Thursday, June 26, 2008
Religion, political affiliation, nationality, race, gender, and sexual orientation are all ways in which we as a society group ourselves. Are these groupings good for us as people - do they bring us together or do they tear us apart? Do these categories provide a positive function for mankind? Here below are my personal viewpoints on each - please feel free to chime in if you feel differently or would like to add an "Amen brother!"
Religion: I have discussed my personal feelings on religion at length in a previous post (see: "A Faith Reviewed) so I will keep it brief here. As a historian I can easily see the many ways religion has worked as a dividing factor. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust (although the Nazis were not by definition religious they were working from an anti-Semitic playbook written by the Catholic Church, whose own role in that sad event is not one of the prouder moments in the history of said institution) are all examples of man destroying man over religion. Our own conflict with the Islamic Middle East shows that religion has a strong grip on us still. In addition, Sunday morning is also often spoken of as the most segregated time of the week, as Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and others rarely co-mingle at services. Also, many religions have an evangelical aspect to them, which requires members to openly recruit new converts. Some of these evangelicals are a bit overzealous in their pursuit, which can cause conflict with those who choose to practice other faiths or prefer no religious faith at all.
On the plus side, religion can give us strength and unites us in times of trouble and distress. The church can also use its resources (money, manpower) to fight problems that afflict all of society, like hunger and homelessness. Historically speaking, the Quaker faith was largely responsible for the end of the slave trade in the British Empire and fervent practitioners of various faiths led the abolition movement in the United States. Religion, to me, is what you make of it, and your interpretation can allow it to be a positive force for mankind or a factor in its eventual destruction.
Political Affiliation: Don't spew your cocktail as a result of this dazzling insight, but politics is a dirty scene. There should be very little debate over whether political affiliation binds us together as a species. The field of politics is unabashedly competitive, the goal being to tear down your opponent - and take out his jugular while you are at it. Democrats and Republicans play adversarial roles and the media hypes their divisions in order to stoke the ever-burning fire that the twenty-four hour news cycle requires. Terms like horse race, contest, Super Tuesday, and political "arena" give politics the aura of sport. Sadly, such is the present state of our country. Instead of building consensus and solving problems through compromise, American government has become a battle over voter's souls and a method by which we are distracted from the real issues. The huge percentage of our populace that view themselves as independents should show the amount of distaste Americans have for the limited amount of answers the two political parties currently provide. Unfortunately, the future looks bleak for those who hope for more variety. Any change to a parliamentary system, which allows for more of the political spectrum to be represented, seems to be far away and some would argue that such a shift would not be an improvement at all.
Race: Now that politics has managed to get you all depressed, let's look at some positive developments. This year is a possible turning point for race relations in the United States. For the first time in our history, an African-American is the presidential nominee of a major political party. We have made great strides in a country where only a hundred years ago that person would have been enslaved or fifty years ago when Obama would have lacked the most basic civil rights, not least among them the privilege of voting (for himself or anyone else). In a nation that hosts perhaps the greatest mix of ethnicity on the planet, it would only be fitting if our head of state represented that diversity. We still have many hurdles to overcome, such as virtual segregation in housing and the lack of racial variety we see in the church pews on Sundays, but America seems to be headed in the right direction on race. Hopefully, our country can be a lesson to the rest of the world in regard to bringing mankind together to sing in perfect harmony like the Coke commercial says (sorry still trying to draw ads).
As far as my personal life goes, I, much like a sad monochromatic rainbow, would like to surround myself with a little more color. Although I pride myself on being open-minded and reaching out to others regardless of race, I have very few non-white friends (my best friend in high school was half Asian - where art thou Andy?). Is that fact a function of my own deeply hidden personal prejudices or is it just a reflection of the social circle within which I run? Maybe with luck I can get Obama to be my pen pal.
Nothing unites us as a country like the belief that the good old United States is the greatest country on earth, chosen by God to be first among nations. Of course, that is utter crap. There are many ways to judge the various countries that make up our planet and we would fall short in many of these categories (although we undoubtedly have the best pro football league). The rallying cry of "USA, USA, we're number 1!" is a form of government propaganda that goes back hundreds of years. The powers that be urge you on to blind devotion to their policies by creating the myth that the country is invulnerable and only outside forces could ever be the cause of any faults within the governing system. They urge you to believe in symbols like flags and lapel pins - pay no attention to what we are doing, everything is fine, except for those outsiders instigating trouble. IMHO it is the people who pay attention and keep the government in check that are the true American patriots. Regardless of your political affiliation, don't trust McCain, don't trust Obama, don't trust your Congressmen, don't trust your state representatives, and don't trust your local officials. Make sure they back up there words with actions.
