Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, July 28, 2014 5:51 pm

The shadow of the U.S. Constitution crosses our state line

Today, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction includes not only Virginia but also from West Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas.

Thus, as of today, North Carolina’s shameful Amendment One has a bulls-eye on its back. Judges in pending and future challenges to it now have guidance from the 4th Circuit. That guidance will make the bigots, the homophobes, and the sincerely misguided alike unhappy, but it is essential if my native state is to become its best self.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 12:09 am

Radical conservative morons try to shut down local blogger; or, An even more special kind of stupid, cont.

So it turns out that the political action committee Conservatives for Guilford County and four of its principals are suing local blogger Jeff Martin, who blogged under the pseudonym Fecund Stench, for defamation. If I liked popcorn, I’d be buying some.

First, the obligatory disclosures: Jeff and I have been friends online and in real life for years. (Less relevantly, his wife and my ex-wife used to work together at the old TriadStyle magazine, which is, indirectly, how he and I first met in real life.)

Second, for those of y’all not from ‘Round Here: C4GC is a local Tea Party outfit, with all the ideological baggage that that term implies. And Jeff Martin, a more traditional Republican, despises it and everyone associated with it. And Jeff plays hardball. To extend the baseball metaphor, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him intentionally hit a batter, but when a batter crowds the plate, Jeff will throw a 99 mph brushback pitch and not lose a second’s sleep. I like him, but I don’t agree with every last thing he says. And fellow Greensboro blogger Ed Cone, who is more dispassionate about Jeff, says this about him: “At his best, Fecund Stench is Guilford County’s own, digital H.L. Mencken (and like Mencken, his use of racial and religious stereotypes can be an issue). At his not-best, duck.” I think that’s fair.

Now, the complaint, which you can read for yourself. (Jeff has 30 days to respond.)

Now, the obligatory disclaimer: I Am Not A Lawyer, and I don’t play one on the Internet. However, I did publish a fair bit of potential lawsuit bait about some incompetent and/or bad people during my 25 years in print journalism, consulting with lawyers many times in so doing, without ever being sued at all, let alone successfully. And my just-completed master’s program included a media-law course just a year ago. (Much of what appears below is adapted from the text for that course, The Law of Public Communication, by Kent R. Middleton and William E. Lee, published in 2013 by Pearson.) So I’m in a position to do a little analysis without attempting to say who will win.

Now, the caution: Jeff has taken the Fecund Stench blog down, apparently as a result of the lawsuit, so the posts quoted in the complaint are absent any context. That caution is important no matter which side of this case you’re inclined to come down on at the moment.

In plain English, the first question is: Are the plaintiffs — that is, C4GC and the four named individuals — public figures? The answer determines what they have to prove in order to win the suit. The answer is that they almost certainly are. They are not public officials — the least ambiguous type of public figure. But they are public figures. The PAC has attempted to play a role in local elections. Jodi Riddleberger is an occasional op-ed columnist for the News & Record. And so on.

I’ll explain why the fact that they are public figures is important in a minute. First, you need to know that to win a libel suit, plaintiffs must prove, at a minimum, all of the following six things:

  • defamation: that what was published damaged plaintiffs’ standing in the community or professional reputation via attack on plaintiffs’ character or professional abilities, and/or that it causes people to avoid the person defamed. (Fun fact: The law does, indeed, recognize the possibility that someone’s reputation might already be so bad that they can’t be damaged any further by being libeled.)
  • identification: that what was published specifically identifies each plaintiff (it need not do so by name if the description clearly identifies a particular individual).
  • publication: defendant made the allegedly defamatory statements where at least one other person besides defendants could see them. Blogging on the World Wide Web meets this definition.
  • fault: defendant published the information either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false.
  • falsity: the information must be provably false, and the burden of that proof falls on plaintiffs.
  • injury: plaintiffs must prove some form of actual damage, financial or reputational.

Remember, the plaintiffs must prove all six to have a chance of winning.

Now, the public-figure status of the plaintiffs matters because of the level of fault they must prove as public figures, noted in bold above. In North Carolina, private figures under the law need not prove quite as much — merely that the allegedly libelous material was published negligently. But, as I noted, I’m pretty sure that C4GC and the named individual plaintiffs qualify as public figures because of how they have injected themselves into public debate on issues of public import, e.g., elections. If the court finds that they are in fact public figures, they’ll have to prove that Jeff knowingly or recklessly published false and defamatory statements about them.

Here’s the thing, though: Defendants in libel cases have several defenses available to them under the law, and if the defendant employs any of those defenses, the burden of proof is on the plaintiffs not only to prove the six things listed above but also to show that those defenses are inadequate or don’t apply.

Some of those defenses that might relate to this case are:

  • statute of limitations: Even if a statement is libelous, a suit must be filed within a certain period of time after its publication to be allowed to proceed. If a would-be plaintiff waits too long — typically a year — to sue, the plaintiff is out of luck. Some of the statements at issue date to 2011.
  • truth: If the plaintiff alleges that the defendant has published something false and the defendant can prove that the statement is true, the plaintiff is out of luck.
  • neutral reportage: If Candidate A says something potentially libelous about Candidate B, Newspaper C may be able to report what Candidate A said without committing libel, even if it knew or suspected that Candidate A’s statement was false and defamatory, as long as it reports what Candidate A says in fair and disinterested fashion. Candidate B might, just maybe, have a libel case against Candidate A, but not against Newspaper C.
  • First Amendment opinion defense: Statements can’t be libelous if they are opinions based on verifiable fact or if they are opinions whose truth can be neither proven nor disproven.
  • exaggerations and figurative terms generally are not libelous.

Obviously, we can’t even begin to know until the discovery phase of the suit is complete whether plaintiffs can prove the six things they need to prove. Publication is a slam dunk, and for the sake of argument, let’s give all five plaintiffs the benefit of the doubt on identification. That still leaves falsity, defamation, injury, and fault, specifically that the plaintiffs must prove that Martin published false and defamatory material either knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false.

Which raises another issue. Is it provably false, for example, that plaintiff Brett Riddleberger “suffers from a medical condition known as Erectile Narcolepsy, by which loss of blood to the brain when aroused causes him to lose consciousness.” To this layman, a better question would be: Who, among those older than 9, would believe this to be true in the first place? This is arguably an example of the kind of exaggeration that cannot be considered libel.

Anything is possible in a lawsuit, particularly if a case actually gets tried in front of a jury. But few libel cases get that far. The farthest most ever get is that after discovery (in which each side is obliged to provide certain evidence to the other), both sides move for summary judgment — they ask the judge to rule for their side without even letting the case go to trial — and the judge grants it to one side or the other after determining that there are no real issues of fact for a jury to determine.

But even more likely than that is that the two sides settle or one side, usually plaintiffs, realizes that it has no case and cuts its losses. A letter from Jeff’s counsel, Ron Coleman, strongly suggests to plaintiff’s attorney that that is where this case should be headed:

Although we have only passing familiarity with the litigation pending in Guilford County at this point, we see no reason to doubt that a cooperative resolution of this matter is the likely outcome. In light of your own experience and considering your level of practice, we would expect that you see it the same way. If so, you will probably agree as well that we should make every effort to skip the stupid steps and get to that point now.

Rationally, I agree that that’s exactly where this case should be headed. But I’ll be honest: Part of me wants to see what plaintiffs have to say, under oath during depositions in the discovery phase of the suit, about the businesses of the Adkinses and the financial backing of C4GC. As a longtime Republican living in N.C.’s 6th Congressional District, I must vote in a runoff between the top two finishers in the May 6 GOP primary, one of whom, Mark Walker, is backed by C4GC. If one of the candidates is backed by money from strip clubs, I’d certainly find that relevant. It might or might not affect my ballot — past performance, more than anything else, generally dictates my voting decisions — but it might very well affect those of other Republican voters in the 6th District. It’s certainly germane. And, frankly, given the Christofascist nature of some of the candidates previously supported by C4GC, the possibility of exposing great hypocrisy is attractive to me.

