Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cordoba - Moving Forward

Once upon a time, there was a group of moderate Muslims who wanted to promote Muslim/American understanding. Among other things, they hoped to:
• Uphold respect for the diversity of expression and ideas between all people
• Encourage open discussion and dialogue on issues of relevance to New Yorkers, Americans and the international reality of our interconnected planet
• Commit to social justice, dignified human development and spiritual growth for all
• Pursue the development of American Muslim identities, engaging New York’s many and diverse Muslim communities and promoting empowerment and compassion for all
There were other things, but primarily, it was to improve relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, which have been sadly deteriorating of late.

Even the name they chose, Cordoba House, referred to a city in medieval Spain where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together centuries ago, despite centuries of religious intolerance.

And they planned to do all this in a pretty epic way. They planned to build a 13-story, $100 million dollar community center, with a swimming pool, gyms, a basketball court, a 500-seat auditorium, a theater, a library, reading room and art studios, a performing arts center, a restaurant and food court, even a cooking school. They were going to offer art exhibits, educational programs, cooking classes., and childcare. And they planned to set up a 9/11 memorial and contemplation space. All open to the public.

One of the tenets of the Muslim faith is that you pray five times a day. So they set up a mosque, big enough for 1000-2000 people, but "accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community."

And because so many Americans are small-minded and stupid, that was when the fecal matter hit the rotating blades.

There are a limited selection of reasons to oppose the building of Park51 (the most current name of Cordoba House, because of its address at 51 Park Place). Let's look at some of them.

It's an insult to the memory of the people who lost their lives on 9/11 to allow a mosque to be built on this sacred ground!
Since there are other mosques in lower Manhattan, this seems like a fairly silly argument. And if you dig into it, you discover that there are probably around 800,000 Muslims living in New York City. So as you push your way through the halal lunch wagons on your way to work, one out of every ten people you pass are likely to pull out the prayer mats five times a day.

And apparently, even though the Pentagon was hit that same day, it isn't "sacred ground." After all, there's a mosque inside there, just yards from the rebuilt crash site.

(Technically, the chapel in the Pentagon is only a mussallaah, because large portions of the Pentagon close down after duty hours, and one of the requirements to allow something to be called a mosque is for it to be used for prayer five times a day.)

By the way, "sacred ground?" (And yes, they do talk like that.) I have to say that I support any religion that has strippers on their sacred ground, but perhaps I'm being insensitive... Of course, on that note:

It's amazingly insensitive to the families of those who died on 9/11!
You know, it's a funny thing. When you actually ask the families of the people who died on September 11, 2001, the answers are a little different.
"What is happening to this country?" asks Robert McIlvaine, whose son and namesake was killed that day. "It is so sad that people would use a simple issue of religious tolerance to spew hate and anger and create fear."

McIlvaine, from Oreland, PA, was a fixture at hearings of the 9/11 Commission... "People who have absolutely no connection to 9/11 are using it for their own political agendas," he says. "Fear and hatred help those agendas."

Lorie Van Auken of East Brunswick, widowed by the attacks on the World Trade Center, says she feels chilled by (these) efforts... "It’s only because of religious tolerance in this country that my family is here," says Van Auken, one of the so-called "Jersey Widows" who led the fight to create the 9/11 Commission. "They escaped intolerance in Europe — now we see it here."

"I am frightened by what the leaders of the opposition are doing and saying," says Diane Horning of Scotch Plains. Her son Matthew was killed that day. "I agree it’s insensitive of Muslims to want to build close to Ground Zero, but I grew up in a country where differences are tolerated. I’m not rallying for either side."
Sure, you'll find some that oppose it. Some people have a hard time moving on. But in the words of another family member:
Charles Wolf, who lost his wife, Katherine, at the trade center, says emotions among family members are especially raw right now. "This is anniversary season. It's really, really hard," the Manhattanite said. "Passions are up and this is bringing up a lot of hurt in people."

He says he worries that any decision to respond to public pressure and move the mosque would be used by extremists to paint Americans as intolerant... Now, with the mosque dispute, "here is where we're falling into the terrorists' trap... trying to tear each other apart. Good people fighting other good people - does that sound like evil at work?"
Which brings us to one of my favorite memes.