The Jews were the scapegoat in Nazi Germany and the Mexicans/immigrants seem to be the target for many in this country who need someone to blame for any problems we may have. I find this attitude hard to accept in a country that is made up almost exclusively of immigrants. My grandfather came here in the early 1950s with his children, including my father, legally, but if circumstance had been different, I have no doubt he would have done what was necessary to take care of his family.
What should we do regarding the problem of illegal immigration? First off, if we are going to survive as a world we eventually need to break away from the idea of country, which only serves to tear us apart as a species. I know that such a change is just a pipe dream at this stage of our history as a planet, so what should we do about immigration for the time being? Like any economic issue, the problem is one of supply and demand. If you don't want people coming into your country and taking your job, strictly punish people who do the hiring of illegals. Once the supply of employment dries up, you may have to defend the border against the flood of people flocking back to their country of origin.
The fear of the creeping "homosexual agenda" has been used by conservatives for the last decade to motivate the kind of voters they want to see at the polls. God-fearing Christians who are gripped by the certainty that the world will be obliterated by a ball of hellfire if the fags are allowed to marry or adopt children. As usual, those in the world of politics are attempting to tear mankind apart.
Obviously, as someone who likes a little meat in his sandwich, these attempts to treat gays differently grates me. One of the main reasons I came out of the closet was to show the lie to so many of the stereotypes that exist in the straight community about gays. You can't really show pride in who you are if you keep your true self hidden. Why would you expect to be respected if you don't first respect yourself? Straight people as a whole just don't know too many gays, so how can they possible understand their perspective on things? As far as a gay community goes, I think that there was a time when that was a good thing; society was not ready for the shocking reality that the gays walked amongst them. Although we have still have a long way to go, we have advanced in the last twenty years to the point where a lot more of us feel safe being honest about who we are. I think it is about time to quit viewing ourselves as a gay community, separate from the rest. We now need to integrate more with the world around us so that we are seen as just regular guys and girls rather than something to be feared. Is it still hard to be gay? No question, but get over it and move on, always remembering that you are an ambassador striving hard to underline our similarities and work through our differences.
Women and men will never understand each other. Mankind will just have to cope with that reality.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I have always lived in the epicenter of conservative America, having grown up in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, then living most of my adult life in Greenville. I have gradually come to grips with my bible-belting surroundings over the years. Every once in a while, though, I just need to escape the overbearing pressure to join the NRA, drive a Hummer, or otherwise engage myself in some activity designed to advertise the microscopic size of my genitalia. When that feeling hits me, I know just exactly where to go. Just a short scenic drive up US 25 and I-26 lies liberal nirvana and it goes by the name of Asheville. I flare my nostrils and inhale the aroma of incense and patchouli that lets me know I have come home.
Mountain people have been, throughout history, a breed apart. Nowhere is that truer than in Asheville, North Carolina, a colorful buoy of hippie culture floating in a red state sea. Could a tornado have picked up San Francisco and dropped it just to our north like in "The Wizard of Oz?" As unusual as it seems, you have to wonder what force of nature put this place in such an unlikely geographic position. My gut feeling is that the devil is tempting people not to believe the rigorous dogma required to be a boring automaton by setting us bible-belters so close to a place where being different is not frowned upon, but damn near encouraged. If you too have the urge to be a little off-center at times, come along with me to Hippyland.
What sort of activities do I involve myself in during my visits to Asheville? How very nice of you to ask that question so that I can segue into the next part of the article! Besides numerous trips to the Jersey Mike's on Merrimon due to my brother's (he is a Franklin, NC native and we often meet in Asheville) hopeless addiction to their mediocre subs, music is the primary reason I am driven to make the journey. There are many excellent venues in Hippyland, from Jack of the Wood to The Grey Eagle Tavern. For my money, the mecca of Ashevillian audiophilic orgasms is the Orange Peel. IMHO there are very few better places in the Southeast to see a show, and the sheer number of quality gigs they draw is unmatched. All genres are represented, from country to indie rock, from bluegrass to the blues, the Orange Peel has them all. As an indie and punk rock fan, I have seen The New Pornographers, Against Me, The Meat Puppets, Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., and Immaculate Machine, all within the last year. With square footage somewhat akin to a basketball court, the arena is quite intimate - I have never been more than thirty feet from the stage. The owners have also successfully fought off the warm temperatures associated with packing a large crowd into a small space by providing the largest fan in the known universe to cool things down. Seriously, they have this thing hanging from the ceiling that reminds me of the propellor from a WW II flying fortress, but somewhat larger. Rumor has it that the blades were stolen off of a windmill and smuggled out of Holland during our recent conflict with the Dutch over paint and tulip tariffs. If that fanstrocity fell from its perch everyone inside would be mashed and slashed into a human pate that would have cannibals the world over drooling like Pavlov's dogs. I will be damned if that thing doesn't make it extremely comfortable in there, though.