In short, part of me wants to see plaintiffs spanked so hard their appendixes come flying out of their mouths.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about Jeff and his constitutional right to publish factual information, criticism, and even parody, and about the same rights for other bloggers, perhaps, one day, including me. Assuming everything he has published is either true fact, protected opinion or parody, not only does he need for this suit to go away, America needs for the plaintiffs to be driven away with their tails between their legs and lots of bright red bruises on their asses so that robust political commentary and criticism can continue unabated.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 12:58 am

The Gospel According to Pierce; or, A Christmas Prayer, With Carrion

And Pierce wrote, saying:

But this is the argument in season over these holidays. That the poor must suffer in order to be redeemed. That hunger is a moral test to be endured. That only through pain can we hope. What doesn’t destroy you, etc. Santa Nietzsche is coming to town. The idea that we should — hell, that we must — act out of charity for each other through the institutions of self-government is lost in the din of a frontal system of moral thunderation aimed at everyone except the person who is out there thunderatin’ on behalf of personal-trainer Jesus, who wants us to work, work, work on that core. That was the way that government operated once before; the specific institutions that Scrooge mentions, and with which the Spirit eventually reproaches him in his own words – the prisons, the union workhouses, the treadmill, and the Poor Laws – were all government institutions based on the same basic philosophy that drives the debate over the food stamp program today.(We even seem to be going back to debtor’s prisons.) We have speeches on self-reliance given by government employees to people who increasingly have only themselves on whom to rely, day after grinding day. It is a way to keep the poor from having a voice in their own self-government. It is a way to keep the wrath of the boy at bay. There will be a reckoning, one way or another. But it can be staved off by platitudes, and by verses from Scripture wrenched from the obvious context of the Gospels. The sepulchers brighten whitely while the bones inside grow increasingly corrupt. This is what this Congress believes, as it goes home proud of itself and its members dress themselves to sing the midnight carols with no conscience sounding in counterpoint, and this is Christmas in America, and it is the year of our Lord, 2013.

Merry Christmas to all, and tonight, God bless us, every one. But forgive me, Lord, in advance, for hoping and praying that the year of our Lord 2014 brings plague and pestilence upon those who would force the suffering to suffer further, those who would insist upon morality tests for the poor that they themselves could not pass, those who would require that many of our fellow Americans be denied a voice with which to insist anything. Bring on the plagues for them, turn their fruit into locust husks, their wine and water into blood, and their foie gras to feces, and let their corrupt bones and those of their first born be cast out from the whitely brightened sepulchers to be feasted upon by jackals and vultures.

Except for those who repent and atone. Always except for those.

Amen. And Amen.

Friday, December 6, 2013 7:35 pm

Quote of the Day, Response to Cardinal Timothy Dolan Edition

So Cardinal Timothy Dolan went on Press the Meat this past Sunday to argue that Catholic doctrine on gays and women has been “caricatured” by Hollywood and the media and that the Church has been “outmarketed” in spreading its message. No, he really said this. So Charlie Pierce responds:

And the Founder assured us that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church, and you’re arguing that you got “outmarketed” by the Sundance Festival?

(Dolan also argued that the Pope “can’t make doctrinal changes,” which would surprise the hell out of most Catholics, the Pope included. You can’t make this stuff up.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 8:58 pm

There is a different, and much lower, bar for conservatives

After pseudohistorian David Barton, who has been making money for more than two decades now by telling bald-faced lies about the Founding Fathers, published a “nonfiction” book so bad that it was repudiated by its own publisher, you would think that no one in conservative political circles would want to be caught dead next to him. He’d been called a liar by secular historians, evangelical historians, and his own publisher. Did I mention that his own publisher said his book was a pack of lies? Next to that, having your book voted “least credible history book in print” by readers of History News Network is nothing.

But you have to remember that Barton’s market is the same people who think Jesus rode dinosaurs, as Politico — and God forgive me for linking to it — explains:

Barton has huge standing among “social conservatives that make up a significant base of a caucus electorate,” said Craig Robinson, editor of The Iowa Republican website. “You want to appeal to those people if you’re a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul.” …

But to his critics’ astonishment, Barton has bounced back. He has retained his popular following and his political appeal — in large part, analysts say, because he brings an air of sober-minded scholarship to the culture wars, framing the modern-day agenda of the religious right as a return to the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.

“It has been shocking how much resistance there is to critically examining what Barton says,” said Scott Culpepper, an associate professor of history at Dordt College who has critiqued Barton’s scholarship. “I really underestimated the power of the political element in evangelicalism.”

In March, Barton gave his presentation on America’s biblical heritage to dozens of state legislators in Kansas. In May, he spoke at the official National Day of Prayer breakfast at the Fort Leonard Wood Army base in Missouri. He rallied activists at the National Right to Life Convention in June with a rousing speech drawing on the Declaration of Independence to make the case for abortion restrictions. Cruz followed Barton in the program and echoed his analysis to thunderous applause.

“I’m not in a position to opine on academic disputes between historians, but I can tell you that David Barton is a good man, a courageous leader and a friend,” Cruz told POLITICO. “David’s historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made to bequeath to us the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.”

This fall, Barton will share that message before audiences in Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. He also continues to travel to Washington to lead his signature Capitol tours — sponsored and often attended by members of Congress — at which he expounds on America’s Christian roots.

Radio host Glenn Beck’s publishing company, Mercury Ink, has even announced plans to republish “The Jefferson Lies,” although a spokesman would give no details about timing, print run or whether the manuscript would be edited to address the criticism. [I just bet -- Lex.]

Barton’s enduring popularity “embarrasses the academic community,” Throckmorton said. But, he added, no matter how loud the scholarly chorus, Barton has a trump card: His message “is useful politically.”

Indeed, political strategists say Republican candidates are wise to consult Barton and hitch their wagon to his star.

Your Republican Party, America. Be proud. And ask yourself: If they’re willing to lie about the Founding Fathers, what else are they willing to lie about? An easier question might be: What are they not willing to lie about?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 7:08 pm

Seinfeldian Christianity; or, Jesus without Christ, “Jesus plus nothing”

Jeff Sharlet, whose essay for Harper’s more than a decade ago led to the best-selling book “The Family,” about secretive, conservative Christians in the halls of military and civilian power in the U.S., has visited a college from which many members of The Family have come. What he finds is no more or less than a cult, utterly divorced from Christ’s divinity and His great commandments:

Then [Ronald] Enroth turned his methodology inward, toward mainstream evangelicalism itself. Churches That Abuse, as he titled one book, became his obsession, and the phrase “spiritual abuse” his contribution to modern American theology not just as studied in academia but also in popular magazines and on talk shows. Like the discovery of a disease long suspected but ill-defined, the words “spiritual abuse” gave a form and a name to what had until then been just a feeling. A bad one. …

Jesus without Christ. It haunted me more than Jesus plus nothing. It positively buzzed, or maybe that was the wind—I couldn’t say. Whatever the noise that phrase generated in my skull was, it scared me. Scared me stupid, literally. There was this dumb idea that bothered me at times, usually late at night, driving up the spine of California in the pitch black, or lying in the dark in a blank, empty apartment in Wheaton. I think the first time the idea crossed my mind was under a streetlight in Arlington, three in the morning, I’d been up late reading some documents a member of the Fellowship named Josh Drexler had given me. That was the first time I read the word invisible, this invisible organization, the odd allusion to conspiracy without the actual trappings of conspiracy. It was a theology that wanted to be invisible to the world and wanted insiders to know that it was invisible to the world. To them—to me, since I had for the time being become one of them—invisibility hinted at power.  That’s when this dumb idea, the one bothering me as I drove through the California night came to me. Or maybe it was the time David Coe, Doug Coe’s son, came round to lecture the young members of the Fellowship I was living with on Genghis Khan as some kind of metaphor for Jesus, the purity of destroying one’s enemies absolutely, and David smiled and flirted with the boys. I excused myself and crossed the street to the park and made for trees down the hill and once I was out of sight I shivered, and said aloud, “What if this shit’s real?”