Muslims always build "victory mosques" on the sites of major victories!
Now, this is an interesting twisting of the facts. Yes, some Muslim rulers would build mosques, palaces and other architectural structures to commemorate a battle. On land they'd taken over. Since the al Qaeda has demonstrably not taken America over, this is what we call a "false comparison."

When an Islamic nation conquered a neighboring country, if it wasn't already Muslim, they needed to build mosques anyway, for their own worship and for the use of any of the local populace who might convert (this usually wasn't done by force - politically, it can be a pretty smart move on the convert's part).

It's a simple rule - where Islam spreads, mosques are built. In the same way, where Christianity spreads, churches are built. In the Middle East, reactions have been mixed - mostly negative (with one editorial calling it a "Zionist conspiracy"), but without any celebration.

The problem is that some microencephalics think that all Muslims are terrorists deep down. Well, there's a group of Christians who call themselves "the Army of God," who use terrorist tactics (you know, murder, kidnapping, explosives) on abortion providers. So, according to that same logic, because the Army of God exists, all Christians are terrorists, too, right?

This attitude tends to be proudly ignorant, shouting catch phrases like "sharia law" and "islamofascism" without even knowing the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Pastor Terry Jones of the ironically-named Dove World Outreach Center is planning an "International Burn a Koran Day," but when asked what he knew of the Koran, told the reporter with a straight face "I have no experience with it whatsoever. I only know what the Bible says."

And the spread of this ignorance is now leading into what the military refers to as collateral damage: a drunken Omar Rivera staggering into a mosque, shouting that everyone was a terrorist, and urinating on the prayer rugs; the incompetent arsonist in Tennessee who couldn't do more than damage a few pieces of construction equipment at the planned site of a mosque; or Michael Enright, who asked his taxi driver if he was a Muslim, and when the driver said yes, tried to cut his throat.

And because the right-wing media, from Fox "News" to the lowliest blogger, is pushing the "Muslim = terrorist" meme, it's only going to get worse.

For some reason, there is a class of people who believe that the words of the Founding Fathers merit some greater respect than the simple act of thinking for yourself. Well, here's some of those words now.

In 1790, one year before the Bill of Rights was passed, Moses Seixas, a warden in the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, wrote to George Washington, worried about the reception of the Jews and the American viewpoint on religious liberty. Washington wrote him back.
All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts.

For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support... May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Oil-eating microbe?

OK, so this beastie is kind of awesome. Scientists from Lawrence Berkley, led by Terry Hazen, have located an oil-eating microbe in the Gulf of Mexico. And not only does it break down the oil twice as fast as expected, but it does so without significantly depleting oxygen in the water.

These little beasties are nothing new, we've known about them for years. And people have been suggesting that they be used for a while now.

The argument is pretty obvious. "Yeah, they deplete the oxygen, but they cause less damage than the billions of gallons of toxic dispersants that BP is pumping into the water." (Since BP is going to be fined based on how much oil got pumped into the Gulf, it's in their best interest to hide the size of the leak, even if the dispersants make the spill more toxic.)

But this is about the only good news to come out of the Gulf in months.

(It's only a matter of time before some creationist points at this microbe as evidence of "God's plan." Of course, that begs the question "If God's plan is so damned fancy, how come He made a part of His environment, called petroleum and made from those dinosaurs you claim don't exist, that poisons every other part of His environment?" This microbe seems more like an afterthought. Does God have afterthoughts? Shouldn't He have gotten it right the first time?)

Of course, we still don't know how poisonous the seafood in the Gulf is, the clean-up workers are still suffering from the effects of exposure to the dispersants (including exciting effects like rectal bleeding), and BP is still covering up the extent of the disaster.

And somebody just ask Australia what the effects of a new species introduced into an environment can be.

But at least there's something.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. My Headache

Otaku (おたく / オタク?) (oh-tah-kooh): a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime, manga, or video games.
Let me just start out by saying that I've never been an anime (Japanese animation) or manga (Japanese comic books) otaku. However, with three barely-adult kids and a stepmother-in-law who worked in Japan for a while, I had a certain amount of exposure to the media.