So maybe you are a soulless monster and don't care for music - what other diversions does Asheville hold? With the Blue Ridge Parkway only miles away, you could go on numerous hikes, climb some of the highest peaks on the East coast or view some of the prettiest cataracts (fancy word for waterfall) this side of your grandma's vision problem. That sounds like too much work, however, so let's find a good place to get drunk instead. You could head to Barley's Taproom, but we have one in Greenville if you want to just interact with hippie types for a short time, so let's find something a little more original to Asheville. You could try the Thirsty Monk, a new Belgian beer joint located on Patton Avenue, but be warned: the high gravity beers there may interact with your system a bit differently than a six pack of cold Bud. Walking may become a chore and driving is out of the question.
Although faced with many great choices in a town that takes so much pride in its hedonistic reputation, the first place you should head for is the Asheville Brewing and Pizza Company located on Merrrimon Avenue. There you will find what has been missing from your mundane Greenvillian existence, a movie theater that serves the cold, gold liquid refreshment that your shriveled liver has been too long without. Lay back in one of their comfy chairs and enjoy the show with a tasty slice of Italy in one hand and a frothy bit of Octoberfest heaven in the other. Watch a poorly dubbed Chinese martial arts film and you can consider your visit a cultural experience.
While we are speaking of cultural experiences, let's take at look at the people that make Asheville the decidedly diverse place it is. Long hair and beards seem to be a requirement, even for some of the women. Dreadlocks are a major plus. Dress is casual, with the basic attire consisting of a ragged brownish t-shirt, cargo pants (which provide numerous pockets for dank nugs and assoiciated paraphenalia), and tivas. Their odor will be a mildly pleasant melange of patchouli, incense, and marijuana. Piercings are limited only by your own creativity and pain threshold. Anyone wearing coats or slacks without gaping holes is summarily executed. There are openly gay people everywhere - and don't miturate upon that monument! Street performers are all over the place - a couple of the well known regulars include a lady painted in silver to resemble a statue and a gentleman who utilizes cardboard and spray paint to create amazing space-like tableaus . Hopefully I have prepared you for the Ashevillian populace so that your head does not explode. I would hate to have your busted cranium on my hands.
For any of you less open-minded folks concerned about running into any of these weirdos and having to talk to them, just stay up at the Grove Park Inn, where you can view them from afar, like zoo exhibits. The Grove Park features luscious spa treatments as well as their own private golf course, which you can play for a very affordable total of well under a thousand dollars. If you would rather overwhelm the hippies with numbers, a large invasion force of outsiders arrives in Asheville during the Bele Chere festival, which occurs every year during the last weekend of July. Bele Chere is a street festival that features beer, food, and several free concerts (De la Soul almost showed up a couple years back!), providing the kind of listening pleasure only a powerful blow to the head with a blunt instrument can equal. Hey, even a paradise like Hippyland isn't perfect.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Recently a good friend of the blog asked me to write a post dealing with the troubles of our current president. Now normally I would never pick on someone who has the intellectual capability of a starchy vegetable. Besides, there are plenty of people more than willing to take up my slack in documenting our current national tragicomedy. After much thought, however, I have decided that it is my duty to bring my readers what they want - a complete deconstruction of the most incompetent executive in our nation's history. If only I could promise that the issues I hit here are to be the last pieces of the mosaic of disgrace that the last eight years have provided for our viewing displeasure. Let us now size up all the hats a president must wear and through doing so, illustrate the diverse ineptitude that has allowed our multi-untalented Texas billionaire to bungle each and every one of them in spectacular fashion.
One of the major roles of the executive branch, as listed in the Constitution, is that of commanding the nation's military. Our main forays into armed conflict during the last
eight years are, of course, the dueling fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lies that led to our seemingly interminable embroilment in Iraq have been well-documented, so I will skip over that unless anyone needs a primer. The fallout from this war goes to the crux of W's failure as a leader. We are currently spending billions of dollars a month in Iraq, with no end in sight, and whether our presence there has deterred terrorists or not is questionable at best. CIA intelligence estimates have stated that the mission there has resulted in giving Al Qaeda excellent on-the-job training. Meanwhile, the person who actually attacked us sits comfortably in a cave somewhere on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, an area where our military has limited resources. Why? Because our money and manpower is all being used in Iraq. We could probably use some of that dough in the United States as well since rumor has it that the economy has gone to shit.