Not just the politics and the cultishness, but all of it—the hard, bland Jesus of whom they spoke, the Jesus plus nothing, not even “Christ.” Which would make this god what? The devil? That’s what I thought. David Coe grinning at me all bright white teeth against perfect skin, Ron Enroth’s weak, frightened heart beating time against the hum of the highway. The bleating horn squealing from the speakers, “an emphasis on nothing” in front and behind me. Jesus without Christ and I’d signed up to, what, “investigate” him? What if I was asking questions and all around me there really was a spiritual war raging? Worse, what if I was on the wrong side? Even worse yet, what if I wasn’t?



Tuesday, April 2, 2013 10:53 pm

I was right, bitches; or, A Dominionist theocracy is coming to a legislature near you, so GET DRESSED.

Back when Michelle Goldberg’s book “Kingdom Coming,” about the rise of Christian Nationalism in America, was published, I reviewed it for the News & Record and the blog I then wrote for the paper, The Lex Files. As you can see from the comments, as well as from this site, I took a lot of grief for stating, on the basis of my own reporting on the subject and my familiarity with some of Goldberg’s original sources, that there were significant numbers of people in America who wished to turn this country from a secular, constitutional democratic republic to a Dominionist theocracy; that is, a country where the law is based strictly on the Christian Bible.

Impossible, they said.

(You’ll also note that they accused me of saying all evangelical Christians want this. Rather, I said a certain subset of evangelical Christians adhered to that ideology. I didn’t believe all of them did then, I don’t believe that all of them do now, and I said so at the time specifically, not least because Goldberg herself was very careful to draw that distinction.)

Well, as it happens, down in Salisbury, the Rowan County commissioners want to be able to pray to Jesus in their official capacities, and so a bill, House Joint Resolution 494, has been introduced in the N.C. legislature that would allow that and much more besides.

This bill claims that the First Amendment’s ban on government making law “respecting an establishment of religion” applies only to the federal government, not the states, because in the minds of the (blessedly few) 11 sponsors signing on so far, the Fourteenth Amendment, whose equal protection  clause extends the protection of federal law to every citizen of the country, never happened.

It’s tempting to call these people batshit crazy and let it go at that. Tempting though that approach is, however, it lets them off too lightly. This is an attempt to turn one state among 50 in a constitutionally established secular democratic republic into a Dominionist theocracy in violation of the very Constitution the legislators have sworn an oath to uphold. They should be impeached and removed from office. Unfortunately, we don’t impeach legislators in North Carolina because we can’t. The best we could hope for would be for the House to vote to expel the offending members. But it won’t, because whether they’re ready to admit it or not, a majority of the N.C. House, or very close to a majority, thinks this is a great idea.

It would never stand up in court, I’d like to think. But “never” is a long time, and the Dominionists are playing the long game. They must be called out and they must be stopped, if for no other reason that Jesus had very specific notions about where one ought to do one’s praying and it would be a shame if our fellow North Carolinians went to hell for disregarding that directive.

(edited to remove duplicate grad)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 4:44 pm

Quote of the Day, Athenae on Sandy and the Govt. Edition

What it boils down to is: What kind of country are we going to be — the kind people want to live in, or not?

When a disaster strikes I want big government, small government, medium-sized government. I want all the government ever. I want the neighbors and the charities and the churches and the families and the friends, too. Every crack in the plaster needs to be patched and every problem needs to be solved, and I want as many people putting that puzzle together as possible. All hands on the [expletive] deck. Here’s a bucket. Start bailing the water out.

I want everybody to be figuring out how to do more, instead of fighting over the best way to do less without looking like too much of an [expletive] about it.

And you know, I think the majority of Americans want this, too. It’s just that for the past 40 years we’ve had this constant drumbeat of no we can’t, it’s too hard, we can’t afford it, everybody fends for themselves, there’s no help for anybody, let’s all just go home and if you have to step over a homeless dude to get to your car then do it because that’s the price of doing business. People deserve to have their homes submerged and their shops wiped out and their lives ruined because of where they live or what they do or who they are, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it, because only government is big enough to solve this problem and we all know government isn’t the answer to anything anymore.

But deep down we’ve still got that nagging feeling that somebody somewhere ought to be on top of [stuff] that most of the time people don’t deserve what they get (and thank God for that, by the way, she says while conducting the express train to hell), that we are better and bigger and stronger than this, and we’re just straining against the goddamn harness to do something. And disaster preparedness and emergency management are some of the most basic things government can do to prevent us from tearing ourselves apart when something [awful] happens, to take that instinct and direct it outward instead of inward.

To make us help, rather than letting us hurt.

I made the mistake earlier today of getting into an argument on Facebook with a couple of wingnuts. They argued that “compulsory charity” — which, for reasons that escape logic and which they declined to explain, they defined strictly as “government” charity; guys, go tell it to the LDS Church — is always wrong. (They also argued that abortion is the biggest sin there is, but then consistency is seldom a hallmark of wingnuts.)

Jesus said to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s. The implication, often offered up by wingnuts as stone fact, is that the two differ. And certainly they frequently do. But there’s no practical or metaphysical reason why the two couldn’t overlap from time to time, as in, say, stopping the Nazi genocide machine.

Or helping our fellow Americans, our family, our friends, our neighbors to get their lives back in order after an unparalleled natural disaster.

No one with a lick of sense will claim that he knows what Mitt Romney believes, but it is a matter of public record that Romney has said that private interests ought to be responsible for disaster recovery. Given that mutant weather alone is likely to become an important aspect of our new normal in this century, that claim alone disqualifies him from any role in government. And yet somewhere around 50 percent of Americans say they are ready and willing to make him president, as if, in this “Christian” nation, the Golden Rule and the Second Great Commandment were tiny codicils in the articles of incorporation for a company that Bain Capital long ago acquired, stripped of its assets and steered into Chapter 7.

Friday, October 26, 2012 7:43 pm

Republicans and rape; or, zygote fetishization

The recent comments on rape from a long list of Republicans including Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, along with the fact that the GOP’s national platform has opposed safe, legal abortion since 1980, have brought “social issues” to the fore in a national election that ordinarily would have been almost entirely about the economy. (Not arguing that it should have been almost entirely about the economy — I’d’ve loved some discussion of global warming, Afghanistan and using drones for extrajudicial assassination, to name just three topics — just that it ordinarily would have been.)

I won’t rehash the moral arguments about abortion, but I will offer this quasi-theological observation: The people who argue that their faith dictates that a woman who is raped and becomes pregnant must carry her rapist’s baby to term are not worshiping God, or any god. Rather, they are fetishizing a zygote. Their “culture of life” has become the idolatry of a cargo cult. It is nothing that Jesus would recognize as God’s love here on Earth.

With her gracious permission and without additional comment, I offer this take from my mother’s cousin Edith Hay Harris of Houston, Texas* Durham, NC:

My two cents: I was a volunteer for Greenville (SC) Rape Crisis Council for 8 or so years, some time back. I don’t think anyone can imagine what these women and girls endured. I think a lot of people don’t realize victims come in all ages and from all walks of life. I still remember a woman with a husband and children who became pregnant from the rape and had to have the baby; a 68 yr old grandmother who was nearly beaten to death by her attacker who put her grandson’s training pants over her face while he raped her; and a 12 year old who was impregnated by a homeless man. In the last case, we took her to Atlanta for an abortion, since no one in Greenville was providing that service then, and United Way dropped us from their funding for doing so. So, yes, I still feel that rage so many years later. I think these Republicans actually have contempt for women and need to control them. Sort of reminds me of the Taliban.