To be honest, those weren't my only experiences with either art form. I watched Speed Racer and other cheap syndicated Japanese cartoons as a kid. But I wasn't just an innocent consumer: anime was just getting popular when my kids were starting out, and I felt they should be in front of the curve.

Admittedly, it turned out to be a geekier curve than I'd planned, but what did I know?

So Ghost in the Shell, Akira - I brought these to my children, not the other way around. (OK, admittedly, we shut off Akira a few minutes in, because it was a little heavy for the kids at that point.) We even have a VHS copy of one of the early, stunningly bad Fist of the North Star videos somewhere in the garage.

However, I've gotten most of my exposure to anime and manga (much like chicken pox) from my children. From the earliest experiences (yes, that would be Pokémon) to more "artistic" fare like Princess Mononoke, odd issues of various manga titles that came through the house, video games, whatever was around.

To be honest, I've always been a fan of video games (never obsessively, but a lot of hours of my life have been wasted holding a controller and staring at a screen).

Nintendo launched their Nintendo Entertainment System in America the same year that Luke and Nicole were born, and by the time they were old enough to play it, prices had dropped enough that I could use them as an excuse to get one. ("Besides, Nintendo had educational games, too!" Funny how few of those ended up in my house...)

But I'm a culture sponge. Aside from wanting to keep an eye on what my kids were getting into, I've always had an interest in whatever oddities turn potentially ordinary people into... well, otaku (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I didn't learn the word until a few years ago). Sometimes my interest is just to sample whatever this weirdness is. Sometimes, it's more of the "point and laugh" variety.

So when my daughter and the Trophy Wife informed me that we were all going to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, I approached the idea with a little trepidation. Judging by the trailers, it might be a light-hearted movie in a moderately unique style; but it might just as easily end up a confusing mess with enough bright lights and jump cuts to cause seizures in audience members. (Which, incidentally, is the best possible description of the opening credits...)

But the director, Edgar Wright, also gave us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, so I was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Now, my first surprise was the audience. Far from making up the bulk of the crowd, there were no 14-year-old girls in attendance at all - I guess they've all moved on to sparkly vampires and emo werewolves. Mostly, we were surrounded by mid-twenties guys.

(And, really, it didn't even qualify as a "crowd." But somehow, even with the relatively sparse attendence, we managed to end up with the voice model for Goofy sitting behind us, starting with a giggly "Yeah!" during the ads for Jackass 3-D, and ending with loud, echoing guffaws at every butt joke.)

This is an amazingly funny movie, with laugh-out-loud moments (as the guy behind me continued to prove). It also has great music and spectacularly stylized visuals - and by "stylized," I don't mean artistic or confusing, but "in the style of." In this case, in the style of manga (more than anime, really), and of video games from the Eighties and early Nineties.

The secondary actors (and the hair of the female lead) even manage to catch many of the over-the-top characterizations of manga. The opening studio logo looks (and sounds) like a Nintendo starting screen, and one of the last villains Scott fights even carries a sword with 8-bit graphics.

But that's one of the weaknesses of this movie, as well. It never really figures out who it's target audience might be. My best guess would be an otaku from the late Eighties. None of the video game references are current; they're all a decade or two behind. (Which may be just because the movie is Canadian, I suppose...)

There's a strange innocence to Scott Pilgrim; despite continual references to sex, there isn't any. People sleep together, but for the most part, that's all they do. (Which is kind of a shame - the lead actress is ridiculously hot, having starred previously in Sky High and Live Free or Die Hard.)

I really enjoyed the music from Scott Pilgrim, which is a good thing. One of the ongoing subplots is a "Battle of the Bands" that his group, "Sex Bob-omb," has entered. (And if you don't get the Mario reference there, I suspect that either there's no hope for you, or you're a healthy and well-adjusted personality. Your choice.)

Something this movie does (and many movies fail at) is linking each fictional band with an actual band, for a continuity of sound. Beck does all the songs for Scott Pilgrim's band (including the second-lamest "I wrote you a love song" scene ever filmed).