-Guardian of the Economy-
Normally I would never criticize the President for negatively affecting the economy since only weather has more variables and is more complex in nature. So I have to give kudos to W for managing to etch his fingerprints of failure all over are current recession. His fun in the Iraqi sand has drained billions from the economy and contributed to out-of-control oil prices. How has Dubya dealt with the mortgage situation, which has been a centerpiece of the current downturn? Naturally, being opposed to welfare, he bailed out Bear Stearns while allowing the little people to lose their homes and declare bankruptcy. Oh wait - many can't even declare bankruptcy anymore since Bushy and the Republican Congress made it very difficult to do so several years back. Nothing tax cuts for the rich won't cure.
The head moron has also provided for our future by establishing numerous free trade deals that allow other countries to export to us without tariffs. Sounds great, right? What can be wrong with cheaper goods? Well the downside is that it allows corporations to move American jobs to other countries where they can produce goods for less, as foreign workers in these nations have no unions (which equals lower pay and less benefits, not to mention lower levels of worker safety and environmental protection). Under Clinton and Bush II's free trade policies, industrial jobs have made a mass exodus from our country - not to mention the health care and pensions that usually went along with that employment. The solution to that problem is tax cuts for the richest Americans.
The real economic legacy of Bush and his antecedents is a huge income disparity between rich and poor that is bound to make it difficult for the United States as a nation to ever regain its previous hegemonic status in the world economy. If the lower and middle classes can barely afford to operate their cars and buy food, they won't be buying much else. Insane increases in tuition are making higher education increasingly prohibitive to millions of Americans, guaranteeing income gaps well into the future. Bush's only response to the travails of the underclasses is a $300 check in the mail, enough to fill up the tank and buy groceries once, maybe twice if you are not providing for others. The real solution to this grave problem is to give the rich more tax cuts.
The worst part of all of this economic mess is that the Canadian dollar is no worth more than its American counterpart. Things have truly taken a horrific turn when we can't even make fun of Canada anymore.
-Chief of State-
This part of the job requires the President to be a source of inspiration to the people of the United States. He is to be a living symbol of our nation.
There is nothing like our country being represented by someone whose grammatical structure resembles a Picasso painting - splatter a participle here, cover it in nouns and verbs and you have got yourself something resembling a sentence. Every time W opens his mouth to give a speech, the writers at comedy shows across the nation begin to drool in anticipation. What buffoonery will he spout next? "Is our children learning?" or "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." or "Nucular" or "Free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat" or "We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do our job" or for the holidays - "And so during these holiday seasons, we thank our blessings." A good martini should not be as muddled as these mispoken mutterings. We might as well send Mushmouth from "Fat Albert" to represent us in the United Nations.
The one piece of good news is George W. Bush is just like us. We couldn't pull off a fancy speech in front of foreign dignataries either. The President is just a good ole down-home native of Crawford, Texas, a version of small town anywhere USA. What a great example to show the world what an average American is like. Except......... everyone has a Dad who was a member of Congress, head of the CIA, Vice President for eight years, and President for four years. Actually, his dad would kick your dad's ass. All of us get to go to an Ivy League school despite questionable grades. Who hasn't used high level government connections to get out of DUIs, cocaine possession charges, and service in some small conflict in Southeast Asia? I mean you probably headed a couple oil companies and owned a baseball franchise. Okay, maybe he isn't an average American.
This part of the job should have been the easiest for the self-styled CEO President. The head of state is the "boss" of millions of government employees and is in charge of appointing thousands of other government workers.
Being responsible for so many people is quite a difficult task, so you can be sure that junior was able to botch the job in a spectacular way. Outing an undercover CIA agent (Valerie Plame) so that you can wreak vengeance on her husband (Joseph Wilson) for criticizing your administration? Par for the course during our eight year national nightmare. Loyalty to Bush had always been primary while the safety of the country falls a distant second. What better evidence for that fact than the people Bush appointed to important offices? Need someone to run the Iraqi stock exchange? Why not chooose a twenty-one year old political crony with no experience? Need to pick an Attorney General of the United States? How about this Neo-Conservative from Missouri (John Ashcroft) who lost his last campaign to a dead man? Or a torture obsessed real estate attorney with a lying problem, he should know tons about criminal law (Albert Gonzales). Gosh we are missing a Supreme Court justice - why not my good friend Harriet Miers (nomination withdrawn almost immediately due to her transparent incompetence). Without anyone to head up your disaster relief program, go ahead and hand over FEMA to a man with no previous experience (Michael Brown) - its unlikely there will be a big hurricane anyway. There is no spot in American governance where competence is important enough to ignore political hacks in favor of someone with actual experience and talent.