*Oops. Cousin Elsie lives in Houston, not Edith. I knew this.

Thursday, August 23, 2012 7:01 pm

@ToddAkin has gone and done it now: He has pissed off my mom.

“I’ve been told that when assaulted by legitimate science, the male conservative brain has ways of trying to shut that whole thing down, so that knowledge and understanding rarely occur.” — Mom, on Facebook today.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 8:03 pm

A Wendy’s franchise owner steps into a big bucket of something warm and brown that is not hamburger

Jim Furmen, CEO of Tar Heel Capital, which owns 86 Wendy’s franchises in North Carolina, says he stands with Chick-Fil-A. Fine; I and mine are walking elsewhere.

Image (and story h/t):

ATTN: Jim Furmen, CEO, Tar Heel Capital.

I’m a Republican, a conservative and a Christian. And it is because of, not in spite of, those affiliations and the beliefs that undergird them that I will not patronize any Wendy’s franchise owned by Tar Heel Capital so long as the company supports Chick-Fil-A’s bigoted stand.

If you don’t like gay people getting married, don’t marry one.

And repent and come to Jesus, you jackass.

Thursday, June 21, 2012 9:25 pm

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League (which is just Bill Donohue and his computer) is loathsome, cont.

Now he’s threatening rabbis:

Catholic League president Bill Donohue, a vocal conservative voice who recently warred with The Daily Show over a “vagina manger,” has infuriated prominent Jewish leaders with a private email last week to Philadelphia Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

Waskow, a progressive rabbi involved in the Jewish Renewal movement, had criticized the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a Huffington Post op-ed for “attacking the religious freedom of millions of American women and the religious freedom of American nuns” over contraception.

Donohue responded with a note to Waskow that launched an email exchange that ended with a warning, forwarded to BuzzFeed by a source close to the rabbi, that “Jews had better not make enemies of their Catholic friends since they have so few of them” (Donohue writes that this is a saying of Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York). Donohue also includes a postscript saying, “I do not have a long nose.”

Donahue also raised a recent child abuse scandal in Orthodox Jewish communities.

“You need to do something about this epidemic right now,” he told Waskow, who is not Orthodox, suggesting that Jews follow the Catholic Church’s reforms in dealing with clerical abuse.

The balls on this guy, not to mention the ignorance. He has been a co-conspirator in a decades-long international chilid-rape and obstruction-of-justice scheme, and he presumes to lecture a Reform rabbi about a scandal in the Orthodox community.

Oh, and that “saying of Ed Koch”? Um, not so much:

Koch, the former mayor of New York, said that he never said the quote Donohue attributes to him.

“My comments have always been about fostering good feelings between Jews and Catholics toward mutual understanding of our shared interests,” Koch said in a statement. “However, I certainly do not believe that Jews, or Catholics, should be threatened for making critical remarks, nor should my name be used when doing so. While I do have a high regard for Bill, his references to me and my remarks were inappropriate and different in substance and tone than what I said on an earlier occasion. My remarks did not and do not refer to the Rabbi’s comments.”

(Which just goes to show that Ed Koch is an idiot because no one with an IQ higher than that of a toaster has a high regard for Bill. But I digress.)

I got Bill Donohue’s news releases pretty much weekly when I covered religion back in the mid-1990s. To judge from them as well as this latest incident, he is insane and an utter sociopath. And that’s a bit of a problem when, as New York Times columnist Bill Keller writes:

when he took charge of the Catholic League in 1993, Donohue could be dismissed as a conservative blowhard, one of those laymen who was, ahem, more Catholic than the pope. [His divorce notwithstanding -- Lex.]  But the official church has moved far enough to the right that Donohue now speaks for its mainstream.

Bill Keller has been wrong about many things over the years. But if he’s right about this, then the Roman Catholic Church’s leadership has become an undisputed threat not only to Reform Jews but to all Americans — and needs to be treated accordingly. The Clan of the Red Beanie, as Charlie Pierce frequently calls them, doesn’t seem to understand that we’ve already had this argument, in 1787, and their side lost. The fact that they continue to seek to impose on all Americans, not just their own congregants, public policies that would unquestionably increase total human suffering in this country significantly merely demonstrates the wisdom of the prevailing side all those years ago.

Sunday, April 8, 2012 9:05 pm

He Is Risen: An outsourced reflection, a prediction, a prayer

I spent this weekend finishing up a final project for one of my courses for the semester. Save a proofreading, it’s done, and I can turn it in two weeks early. Which is good, because the project in the other course is going to kill me, but that’s not today’s point.

What’s today’s point, and yesterday’s, and, really, the point for all of Holy Week and the point for all time for anyone who claims to be a Christian or just admires Christ as a historical figure, is the radical nature of what Jesus asked us to do and who he asked us to be. I’ve read volumes on that subject over the years, and despite my misanthropy, recent dearth of church-going and occasional proclivity for PG-13 language here, I take it seriously.

And I’ve found few pithier summaries than this one, posted on Good Friday by Charlie Pierce. He responded to a temporal event in a specifically Roman Catholic context with small-c catholic truths that show no sign of dimming after 2,000 years:

… the liturgies of Holy Week … are the most moving because the one thing they’re not about is authority.

Authority is the villain during Holy Week. Secular authority, in the person of Pontius Pilate. Religious authority, in the institution of the Sanhedrin. What matters most throughout the season is the individual conscience. As Garry Wills never tires of pointing out, Christ did not make priests. He did not make a Church. And he sure as all hell didn’t make a Pope …

What stands out in the Holy Week services is humility in the face of unreasoning authority. What stands out, ultimately, and whether you believe in the Resurrection or not, or think the whole thing is a bunch of hooey imported from the Egyptian mystery cults or somewhere, is that, in the story of Easter week, unreasoning authority loses. It loses badly.

I am under no illusions about what life is going to be like in this country in the coming decade or two. Our bankers are going to insist that the rest of us kiss their asses and give them our money, and no one is going to stop them. Our church leaders are going to continue to engage in the decades-long continuing criminal enterprise of protecting child abusers and enabling history’s biggest thieves. Our police officers are going to use sexual humiliation to subjugate us and pepper spray and worse to keep us from exercising the rights our ancestors (and some of our contemporaries) died to obtain and protect, all in the name of protecting unreasoning authority. And our so-called leaders are going to continue to ignore the protests that the Earth itself is voicing in the plainest language, because, as Upton Sinclair famously observed, it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his paycheck depends upon his not understanding it.

And, make no mistake, the pain will be widespread and it will be awful. We or people close to us will lose jobs, homes, health, even lives. And as bad as it will be here, it will be worse still in other places, many already enduring suffering unimaginable to most Americans.  I’m old enough not to care so much anymore about myself, but I’m terrified for my kids.

But, as cynical and pessimistic as I am, I also have faith — literally, the belief in and hope for something of which no evidence is visible — in this: Every single theft, every single swindle, every single assault, every single official lie, every act of abuse and dereliction of duty, every sin of commission and sin of omission by our unreasoning authorities, will, by engendering actions by Americans, others, or even God’s creation itself, bend the long moral arc of the universe just a tiny fraction closer to justice … in this world or the next.

Amen. Be armed, but go in peace.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 8:49 pm

Devoured by moths and rust; or, Sex is the hill they have chosen to die on

As I’ve said before, the Roman Catholic Church is a continuing criminal enterprise, an international scheme to victimize children, intimidate and/or bribe the victims and their families and protect the guilty.

It is also, as is true of all people and most human institutions, a mixture of good and evil. It has spoken out on behalf of the poor (though, I would argue, not nearly loudly enough) many times, for example. And not that you’d know it because it has the megaphone turned down on this issue, but it  currently also is speaking out against a hasty rush to war with Iran.