So, overall, I recommend this movie, as an enjoyable, surreal bit of fluff. I'm not sure whether seeing it more than once will do you any good, and it won't change your life. But for the 112 minutes you'll spend in the theater (plus previews and crap, of course), at least you'll enjoy yourself.

But what do I know? Somehow, I thought anime would turn out to be cooler than it was.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What the Hell is Wrong with the New Testament?

Sometimes, it seems like the writers of the Gospels had a planning meeting to get the basic framework of their story, but each one of them had their own ideas about the details. For example, only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke talk about Jesus being born.

In Luke, Mary learns that God knocked her up while she was asleep, and we have the whole familiar story, celebrated in song and Rankin-Bass animation, of Mary and Joseph going from Nazareth to Bethlehem because the Emperor ordered a census.

Not that it makes any sense to disrupt the economy of your entire country and make everybody go back to the place they were born, just to count them for the tax rolls. Oh, and incidentally, there actually was a census of the people of that region historically, when Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was appointed governor of Syria. A decade later, and under a different Emperor. You know, potato, pot-ah-to.

And the story plays out in the usual way, with the shepherds watching their flocks by night (in the middle of winter, when the sheep would be penned up for warmth); and the angels led everybody to Bethlehem, and the camels and donkeys sang harmony as the little drummer boy wakes up the baby Jesus, since nothing is more soothing to an infant than banging a drum. And everybody is happy and cheerful.

But in the Gospel of Matthew, Mary turns up pregnant before Joseph marries her. So an angel comes to Joseph (not Mary) to tell him to chill the fuck out and marry the bitch, and Jesus is born. But then the whole family flees to Egypt to escape the soldiers of King Herod, who start sticking swords through all the male children in Bethlehem. After Herod dies (which happened in 4 BC, by the way), the baby Jesus is brought back to Nazareth four years before his birth, to fulfill a prophesy suspiciously absent from the Old Testament.

So that makes a lot of sense.

But what about that whole death scene Jesus got to play out? That's pretty well accepted, right? Not so much: compare the stories in Matthew (27:46-50), Mark (15:21-41), Luke (23:38-46) and John (19:25-30). It seems like their descriptions don't really match, do they? If nothing else, shouldn't they have gotten His last words right? Seems like an important detail. Did He say the traditional "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34 and Matt 27:46), "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46), or simply "It is finished" (John 19:30)?

Most people seem to feel that a man's last words are important.

Oh, and while three quarters of the Gospels mention some variation of the temple veil being torn in half, only Matthew (a big fan of special effects) seemed to remember an earthquake taking place when Jesus "gave up the ghost."

Having sold out the Savior (or assisted Him in fulfilling His destiny, depending on who you ask), Judas either threw his thirty pieces of silver down in the temple and hanged himself (Matt. 27:5), or kept the money, bought a field, tripped on a stump, and burst open like a well-fed tick (Acts 1:18).

(You know, there's a warning I don't recall having heard a mother give: "Johnny! Don't run around like that! You might fall down, burst asunder and all your bowels will gush out!")

And that resurrection bit? The whole tomb opening? Well, we do have a basic story that they agree on (the framework I mentioned earlier), where some women go to see the tomb, there's angels involved, the tomb is empty, the womenfolk (just being helpless females, after all) go to tell the big strong male disciples, Jesus comes to see them, and everybody's happy.

But then, none of our writers can even agree whether it was sunrise or still dark when the women approached. Nor can they figure out who the women were: although they all agree on Mary Magdalene, three of them include "Mary, mother of James;" Mark adds Salome (a woman disciple that the Catholic church doesn't like to talk about), and Luke decided that there weren't nearly enough women, and threw in "Joanna... and the others with them." (Luke loved a good party.)

Once they got there, most of the writers have the rock already rolled aside, although Matthew once again wanted some Michael Bay-like special effects, so he had the angel coming down to roll the rock away, and the guards pissing themselves. John has Mary seeing an empty tomb and scampering off to bring back one of the menfolk. Depending on who you ask, there were either one or two angels involved (sometimes simply described as "men") and Jesus either did or didn't meet the women as they went back down the mountain.

