Wall Street, come to think of it, isn’t all that far away. How sacred is that?) If the Muslims are unwelcome in this sizeable “hallowed” chunk of lower Manhattan, there are a few hundred thousand money changers who need to be chased out of the temple along with them.

And I’ve heard enough tiresome variations on “Would the Taliban let Christians build a church?” to make a buzzard gag.

Aside from the reckless insult of conflating American citizens of the Islamic faith with a horde of violently misogynistic fanatics, here’s a point I must sadly conclude isn’t as obvious as I naively thought it would be:

Aren’t we supposed to be better than that?

A Muslim group wants to build a mosque and community center on American property they own as American citizens and taxpayers. And to listen to some of the noise, you’d think al Qaeda had planted a flag on the still-smoking WTC site and was dancing on the rubble.

And to think this self-righteous bile is being spewed in the name of American values and Christianity. Thank God – literally – if you don’t believe it represents either. If it did, what an ugly and damning indictment of both.

FOOTNOTE: On the regional front, meaning here in Georgia, the mosque issue has surfaced in two political races. In the governor’s race, both Republican Nathan Deal and Democrat Roy Barnes are against it. In a congressional race, both Republican Mike Keown and Democrat Sanford Bishop are against it.

So Republicans are fueling divisive resentment, while the Democrats are pants-wetting scared of being labeled “weak” or “soft” on something, thus reaffirming how weak and soft they are.

What else is new?

* * *

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dammit, Uncle Sam, defend my marriage

The Homos are coming! The Homos are coming!

If you’re a resident of the state of holy wedlock, it’s time to bunker in and hunker down. Your marriage is under imminent threat.

It seems Congress passed something called the Defense of Marriage Act back in 1996. What marriage apparently needed to be “defended” against, according to this legislative nugget, was what the Honorable Antonin Scalia refers to in court writings – in his strictly constitutional, non-ideological, non-activist role, of course – as the “homosexual agenda.”

Well, damn.

This is truly distressing. We were going to be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary next year. Now, thanks to some uppity gays who want legal recognition and benefits for their relationships, and some bleeding-heart Chardonnay-swilling judge who says the feds overstepped the rightful borders of federalism, it’s all flushed right down the loo.

Maybe you’re one of those naïve types who thought the biggest threats to marriage were things like abuse, serial infidelity and adultery, epidemic divorce – boring, familiar stuff like that.

Boy, are you stupid.

Some of the reaction to the whole gay marriage thing is interesting, to put it mildly. A common theme is the Slippery Slope argument – allow gays to marry, and next we’ll be legalizing polygamy, or letting people marry sheep, mannequins, etc.

None of which, quite frankly, would have the slightest effect on my life -- or my marriage. (Remember, the homos have already destroyed that.)

About that polygamy argument, an especially popular one with the Traditional Values folks: Ummm … maybe it’s tacky of me to bring this up, but have you had an Old Testament refresher lately? Apparently the “one man and one woman” thing wasn’t exactly binding on some earlier generations of holies.

(Abraham, before he was the father of three major world religions, was the father of a son by his wife’s maid. This does not seem to have diminished his divinity among Christians, Jews or Muslims – maybe the only thing those feuding branches of the same theological family tree agree on.)

So my wife and I are going to quietly cling to the sunset days of our life together, and wait in fatalistic resignation for the hordes of pillaging leather queens and diesel dykes to rampage through what once was our marriage.

It was nice while it lasted.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Donkeys have tin ears

I hope this finds you at least somewhat recovered from your shock and outrage over the First Family’s vacation in Spain. If not, there are probably support groups to help you heal.

Here’s a sample from one blogger on Fox Forum:

“It is disgraceful that our president and first lady are so out of touch with the plight of the average American. This ‘let them eat cake’ attitude will come back to haunt them.”

Let the record show that this is the assessment of Bradley A. Blakeman, formerly a deputy assistant (isn’t that redundant?) to that exemplar of ground-level populism, always in touch with the plight of the average American … George W. Bush.

That’s pretty typical of the political chum being thrown in the water around this non-issue right now, especially given the source (Fox) and the subject (anything Obama).

As a general principle, anybody who can listen straight-faced to some prominent Republicans -- specifically, the ones who toady to corporate robber barons or anybody even remotely associated with the Bush dynasty -- wax righteously indignant about lifestyles of vulgar opulence lacks not only a sense of humor, but quite possibly a soul.

I mean, we’re talking about folks W. publicly sucked up to at a fundraiser as “my base – the Haves and the Have Mores.” The folks at $5,000-a-plate invitation-only dinners at private country clubs in places like Westchester and Palm Beach where they scarf down Maine lobster and champagne and raise millions to hire political strategists to portray Democrats as “elitists.”

That said … why do Democrats always leave themselves so open to politically damaging crap like this? Why did nobody in the president’s camp see this flap – justified or not – coming from a mile away?

Because they’re Democrats. That makes them politically tone deaf, almost by definition.

Isn’t all this white noise blasted at Michelle Obama and her children flagrantly absurd -- especially after eight years of shameless Bush excesses that make this Spain junket look like the taxpayer equivalent of an extra drinking fountain at the Smithsonian?

Of course it’s absurd. So what?

This stuff sticks, and if you don’t understand why, you’re tone deaf, too.

It’s Bill Clinton’s $200 (or was it $500?) haircut -- which turned out to be mostly right-wing noise, but only after Clinton had successfully been cast as a vain and arrogant emperor keeping planes circling overhead while Mr. Monique finished his custom coiffure.

It’s the Obamas’ first White House dog being some absurdly expensive yapping purebred given them by, of all people, Ted Kennedy. Jeez Louise.

Hello? Did it not occur to anybody that taking the family (and of course a battalion of Secret Service guys) to some underfunded D.C. animal shelter, and picking out some sad sack mutt that needed a home, would have been great PR, an indelible photo-op and, oh by the way, a really cool thing to do?

This Spain trip is Chelsea Clinton’s gazillion-dollar wedding (though, to be fair, that doesn’t seem to have been exploited for publicity or political gain).

It’s every vocal Hollywood liberal who shows up on the red carpet sporting a $450,000 pair of shoes.

Want to know how Gucci Republicans manage to call Democrats “elitists” and not get laughed out of political relevance by voters struggling to pay their own bills?

This is how.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Return of the Blog of the Living Dead

I’m back.

I resisted doing the “Poltergeist” thing, because it really doesn’t translate that well into print, and also because after 30 years it’s a pretty tired cliché. (I include the picture here here so you can imagine it for yourself if you like.)

If anything attests to the durability of the Internet, it’s that this blog site is still here. Because as you can see (if there’s any “you” there to see it), I haven’t posted anything here in a year.

It’s not that I got tired of it. I enjoy the whole blogging thing, and putting in art and links and all that stuff. It was fun.
But I’d check up on entry after entry and there would be nary a comment from anybody. Zip. I don’t know for sure that the absence of comments meant nobody was reading it, but I began to get the distinct impression that “Currents” was the proverbial falling tree, and nobody in the vast Internet forest was there to hear it.

Then I decided: What the hell. There are some things you can do and not care if anybody else knows. (There are some things you do and hope nobody knows.)

So if you happened to hear this tree fall, check out some of my postings over the last couple of years, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect. And if you have some opinion to offer, blast away. I plan to check in regularly.
Whether anybody else does or not.