But on some issues, the church speaks more loudly than on others. What it speaks most loudly on today in this country — abortion and other issues related to women’s sexual activity — is a matter of conscious choice. The church likely would deny this and claim that all its moral stands are of equal importance, which, even if it were true, would fly in the face of logic. All sin is equal before God, true, but here on Earth we have long since comes to grips, those of us in the reality-based community, with proportionality. That’s why we execute people for premeditated murder but not for parking violations.

The Church, although a body of believers and a body of belief, also is an earthly institution with vast but finite resources. And so it, too, has to come to grips with proportionality and make choices. If the Church does not choose carefully, innocent people will be harmed, both as a direct result of the church’s emphasis and as an indirect result of the church’s refusal to emphasize other issues that could have helped other people. That’s going to be true whatever the Church prioritizes, of course. But one must wonder what could have led it to decide that abortion and contraception are more important than starting a war. As Matthew’s Gospel (6:21) says, where your treasure is, there your heart is also. And so we see that the Church’s heart — where it has allocated its treasure, defined as its efforts and resources as a megaphone of moral authority — is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, siding with the powerful against the poor and poor in spirit, siding with those who refuse to comfort those who mourn, siding with warmakers against the gentle, siding with criminals against their victims, and on and on and on, all in contravention of the teachings of the Christ that this same church professes to love and worship.

Which makes particularly sad this comment from Athenae at First Draft:

“When it comes right down to it the Church has made a deliberate choice that sexual intercourse is going to be the hill they want to die on. And absent some massive backlash on the part of the faithful, dying is exactly what they’re going to do.”

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 7:28 pm

What? You’re a bunch of child-rapists? No problem! Communion for everybody!

Jesus literally wept:

Deep in grief, Barbara Johnson stood first in the line for Communion at her mother’s funeral Saturday morning. But the priest in front of her immediately made it clear that she would not receive the sacramental bread and wine.

Johnson, an art-studio owner from the District, had come to St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg with her lesbian partner. The Rev. Marcel Guarnizo had learned of their relationship just before the service.

“He put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin,’ ” she recalled Tuesday.

She reacted with stunned silence. Her anger and outrage have now led her and members of her family to demand that Guarnizo be removed from his ministry.

Family members said the priest left the altar while Johnson, 51, was delivering a eulogy and did not attend the burial or find another priest to be there.

And this is the church that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich want to use as the basis for telling the rest of us how to live, which is unconstitutional in both their cases and, in Newt’s case, is just cranium-explodingly hypocritical besides.

And let me tell you, Barbara Johnson, who pledged to pray for Guarnizo even as she seeks his removal from the pastorate, is a better Christian than I would have been in those circumstances.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 8:05 pm


I’m a little late to this, but apparently GOP presidential candidate and pre-Vatican II Iron Catholic Rick Santorum said this:

I don’t believe in an America where the separation between church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and visions of our country.

Whereupon which Erik Kain observes:

This is either straight-up opportunism dressed in religious drag or it’s one of the dumbest things to have fled a politician’s mouth in, well, days.

Aw, Erik, why such a pinched, crabbed, constricted outlook? Couldn’t it be both?

Thursday, February 23, 2012 8:00 pm

Religion enters the Republican primaries

Filed under: I want my religion back.,Sad — Lex @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

By Jeff Danziger

The late, great Doug Marlette, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who started his career at The Charlotte Observer, once submitted a cartoon for Easter Sunday showing Christ in his crown of thorns,  lugging an electric chair on his back toward Golgotha. It was rejected, of course, but every year thereafter he would re-submit it and every year thereafter it would be rejected. Though this isn’t quite as graphic, it’s every bit as pointed. I don’t know who’s the best editorial cartoonist working today, but Danziger has to be a contender.

Sunday, February 12, 2012 8:58 am

The Susan G. Komen bottom line: Going into a marketing textbook, and not in a good way

A friend of mine emailed a few days ago to ask me for my take on the whole Susan G. Komen situation. (I think Karen Handel’s resignation had not yet happened when he wrote.) I wrote him back and gave it to him, bcc’ing another friend who had asked a similar question. The other friend suggested that the email might make a good summary of the case as a blog post. So, if you can stand another Komen post, I’ve copied the email below, with a couple of redactions to preserve my friends’ anonymity.

* * *

Dear [redacted]:

I don’t know that I have an organized, synthesized “take” on Komen yet, but I have a bunch of observations which, taken together and combined with my background in investigative reporting on nonprofits gone bad, lead me to a tentative conclusion … [snip]

– Karen Handel, the ousted VP, ran for governor of Georgia on a strong pro-life platform that was explicitly anti-Planned Parenthood. (She lost in the GOP primary to someone who was even more anti-abortion than she, which is a neat trick in the GOP these days.) Given her relative lack of PR/marketing background … I think it’s reasonable to surmise that she was hired for the position of VP for Public Policy for her political views and connections in the pro-life movement.
— However, in her resignation letter, she maintained that the board had been troubled even before she got there about Komen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood because of pressure and criticism from those who oppose abortion. I wouldn’t believe the woman if she said the sky was blue without looking out a window first, but that actually strikes me as plausible, for reasons I’ll elaborate on farther down. It further strikes me as plausible that the board hired Handel, if not specifically to manage cutting off PP, then at least to serve as an ambassador to the anti-abortion community.
— CEO Nancy Brinker raised a ton of money for Bush 43 and was given an ambassadorship in return. Absent any other information about her, that fact alone suggests that even if she herself was not anti-abortion, she was very comfortable with those who were and very comfortable with very wealthy people. Not to generalize too broadly, but particularly in the past decade we’ve seen a number of instances in which very wealthy people (see: Romney, Mitt) demonstrate an utter lack of awareness of what it’s like to be poor or even working-class in this country. That demographic is a huge part of PP’s client base, and both on issues related to PP and economic issues in general, that demographic is damned tired of being disrespected (see: OWS [Occupy Wall Street] and the 99% movement).
— Again, assuming that what Handel says about the board is true, it is likely that the board itself was largely, if not unanimously, in favor of cutting off Planned Parenthood in hopes of getting the anti-abortion movement off its back, if not actually receiving more donations from members of that movement.
— Now, here’s why I think Handel’s account of the board’s position is plausible. There are two important things to note about the anti-abortion Right [with respect to] Planned Parenthood: 1) Many of them believe, in the absence of scientific evidence, that abortion causes breast cancer or makes it more likely. This is not true; a ton of disinterested research has found no link whatever, but in many cases in this movement, you’re dealing with people who are pretty anti-science in general. So we’re talking here about people who believe, to a significant degree, that PP is in the business of, in effect, knowingly giving women breast cancer. 2) Many of the anti-abortion folks sincerely believe and/or cynically claim that abortion is just about all Planned Parenthood does (it’s actually about 3%), and many of THOSE folks believe and/or cynically claim that that service is highly profitable, that PP is in it for the money. And all the documentation in the world won’t change their minds. You can Google this example: Just in the past few days an anti-abortion state legislator in Louisiana was taken in by a fake news article on The Onion in which Planned Parenthood announced it was building an Abortionplex to perform as many abortions as quickly as possible. [Link added to this post -- Lex]
— Do I believe the Komen folks thought to that extreme? With the possible exception of Handel, no, but I do think a milder version of that world view, and their general lack of empathy for the poor and working class, blinded the Komen staff and board to the likelihood of backlash when they cut off money to PP that was used not for abortions but for breast-cancer exams and referrals. If you take Komen’s stated mission at face value, such a move is inexplicable. They were so seriously out of touch that they were unaware, for example, that for decades a fair number of lower-income people have relied on PP for primary medical care in general, not just birth control or abortion. ([Redacted], then just out of college and working a low-paying, crummy-benefits job, was one of them.) And they certainly appeared unaware that not a few women had had their breast cancers detected early — and, thus, their lives arguably saved — through a Planned Parenthood breast exam. And Brinker’s YouTube video [link added to this post -- Lex] after [the PP cut became news and prompted the backlash] demonstrated just how out of touch she, at least, was and how illogical and inconsistent Komen’s stated motivations were. It was almost Palin-esque in its word-saladness. [Redacted] I cringed as I watched it: She did enormous damage to her brand in just a few minutes, which leads me to think she either got no coaching on what she was going to say and how she was going to say it (and visually, the rich person’s library backdrop also didn’t help), or she figured “I’ve got this” and blew off offers of help.