(Interestingly, none of the accounts mention finding anything that sounds like the Shroud of Turin, although John specifically mentions seeing burial cloths - several strips of linen and a cloth that had been wrapped around his head, lying in the tomb [John 20:6-7]. But that's entirely secondary. Let's move on.)

Then, depending on who you ask, Jesus alternately appeared to either a bunch of people at once, or just one or two at a time, over a period possibly as long as 40 days, and he possibly caused other miracles (including a huge catch of fish - John 21:5-11 - because nobody ever catches a lot of fish without a miracle).

But remember, this is all the inerrant word of God. Every bit is perfect and correct in every detail.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

What the Hell is Wrong With Jesus?

There are Christians out there who like to look on the Old Testament as a parable, not the absolute, unalterable truth. And that's only reasonable - the Old Testament is, as I've mentioned before, a pretty savage book, filled with the bloody demands of a small-minded Bronze Age deity.

After all, according to Leviticus and Exodus, the death penalty isn't just required for murderers (Lev. 24:17-22) and kidnappers (Ex. 21:16), but for teenagers who fight with their parents (Ex. 21:17 and Lev. 20:9), and for guys who have sex with their mother-in-law (Lev. 20:14 - and the rough part is here, he gets burned to death, along with his mother-in-law, and his wife! - what? She knew about it? Now that's an open marriage...)

Meanwhile, you're allowed to have sex with another man’s slave, but you have to sacrifice a ram to do it (Lev 19:20-22). I can go on and on - and have, now that I think about it...

But, hey, Jesus came along and made everything all better, right? Well, not really. First of all, he didn't cancel out the laws of the Old Testament. Or, to put it in His words,
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Matt. 5:17-18)
Of course, he quickly contradicted himself when he said that you didn't have to follow kosher dietary laws (Matt. 15:11) or stop working on the Sabbath (Most of Matthew 12, and part of Mark 2 - "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath Mark 2:27"), so these two laws were apparently neither jots nor tittles.

(Does anybody know what a tittle is? I've got to jot down a note to remind me to find out... Oh, yeah, and incidentally, do you know why he had to explain, in Matthew 12, why the Sabbath ain't all that holy? He and his disciples had been caught stealing corn. Just thought I'd mention that.)

As usual, incidentally, all quotes, unless otherwise attributed, are from the King James Version, because I prefer the poetry of the language.

Of course, this isn't the only time he contradicted himself. Compare the two following quotes:
If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. John 5:31

Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go. John 8:14
One of my favorite passages in the Bible, when I'm talking to those streetcorner preachers, is Matthew 6:5-6:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret...
Of course, by cutting it off there, you miss the opening of verse 7, which says "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do."

Contrast that with Matthew 26:44: "And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words." (I guess the heathen repeat themselves more than three times.)

Jesus was a big promoter of "family values," too, right?
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26)
Self-confidence is also at a premium in that quote.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
Whatever happened to that whole "Honor thy father and mother" thing, anyway?
And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.Matt. 8:21-22
In Matthew 12, while explaining why that whole "keep the Sabbath Day holy" was outdated, humble Jesus explained how He was more important than the temple, and a greater man than either Jonah or Solomon. You know, gentle, loving Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
The Catholics, at least, have figured out that Jesus was opposed to divorce.
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away (divorces) his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away (divorced) doth commit adultery. (Matt. 19:9)
Of course, by stopping there, they miss the spectacular argument three verses later. Because, after all, not everybody can keep from getting married, right?
For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. (Matt. 19:12)
Admittedly, you might say he was just listing some special cases. Or you could say that you have metaphorically become a eunuch if you don't have sex with women. (Hmmm... gay marriage...) On the other hand, a lot of (former, I suppose) men, from Christian scholar Origen in the Third Century B.C., to Boston Corbett in 1858, the Heaven's Gate cult in the Nineties, to Luis Alfonzo Sanchez Ortiz just last year, have all castrated themselves because of that verse. So, you know... bad advice, maybe?