The president of the United States, along with his advisors, determines the foreign policy of the United States government. Here is a good place for Bush to score points - Nixon was a disaster otherwise, but quite a successful diplomat. Usually diplomacy involves talking to other countries and working through our differences to find common ground. Unfortunately, Dubya has instead decided to try the middle school relationship method - you made me angry so I won't talk to you. How the silent treatment is supposed to work has not yet been explained to those of us who did finish seventh grade without our father's help. When the not talking idea has been exhausted (that doesn't take long), W has then resorted to bombing the shit out of our enemies (see Iraq) with no idea of what to do afterward.
Bush has also asserted the rights of the United States government to act in a short-sighted manner by refusing to sign treaties like Kyoto (global warming) and others designed to eliminate the use of land mines and clusterbombs. Global warming is clearly not a problem - there are still parts of Canada that have not yet seen the seventy five straight days of over 100 degrees that we are in the midst of enjoying.
The decider has also proven to be a stellar judge of character. He once looked into the soul of VladimirPutin and said he liked what he saw. Next he will be telling us lawyers and used car salesman are trustworthy. Although I do suppose that Putin is a downright pushover when compared to some of the other dictators from Russian history. We will give Georgie a D+ for seeing through to the cuddly Ruskie underneath. Better than most of his grades at Yale!
Although the President can not make laws himself, he has the power to influence Congress as far as what they pass. He can also veto legislation that he opposes.
Bush has used his veto pen as an avenging medeival sword of backwardness, defending us from any progress that the Congress has tried to make over the past couple of years. The SCHIP law, designed to provide health care for lower income children? Veto it! Repeated attempts to set a time table for ending the quagmire in Iraq? Hand me that pen again! Congress wants to prevent the US government from engaging in torture? Sorry can't let that one pass! Stem cell research with the potential to save millions of lives? The bible told me to nix that one (if I can only find the passage)! Pay raise for our hard-working military? I will put that legislation in my pocket so the media can't take pictures of that veto - people might notice that my professed concern for the armed forces is a load of bull!
So what law has the President actually passed to benefit the country during his eight years in power? Tax cuts for the rich! Yeah! Seriously I googled laws Bush has passed and came up with that. Please let me know if there are more of significance that I am unaware of - he did have an all Republican Congress for six years, so you would have to think he at least signed a couple of important laws. Maybe the one making the second week of July be kind to New Jersey week?
It took the leader of the free world to get me to teach me to respect "The Sopranos."
-Chief of the Party-
Although many of the arguments I have made degrading our President could be construed as partisan in nature, the final aspect of Bush's legacy of failure is impossible to argue. The executive is also the ad hoc leader of his political party and is therefore responsible for assisting his fellow party members in gaining election and re-election. One would have a lot of trouble arguing that W has succeeded in this area. The 2006 election saw the Republican Party suffer some of the most lopsided losses since the 1962 New York Mets took losing to the uppermost tier of craptacularity. 2008 does not look to be any better for conservatives - midterm elections in Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi have all gone the way of the Dems. They won a race in Mississippi for godsakes - usually a good speech from Trent Lott pointing out that black people are scary can get a Republican into office, even if he is a drooling mongoloid. Political pundits are currently estimating a loss of between 5 and 10 seats in the Senate for the Republicans. Such gains would give the Democrats a filibuster proof majority and make things hard for McSame/McBush if he manages to live long enough to be elected in his race against the crazy black man/possible Muslim guy (no he is not Muslim you idiot- not that anyone should care which invisible mythical being he professes to worship).
So no we know that George W. Bush has scored a perfect seven out of seven in the failure department. At least he didn't shoot anyone in the face I guess. I would leave the Vice President for another time, but I am kind of scared that he is staring at me through the computer right now. I have to go hide in my secret bunker now. I have supplies for two that should last thirty years if there are any hot guys out there interested in spending a lot of time with me. Just check out a picture of Brad Pitt or Christian Bale if you want to know what I look like.