So, trying hard not to generalize too much in the absence of a recording device in the Komen headquarters, I think what we have is an organization:

  • that was generally pro-life to begin with and that hired a public-policy person who was rabidly so and, further, that the organization either didn’t know or didn’t care how rabidly anti-science, and anti-PP, this constituency is.
  • that apparently knew little and cared less how its grantee used the money it was given, even though that money use was directly consonant with Komen’s stated mission.
  • called “Komen for the Cure” though it actually spends less than 20% of its massive budget on cure research and almost 40% more on “education,” which is about one part actual education to four parts corporate marketing. (That fact is available to anyone who looks at their [IRS Form] 990s, of course, and some Komen critics have been pointing it out for years. But it went viral in the wake of the PP decision, and so a lot of people who had supported Komen only learned it for the first time last week.)
  • that pays its CEO and top staffers a lot more than what most lay people think is appropriate for nonprofit executives even at big, national organizations (Brinker alone gets ~$460K). For good or ill, that’s actually not all that out of line for such organizations, but to the lay person, it looks grossly inappropriate.
  • whose stated reasons for the cut were both implausible (e.g., they say no money to groups “under investigation,” but they’re cutting $680K from PP, which is the subject of a politically motivated congressional witch hunt, but not $7.5M from Penn State, which is under a very real criminal investigation because of the Sandusky case?) and inconsistent (the stories changed wildly within just a few days)

I think you can put that picture into the dictionary next to the definition of “perfect storm.”

Now, good for Komen that Handel is gone. But if the organization is serious about its mission, then Brinker and any board member who supported this move need to be gone, too. They clearly are out of touch with the people they claim to serve and clearly are out of touch with their own organization’s mission. If the organization is to survive — and I would argue that it shouldn’t, necessarily — it must be governed and run by people who are dedicated to the apolitical position of working for women’s health in general and a cure for breast cancer in particular, period. Sure, Brinker was Komen’s sister, yadda-yadda, but the organization was no longer hers the instant it got charitable tax-exempt status and began soliciting other people’s money. At that point in the life of any nonprofit, the organization becomes a mission that is bigger than any one person. ([Name redacted] forgot that at [the nonprofit he led, with which both I and the recipient of the email have worked], and both he and [that nonprofit] have paid an enormous price as a result.)

And I don’t think this is over.

For one thing, the Komen documentary released last week ["Pink Ribbons, Inc." -- title and link added to this post -- Lex], which makes many of these same points, is going to have a much bigger audience now than it would have originally. [Link added to this post -- Lex] I’m old enough to remember how “meh” everyone was about the release of “The China Syndrome” in 1979 — until Three Mile Island happened a couple of weeks later. I don’t think the documentary will be that kind of hit, but I would imagine that many people who might have been won back by Handel’s resignation will see it and decide to forget Komen permanently.

For another, for good or ill, I think that the political Left, which got Obama elected and then has been disappointed by him over and over, smells blood. They’ve gotten a big win for the first time in a long time, and I think, for good or ill, that they want more. And that’s a problem, because Komen’s corporate sponsors are, pretty much to a company, in the consumer-products business and thus vulnerable to Internet-driven boycotts, letter-writing campaigns and other such actions. Microsoft and Apple are too big and too irreplaceable to care, but Yoplait yogurt? They’re screwed. And the pink ribbons on those products cut both ways: They now make it very easy for anyone interested to know what NOT to buy. If those partners pull their support, Komen is dead.

The big season for Komen races is still a couple of months off, so it’ll be interesting to see how participation is affected. I’m guessing it’ll fall at least 50% across the board, and in some politically blue areas, it’ll be 80%.

Bottom line: Whether Komen survives or not, Nancy Brinker and Karen Handel are going into a marketing textbook soon, and not in a good way.



Thursday, November 3, 2011 8:37 pm

You want moral conviction? I’ve got your moral conviction RIGHT HERE.

Memo to Michigan Republicans: If your God tells you that bullying is OK, ever, for any reason, you’re hearing Him wrong.

Just trust me on this.

Saturday, September 10, 2011 2:24 pm

If you don’t want to read about 9/11 this weekend …

… (and I would not blame you if you don’t), then spend time instead with this piece by Mike Lofgren, a recently retired GOP congressional staffer. His 28 years of service include 16 on the GOP staff of the House and Senate budget committees. In every important respect, what he says comports with what I observed in 25 years of professional Congress-watching, particularly since the rise of the Gingrichites in 1994. Key points (and keep in mind that this is a career GOP operative talking):

  • “To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.”
  • “This constant drizzle of “there the two parties go again!” stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends. The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions – if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the election of President Obama by 69 million voters.”
  • “Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students. This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don’t want those people voting.”
  • “Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? – can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative “Obamacare” won out. Contrast that with the Republicans’ Patriot Act. You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn’t the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?”
  • The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. [Emphasis in original -- Lex] The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America’s plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction – and even less spending reduction! – than Obama’s offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society’s overclass.”
  • “If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté.[5] They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.”

Go read the whole thing. The kicker is that this guy retired because he figures that given what the GOP plans to do to the federal retirement system, it was better for him to be a current retiree (and thus grandfathered in) than a future one.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 8:23 pm


Filed under: I want my religion back. — Lex @ 8:23 pm

Sir Charles at Cogitamus serves up the best “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” I’ve ever read, in response to some wingnuttiness about New York’s legalization of gay marriage:

Neil helpfully linked to this article regarding a full-on wingnut screed against the marriage equality law just passed in New York, which announces that the law will lead to a “perpetual pansexual pagan party,” which, if true, may in fact make Andrew Cuomo the next president of the United States — possibly by acclimation.

That’s a terrible thing to wish on anyone.

Friday, June 3, 2011 7:41 pm

One last word about the Rapture that wasn’t …

Filed under: I want my religion back. — Lex @ 7:41 pm
Tags: ,

… from Mistermix at Balloon Juice:

There’s a whole lot of cruelty packed into their wacko fantasy, and there’s nothing wrong with ridiculing a crazy delusion that’s one part biblical spare parts, one part deadly sperm buildup, and one part bloodlust.


Friday, May 20, 2011 7:38 pm

Rapping the rapture

Filed under: I want my religion back. — Lex @ 7:38 pm
Tags: , ,

For all I know, people in the western Pacific and eastern Asia are being bodily taken up into Heaven as I type, but I have found no credible news reports of such. Still, even if the world doesn’t end tomorrow, there’s still, as Britney Spears’s new music video reminds us, Dec, 21, 2012, to think about. So let’s think about the Rapture.

My friend the Rev. Ken Carter, pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte (and pastor of a United Methodist congregation here in Greensboro in the mid-1990s, when I met him), tweeted this:

references to #rapture end of world on fb [Facebook] & twitter allow cultured despisers to display free-floating aggression toward something: why? #God

Ken, as have been many members of my family over the years, is in the God business, so I understand his defensiveness. But, as I suspect he well knows, even many of us who count ourselves believers have been pretty hard on this whole world-is-ending-on-May-21 meme (guilty as charged here, here and here, for example).