But in the end, it's OK. Because the books of the New Testament can't even agree on the beginning or the the end of Jesus' life. And we'll consider that tomorrow.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Let's Get It On

I was driving up to the house, cranking an old classic by Marvin Gaye and singing along. (Which, by the way, is how you can tell that I was alone in the car.) A tender, sensitive ballad that was one of the biggest hits for the Prince of Soul, reaching #1 on both the Soul and Pop charts. It was the title track for the album of the same name, Let's Get It On, which also spawned the equally romantic "You Sure Love to Ball" (which, for some reason, doesn't get the same airplay as "Let's Get It On").

Now, don't misunderstand, I love this song. But every time I hear it, I'm struck by the depth of the shallowness of this song. It stands as a true monument to superficiality. (It also probably got him laid a lot.) Now, admittedly, this was in the midst of the Free Love revival that had started in the 60s, so maybe he can be forgiven. But he didn't want your forgiveness - it was going to be another decade before he'd ask for "Sexual Healing" (and two years after that, his father, the minister, shot and killed him the day before his 45th birthday - a wound that no amount of sexual healing was going to fix).

"Let's Get It On" had originally been written as a religious song, and morphed through a protest version before becoming the classic it is today. Please note the 70s porn guitar on the opening notes, as provided by the Funk Brothers.

You don't get better than that. And the lyrics stand out as absolute classics, don't they?
I've been really tryin', baby,
Tryin' to hold back this feelin' for so long
In retrospect, the decision to skip the Sta-Hard® cream was a mistake.
And if you feel like I feel, baby,
Then come on, oh, come on
But you might want to get there a little faster, baby. No Sta-Hard®, remember?
Whoo, let's get it on
See? There it is. Those four little words that every girl wants to hear. Just thrown out there, to show what a sensitive, caring guy he is. And repeated a few times, just in case you didn't get the message. And just to keep us on our toes, he likes to change it up every once in a while, with perhaps a "Let's love, baby."
He moans a lot as he sings this. Understandable, I guess. But then comes the most fascinating line of the song.
We're all sensitive people
Note the careful adjective choice there. Not "we're both sensitive people," but "we're all..." As in "Hey, you're my first choice. But if you don't want to do anything, no problem. There's plenty of other women. Check out that girl next to you. The one screaming and jumping up and down... with those big... oh, yeah, she'll be happy to take your place. I'm Marvin Gaye, bitch! There's always another choice!"
With so much to give,
Understand me, sugar,
Since we got to be,
Let's live.
Go ahead. Graph that sentence for me. I dare you.
I love you
I don't know. Somehow, that doesn't seem to be very sincere.
There's nothin' wrong
With me lovin' you
Well, as long as you're both using protection, maybe.
Baby, no, no,
And givin' yourself to me can never be wrong,
If the love is true
I think what he means is, "I love you, right now. Tomorrow, I'm gone. I'll leave some cash for the taxi, but checkout time is 11:00, so you can only sleep in a little."
Don't you know,
How sweet and wonderful life can be?
This is called a non sequiter.
I'm askin' you, baby,
To get it on with me
Really? You aren't just pimping for your guitarist?
I ain't gonna worry, I ain't gonna push
"See, I threw out my back up on stage doing those pelvic thrusts, so I'm gonna have to let you do the work."
Won't push you, baby.
So come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, baby,
Stop beatin' 'round the bush.
That's the kind of subtle double entendre you can get away with when you're Marvin Gaye.

He then repeats "Let's get it on" about eight hundred times,interspersed with "oohs" and "oh yeahs," and the occasional somewhat random verse.
You know what I'm talkin' 'bout,
Come on, baby, hey, hey,
Let your love come out
Am I the only person who got a mental image from a slasher movie right there?
I know you know
What I've been dreamin' of,
Don't you, baby?
And it involves another woman, three midgets, and about fifteen pounds of blueberries.
My whole body is in love.
Really, Marvin? You know, sometimes a metaphor just doesn't work. Think about it for a second. "My whole body is in love"? Really? I think the only part "in love" is sticking straight out right now.