For one thing, many, if not most, Christians rely on Jesus’s caution in Matthew 25:13: “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” In other words, when Jesus comes again, it will be a surprise even to those who claim to know the Bible and the teachings of Jesus best.

But (allowing for the heightened risk of misunderstanding created by the 140-character limit of Twitter posts) Ken also, I think, is straying into a bit of broad-brush countercriticism of critics of the posted May 21 Rapture when he refers to those critics as “cultured despisers.”

For one thing, the phrase suggests he assumes that it’s only the “cultured” who “despise” the Rapture message — that, in other words, this is an issue of classism. Perhaps that’s not what Ken meant, but that’s how it comes across. And I know of no real evidence to suggest that May 21 Rapture criticism is rooted in classism.

He is right about aggression, but in many cases, I do not think that aggression is particularly free-floating. One of those cases is my own.

Because here’s the thing: Many of the same people who are touting the Rapture on the morrow are some of the same people who cling most tightly to beliefs that, counter to the teachings of Christ, increase the amount of human suffering in the world rather than alleviating it. And many of those people hold, or strongly influence those who hold, great political and economic power in our society, with the result that that power is used to make weaker people even more miserable than they already are.

Not only is this behavior bad in and of itself — direct disobedience of Christ’s teachings — it, in marketing terms, tarnishes the brand. It makes Christianity look silly and hypocritical, and some of us whom Ken dismisses as “cultural despisers” actually care a great deal for what these jackleg haters are hijacking.

Every time I read or hear about another instance of this kind of abuse of power, I want to slap someone. That’s not very Christian, I’ll be the first to admit. But neither is it “free-floating aggression” — against God or anything else worthy of worship. It’s a very focused aggression: focused on people who enjoy their power too much to stop using it for harmful ends or are too damned stupid to acknowledge their hypocrisy, let alone atone for the damage their beliefs and actions have caused.

I confess that another way in which I am an, ahem, imperfect Christian is that if the Rapture does come tomorrow, I expect that those who actually get Raptured will have been, like the boggle-eyed long-term employee who gets singled out for a lifetime-service surprise award at the company banquet, utterly unaware that they were among the Chosen. And I derive a distinctly un-Christian level of pleasure from the thought that after they’re gone, a lot of sanctimonious, self-righteous jerkwads who had taken special care not to drive tomorrow lest their driverless cars maim innocent (well, clearly not innocent if they’re still here) pedestrians after they were Raptured, will be left standing on the sidewalks, shaking their fists at the heavens and shouting, “Well? WELL?!?

Eyes on the ball, people. The Second Great Commandment is the prize. Keep your eye on that, and it won’t matter when the Rapture comes.

(Image: Longcat and Tacgnol of; caption by DivaGeek)

Monday, December 13, 2010 8:17 pm

More theocrats head to Washington

I have been taken to task both here and at my former work digs for warning that Christian Reconstructionists are trying to change the United States into a right-wing theocracy.

Well, kids, I know it is common in some local circles to accuse me of pulling stuff like this out of my nether regions, but in response I would merely ask you to look at Mike Lee, the Republican who knocked off three-term Senator Bob Bennett in this year’s Utah GOP primary. He’s merely one example. I have pointed previously to others.

I do not mean to suggest that these people are on the verge of doing what I say they are trying to do. They are not. They are not yet numerous enough, and our sclerotic form of government guarantees that their progress will be slow, at least until such time as Alito (for whom Lee once clerked) and the other partisan hacks on the Supreme Court find  a Citizens United-like case in which they can rule to demolish the disestablishmentarianism of the Constitution.

But rest assured, the Mike Lees of the world are looking for such a case, and the Alitos of the SCOTUS are sitting in their marble building, praying for the day.

Contra Ralph Nader, there is still some difference between Republicans and Democrats on some issues. This here’s a big one.

Thursday, October 7, 2010 8:23 pm

The problem with trying to rewrite history …

… is that sometimes the guy who wrote it in the first place is still around and paying attention.

In this case, the guy is Steve Benen, formerly with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and now the Washington Monthly’s blogger-in-chief. He catches James Towey, who ran the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under Bush 43, and former Bush 43 speechwriter Michael Gerson, trying to rewrite history and sets them straight: Not only isn’t Obama politicizing the office in any meaningful way, as they charge, but they ignore the fact that Obama’s predecessor politicized the hell out of it in very meaningful (and arguably illegal and unconstitutional) ways.

Remember the phrase “Mayberry Machiavellis”? That was the first head of Bush’s office, characterizing what the White House political operation was doing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 8:34 pm on Rep. Alan Grayson: One hit, one miss


Re: Rep. Grayson Lowers the Bar

Take it from a longtime Republican and a former religion journalist: Y’all whiffed on this one.

Here is Webster’s remark in context, as presented on your page:

Webster: So, write a journal. Second, find a verse. I have a verse for my wife, I have verses for my wife. Don’t pick the ones that say, ‘She should submit to me.’ That’s in the Bible, but pick the ones that you’re supposed to do. So instead, ‘love your wife, even as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it’ as opposed to ‘wives submit to your own husbands.’ She can pray that, if she wants to, but don’t you pray it.

Y’all claim Webster is telling his audience “just the opposite.” No, he’s not.

What he’s doing is drawing a distinction between what husbands should pray for and what wives should pray for. That’s all. In general, he’s saying that each person should pray for him/herself to do the things he/she is supposed to do and not pray for the things that the OTHER person is supposed to do. He’s not saying wives shouldn’t submit. He’s saying husbands shouldn’t pray for it. The fact that he acknowledges, “That’s in the Bible,” indicates that he believes the sentiment is valid, just not something it’s the husband’s place to pray for. Indeed, although I am inferring here, he seems to feel that if the wife is following the same instructions as he’s giving the husband, then in fact she WILL pray for the will, or ability, or whatever, to submit to her husband.

It’s a subtle distinction to pick out of the language, I admit. But when you’ve sat through dozens, if not hundreds, of these things in your life, these subtleties get less and less subtle. I don’t want to call it a dog-whistle, because of the association of that term with covert appeals to racism. But rhetorically speaking, it’s LIKE that.

And there’s a larger picture, too: Webster envisions a very intrusive role for government in the personal decisions of women. “American Taliban” may be a metaphor, but it’s quite apt. It’s certainly not inaccurate or wrong. So, I’d say that overall, Grayson has nothing to apologize for with this spot. In fact, I’d say you owe him an apology.

(Calling a guy a draft dodger when he in fact was 4F, on the other hand — while using an announcer’s voice to create the false impression that Grayson served — I think you’ve got him dead to rights on. That’s pretty sleazy.)



UPDATE: If you honestly think Webster has been mislabeled, look at whom he considers a mentor. More.

UPDATE: Digby adds: “The Village [her term for mainstream DC media] is having a full blown hissy fit about the ad, although I notice that it seems to be quite a bit less offensive to women than men. I wonder why?”

Thursday, July 8, 2010 8:00 pm

Pictures are worth a thousand words

Filed under: I want my religion back. — Lex @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , ,

Local blogger Joe Guarino thinks that I, my congregation and my denomination suffer from some sort of spiritual flaw based on the fact that we support social justice (albeit not in all the same ways and not all to the same extent — any congregation with 3,000+ members will include a broad range of opinions).

His counterfactual assertions aside — I’ve found no evidence that the Presbyterian Church USA has in any way involved itself in political issues to the extent that, say, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints did in lobbying against legalizing gay marriage in California, for example — I get that he disagrees with my political positions and even to some extent with the social-justice philosophy of my congregation and denomination. What I don’t get is why he seems to think there’s something off, wrong or weird about those positions from a Christian standpoint. (Another example.) I tried to address that point in his comments, but more than two weeks after I left my comment, it still hasn’t shown up.