He repeats himself a little bit here (come to think of it, he repeats himself a lot in the course of this song), before he gets to a new line.
Beggin' you, baby, I want to get it on
Marvin Gaye has to beg? I'm not seein' it. (Remember, we're all sensitive people...).

And he works his way down to some more random repetition, with an extra line or two thrown in between.
If the spirit moves you, let me groove you good
No, that's not dated at all.

He also informs you that "I've been sanctified." I'm not sure what that means, but it makes the church service a lot more interesting.

Now, this video was a live version, so he works the audience for a little at the end. It's amazing that he can utter the words "Sugar, you promised me, you said, 'Marvin, baby, this evening,' you said we could get it on," and follow it up with "I've been waiting so long," and not sound like he was whining, isn't it?

And yes, he invariably performed in a coat and vest, just so he could strip them off at the end of this song. I don't think he ever actually got the pants off, but he usually threatened it.

(How many times can he repeat variations on "let's turn the lights down low" before he ends up completely in the dark?)

Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. (April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984) - master of the delicate, caring love ballad.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Unrelated Arguments and Murderous Queers

In the aftermath of the ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker that California's Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, there's a lot of confusion on the right side of the blogworld about how to react.

After all, their pet legislation, making same-sex marriage illegal, has just been thoroughly and completely hammered down by a simple, intelligent argument. "A private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation."

That's not all of it, of course - there's another 134 pages of rational, measured discussion on the unconstitutionality of this bill. And they don't know what to say in response.

But while I was wandering around rightwing blogs and checking out the incoherent shrieking, I noticed something that I'd managed to miss before.

Part of the strategy to deny gay rights is to demonize homosexuals. The argument is both simple, and simplistic: "homosexuality is unnatural" (or "against God's plan"), "and therefore, all homosexuals are evil and perverse; we're better than they are."

And one way to demonize homosexuality is to conflate all perversions as the same thing: bestiality, sadomasochism, and in this case, pedophilia. As a wise man once said,
One of the weirdest quirks of the gay-haters is the fact that they can't seem to stop themselves from conflating consenting sexual practices between two adults, with forced intercourse with a non-consenting partner: bestiality (where Rick Santorum famously prefers german shepherds, John Cornyn apparently gets all hot and sweaty thinking about box turtles), pedophilia, necrophilia.

Your average right-wing hater refuses to see a difference (probably because they tend to have suffered brain damage due to the genetic incompatibility of closely-related parents).
"See? Homosexuality is a sex crime! And all sex crimes are the same!" It's an interesting theory: are all crimes the same? Is every pickpocket just as capable of murder? Then why aren't there more serial killers?

Unfortunately for that argument, several years ago in Laramie, Wyoming, a young man named Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered for the "crime" of being gay. And sadly, this action doesn't fit into the world-view that the average homophobe wants to build up.

A couple of straight men were willing to torture and kill a gay man, because he was gay and they felt entitled; they were allowed to do this, because he was, after all, an inferior, even subhuman. And suddenly, "we" aren't any better than "they" are.

You can almost understand the reaction of the right wing. When you threaten someone's world-view, they feel that their core beliefs are being attacked. Sometimes, this leads to denial, like in the case of Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who tried to claim that it was all a hoax, and that Shepard was killed accidentally as part of a robbery, not because he was gay:
"The bill was named for him, the hate-crimes bill was named for him, but it's really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills."
However, there's another mythology on the Right, which is built around the concept of straight people "getting targeted" because they're heterosexual. Apparently, this will make everything all better - if straight people are mistreated by gays, then, by the laws of the schoolyard, we can mistreat them right back.

The first example they like to bring up, often giving it a pithy title like "a Tale of Two Shepherds" is a guy named Jason Shephard of Pennsylvania. And he's not the only one: they've got a whole list of names, like Amanda Collette, a 15 year old from Miami; Jesse Dirkhising from Arkansas; and Mary Stachowicz from Chicago.

("And you've never heard about them, have you? The Mainstream Media completely ignored these cases, because it doesn't fit their gay agenda!")

But here's the strange part: when they bring up these victims, they tend to be a little scanty on the details. There's a reason for that, of course; once you look into the cases, these are obviously false comparisons.