I’ve pondered whether or not to address that issue further here without coming to any decision. Now, I’ve found this blog, which gets at the issue from another direction: by putting real-life conservatives’ words in Jesus’ mouth. (Disclaimer: The title  is a little misleading inasmuch as not all of those quoted are deeply involved in the Tea Party movement.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 10:21 pm

“File this under, ‘Things you never want a judge to write about you.'”

So say those raging secular humanists at The Wall Street Journal:

Austin federal judge Sam Sparks dismissed a suit by the Dallas-based Institute of Creation Research, which seeks the right to grant a master’s degree in science from a biblical perspective. And by “dismissed,” we mean the judge tore it apart.

But first, a summary of the suit, as reported today by the San Antonio Express-News. The Institute seeks to offer a masters degree that critiques evolution and champions a literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation. Texas’s higher education board nixed the group’s application, because of the proposed program’s creationist slant. This, the Institute contended, was a violation of its First Amendment Rights.

That claim was dismissed by Sparks in an opinion that criticized the Institute’s arguments as incoherent. At one point he writes that he will address the group’s concerns “to the extent [he] is able to understand them.” At another, he describes the group’s filings as “overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering and full of irrelevant information.” Click here for the judge’s opinion.

So I clicked there for the judge’s opinion and read all 39 pages. And lemme tell you, I would say that Sparks’ ruling in this case will stand with the ruling in Dover v. Kitzmiller, except that there was even less substance in the creationists’ arguments in this case than there were in Dover. Which is saying something, I’ll grant, but good night, the Institute of Creation Research’s suit was a dog’s breakfast of FAIL:

  • A review panel “reasoned much of the course content was outside the realm of science and lacked potential to help students understand the nature of science and the history and nature of the natural world.”
  • “First, although it is difficult to follow ICRGS’s complaint, it appears …”
  • [Sparks, quoting a state reviewer]: “The proposed program of study in no way would adequately prepare students in the field of science education, at any level, and certainly not at the graduate level.”
  • “It is unclear whether ICRGS intends to assert a procedural or substantive due process claim in its complaint …”
  • “Because ICRGS alternates between arguing it is merely teaching science and arguing its program is compelled by its religious beliefs, the Court is at a loss to determine what portion of ICRGS’s behavior should be considered motivated by its religious beliefs.”
  • “And although its pleadings and various documents in the record (such as the report of the review panel) contain third-person references to ICRGS’s religious beliefs, the Court has no actual evidence (such as an affidavit) of what those beliefs are and to what extent they motivate ICRGS in offering the degree in question.”
  • “… because ICRGS has not raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Board imposed a substantial burden on its religious exercise, the presence or absence of a compelling governmental interest is immaterial.”
  • “ICRGS claims Standard 12 “criminalizes free speech.” (see Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. at ¶ 5.) The statement is misleading. The governing regulations do in fact have a criminal component: Rule 7.5(a)(1) provides, in relevant part, that no person or institution may offer a degree on behalf of a nonexempt institution unless the institution has a certificate of authority to offer the degree. 19 TEX. ADMIN. CODE § 7.5(a)(1). Rule 7.5(c) warns a violation of the rule may constitute a violation of Texas Penal Code § 32.52 or Texas Education Code §§ 61.312 and 61.313, and an offense under subsection (a)(1) may be a Class A misdemeanor.”
  • “In this case, ICRGS has offered no actual evidence Standard 12 is unconstitutionally vague (though it pontificates extensively on the subject) …”

And last but not least:

In conclusion, the Court finds ICRGS has not put forth evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to any claim it brings.

Memo to creationists: You can call it creationism or you can call it intelligent design or you can call it a dog’s breakfast, but whatever you want to call it, in front of any half-bright judge, your sins Stoopid will find you out and leave you, as the Institute of Creation Research Graduate School is left tonight, in a well-deserved world of butthurt.

Unfortunately, the only negative consequence to this attempt to securitize Teh Stoopid is that they get told no. I think these people ought to face criminal fraud charges for making the state waste so many bureaucrats’ time, and the lawyers who represented this asshattery should lose their licenses. That would put a stop to this foolishness right quick.

But this is Texas we’re talking about.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 10:12 pm

Well, that’s what *I* had always thought, but they sure hadn’t been acting like it.

Filed under: Evil,Hold! Them! Accountable!,I want my religion back. — Lex @ 10:12 pm

The Vatican is now warning priests that kiddy diddling will get them impaled on the infernal pitchfork, and NOT in a good way:

The Vatican prosecutor of clerical sex abuse told perpetrators Saturday that they will suffer damnation in hell that will be worse than the death penalty.

Quoting from a long passage from Gregory the Great, an early pope, the Rev. Charles Scicluna said that for a pedophile priest “it would be really better that his evil deeds cause him death in his lifetime” than suffer “more terrible damnation” in hell.

Hey, why limit yourselves, guys? Instead of either/or, howzabout both/and?


Wednesday, May 5, 2010 8:21 pm

At what point can we officially write off the entire Christian right as psychotic?

George Rekers of the Family Research Council apparently “hires an assistant to carry his luggage” the way Mark Sanford “hiked the Appalachian Trail”:

The pictures on the [NSFW] profile show a shirtless young man with delicate features, guileless eyes, and sun-kissed, hairless skin. The profile [describes him sexually and] explains he is “sensual,” “wild,” and “up for anything” — as long you ask first. And as long as you pay.

On April 13, the “rent boy” (whom we’ll call Lucien) arrived at Miami International Airport on Iberian Airlines Flight 6123, after a ten-day, fully subsidized trip to Europe. He was soon followed out of customs by an old man with an atavistic mustache and a desperate blond comb-over, pushing an overburdened baggage cart.

That man was George Alan Rekers, of North Miami — the callboy’s client and, as it happens, one of America’s most prominent anti-gay activists. Rekers, a Baptist minister who is a leading scholar for the Christian right, left the terminal with his gay escort, looking a bit discomfited when a picture of the two was snapped with a hot-pink digital camera. …

For decades, George Alan Rekers has been a general in the culture wars, though his work has often been behind the scenes. In 1983, he and James Dobson, America’s best-known homophobe, formed the Family Research Council, a D.C.-based, rabidly Christian, and vehemently anti-gay lobbying group that has become a standard-bearer of the nation’s extreme right wing. Its annual Values Summit is considered a litmus test for Republican presidential hopefuls, and Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter have spoken there. (The Family Research Council would not comment about Rekers’s Euro-trip.)

He has also influenced American government, serving in advisory roles with Congress, the White House, and the Department of Health and Human Services and testifying as a state’s witness in favor of Florida’s gay adoption ban. A former research fellow at Harvard University and a distinguished professor of neuropsychiatry at the University of South Carolina, Rekers has published papers and books by the hundreds, with titles like Who Am I? Lord and Growing Up Straight: What Families Should Know About Homosexuality. …

Rekers is a board member of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization that systematically attempts to turn gay people straight. And the Huffington Post recently singled out Rekers as a member of the American College of Pediatricians — an official-sounding outfit in Gainesville that purveys lurid, youth-directed literature accusing gays of en masse coprophilia. (In an email, the college’s Lisa Hawkins wrote, “ACPeds feels privileged to have a scholar of Dr. Rekers‘ stature affiliated with our organization. I am sure you will find Prof. Rekers to be an immaculate clinician/scholar, and a warm human being.”)

“Warm human being,” huh? In English that means “self-hating bigot.” Either that, or Lisa Hawkins is failing epically in her ad-copywriting competition with

Extra-special ick factor: Rekers has taken in foster children and four years ago adopted a then-16-year-old boy who is now the same age as his rentboy.

These people are totally messed up, and yet they and people like them have real, and pernicious, influence on public policy in this country. And I’m sorry, but governing the greatest country on the planet should not be left to people so heavily in need of therapy.

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