See, Jason Shepherd and Jesse Dirkhising were both drugged, raped and then killed (Jesse was tortured prior, whereas Jason's corpse was abused after death) by sexual predators. Who happened to be male.

(Jesse, incidentally, was also 13 years old at the time. Again, we have the Right Wing perfectly happy to conflate pedophilia and homosexuality.)

Sure, you can say Jesse and Jason were killed for being straight. Of course, by that logic, every woman who has spurned a rapist's advances and ended up killed, must have been murdered for being gay. After all, if she didn't immediately have sex with a random stranger, it must be because she didn't like men!

Even if Shephard and Dirkhising had been gay, but had simply found their assailants unattractive, it would have led to the same result. They were faced with sexual predators, not gay men unable to control their lust.

Sometimes, one thing doesn't lead to another; a logical leap can often go right off a cliff.

Amanda Collette was apparently shot by a jealous teenaged girl. This case might almost make their homophobic point, if teenagers were rational. But at the mercy of their hormones, all teenagers are high-strung, excitable and stupid. Or, as psychologists put it:
Experts say teenage girls crave approval, that they want to be special, that their feelings are often too intense for them to handle. They don't feel in control of anything, and they yearn for power over their lives.

"So," said Dr. Mitch Spero, a Plantation psychologist who specializes in teens, "when they finally feel like they belong to someone, or that someone belongs to them, it comes down to ownership."

For girls, murder is personal.

"Girls are much more likely to kill over relationships: their parents, siblings, boyfriends," said University of South Florida criminology professor Kathleen Heide.
Girls don't tend to go on murder sprees, and it's not the most common crime. But, again, have all the teenaged boys killed by heartbroken teenaged girls been killed for being gay?

Which brings us to the closest thing you have to a correlation with the Matthew Shepard case: the Mary Stachowicz murder in Chicago, which was committed by a young gay man named Nicholas Gutierrez.

Mary Stachowicz was a devout Catholic who worked as a Polish translator in a Chicago funeral home. Gutierrez was a former abused youth, who'd just been fired and was being evicted from his apartment: it's possible that he was under a little stress at the time.

Stachowicz tried to persuade him to give up the "gay lifestyle," and he testified that she asked him "why do you sleep with boys?" In his words:
"She had this sneer, which reminded me of my mother when she used to beat me...I saw nothing but red..."
And he killed her, hid the body, and tried to cover up his part in her murder.

(Incidentally, did you notice her phrasing? "Why do you sleep with boys?" Not "other men," but boys. Funny how often these arguments fall into a pattern...)

Stachowicz was killed because Gutierrez felt she was sneering at him. And whether or not she was sneering, she was trying to get him to stop being gay. (Remember what happens when you threaten somebody's world-view?)

Technically, you could just as easily say that Stachowicz was killed for being a busybody. Or for making fun of somebody. Or for being a Catholic who thought her beliefs overrode other people's right to privacy. Or for talking to a troubled youth who'd just been fired, was being evicted, and was on the edge of violence anyway.

There's the problem. People who want to say these victims were killed for being straight are conflating unrelated cases, merely because they found a homosexual (or purported homosexual) killing a heterosexual.

Matthew Shepard was killed because he was gay, and his assailants thought that made him fair game. The motives are entirely different.

I don't like the idea of "hate crimes," if it matters. We shouldn't try to read people's minds. But following the logic of "they were killed for being heterosexual," what should we do about ordinary, heterosexual rape? Outlaw straight sex?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Happy to be a zombie follower in service to a Higher Cause

OK, so there's this guy named Robert Lanza, MD. He got a little cranky because some people pointed out that he's a weird guy with odd ideas about the afterlife and, well, the afterlife. Oh, and life in general. And Lanza has demanded that ScienceBlogs (still reeling from their recent Pepsi difficulties) have to take down some posts that point out why he's an idiot.

Well, the more times these posts are linked, the more Google will return them on a search for "Robert Lanza" (especially if it includes words like "crackpot," or Huffington Post, or "New Age moron." Or idiocy, woo, stupidity, pinhead, "bad science" or fuckhead).

Or at least, that's the theory.

So here you go.