July 19th, 2016

Taxonomy of #LogCabinRepublicans (#GOPConvention2016)

Since this is the season of the quadrennial emergence of Log Cabin Republi-cons, a field guide to queer conservatives might be helpful:

>Queer Supply-siders, who tenaciously hold on to a long-discredited religious doctrine (in fact, the more evidence that is adduced, the more vigorously they hold onto the doctrine). See also “Marxist Democrats.”

>Queer Affluents, whose economic resources insulate them from the material and social realities of most queer people.

>Queer Libertarians, who delusionally and tenaciously hold onto the belief that the Republicon Party is libertarian with a live-and-let-live attitude about gender and sexuality.

>Queer Partner Abuse Survivors, who are in love with the Republicon Party, routinely abused by the Republicon Party, and keep hoping that the Republicon Party will love them in return and stop abusing them; the smallest gestures by their abuser invigorates their false hopes.

>Queer Gods and Guns Partisans, who forget that the Third Person of the Unholy Republicon Political Trinity is “Gays”; this species consists typically marginalized White people who have been bamboozled by the Republicon Party’s politics of resentment.

>Frat-boy Queers, who just want to belong and try to out-butch their bros (but as a result, are just ‘hos).

>Oh, yeah. And the hybrid chimeras. Pick your faves from the taxonomy above.

September 4th, 2015

Protestant Reformation, Muddled Protestant Sacramental Theology Created #KimDavis

You can blame the Kim Davis affair (i.e, the current legal controversy surrounding her professional refusal to do her job granting marriage licenses, not her past personal bidness exploring fornication and adultery) on an event that occurred nearly 500 years ago: the Protestant Reformation.

No sooner had the ink dried on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v Hodges declaring the constitutional right to marriage to same-sex partners than  conservative Chrustian clergy fell all over themselves to declare that the government would never make them perform a same-sex wedding.

That’s right. The U.S. government or the government of any state would never, and, in fact, could never compel a religious institution to perform a ritual or administer a sacrament. Never has and won’t now. So much for taking a bold stand.

So why the angst over performing a purely legal function (e.g., issuing a license to marry)? Because 500 years ago Martin Luther broke away from legal precedent and theological thought. For a millennium and a half, Western notions of marriage had been shaped by Roman Catholic Canon Law and theology, which among other things, required the consent of both parties, the need for the parties to be of an age of consent, and the requirement that both parties had to be free to marry (e.g., they weren’t already married to others or they hadn’t made prior religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience).

Marriage for Roman Catholicism was (and remains) one of the Church’s seven sacraments, whose minister is an ordained priest (or deacon). For Roman Catholics a marriage is only valid when officiated by its ordained minister. (There are exceptions requiring what is known as a “dispensation from form.”)

Catholic sacramental theology and canon law prescribe the matter and form of sacraments. In the case of the sacrament of marriage, the matter is two people free to marry and freely giving consent to marry. The form is the marriage ritual, including an exchange of vows, witnessed by a priest.

The Lutheran Reformation began to dismantle the Roman Catholic hegemony, including its sacramental system, insisting on sola scriptura, only those sacraments explicitly mandated by Jesus of Nazareth could be considered as sacrament, namely baptism and holy communion.

For Protestant sacramental theology, marriage is not, in the strictest sense, a sacrament of the church.

If for Roman Catholics in the U.S. a marriage is valid only if witnessed by the ordained priest or deacon (who can only do so when a marriage license has been secured from civil authorities), for Protestants any marriage contracted in any way legislated by the state (including in a Las Vegas marriage chapel conducted by a justice of the peace) is valid.

By removing marriage from a sacramental system and by rendering it an extension of civil authority, the Protestant Reformation muddled the relationship between civil authority and law, on the one hand, and religious practice on the other. Kim Davis refuses to issue marriage licenses because, in some confused and ambiguous way, she sees herself as an officiant of marriage.

August 6th, 2015

Cleveland Republicon Beauty Pageant

Is the irony lost on you that the party that gutted the working class and the unions who made their prosperity possible is hosting its first beauty pageant in Cleveland, a city long associated with the working class and unions? And at the Quicken Loans arena, named after a company that doesn’t pay its employees overtime?

July 15th, 2015

NY Times Book Review: Emma Sky’s “The Unraveling”

The American Adam — naive, armed, and dangerous — stomping about a world he fails to grasp and in whose boundless narcissism broods “Why do they hate us?”:

“Throughout the months, and then years, that Sky spent in Iraq, she was amazed at the naivete she encountered among the Americans. ‘When I arrived, one of the questions put to me was “What do we need to do to be loved?” Sky writes, ‘I told them that people who invaded other people’s countries, and killed people who were no threat to them, would never be loved.'”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/12/books/review/the-unraveling-by-emma-sky.html

July 15th, 2015

Arms Control

They declared their intention to destroy us and our allies.
They supplied terrorists and proxy wars.
They demonstrated themselves to be cunning and untrustworthy.
But our president engaged them in negotiations to control nuclear arms.
They were the Soviet Union; the president was Ronald Reagan.

July 14th, 2015

Sex and the Single Cybernaut #Tinder #AdamGopnik #thelongviewtom

“Sexual manners in the age of Tinder tend to ease, or eroticize, ethnicity. Ethnic identity is still important as an abstract artifact of ‘pride,’ but pride, which goeth before a fall, also goeth, so to speak, before a rise.” –Adam Gopnik, “June, Moon, Tune,” The New Yorker

June 29th, 2015

Etymologies: French Cabbies Are Revolting #Uber

News that French taxicab drivers were protesting the presence of the sharing-and-caring car service Uber by engaging in the French national sport of setting cars on fire, got me thinking about the French origins of the word “taxicab.”

According to the OED, a cabriolet (“applied not only to the original vehicle so named and its improved successor the ‘hansom’, but also to four-wheeled carriages shaped like broughams; thus, a public carriage with two or four wheels, drawn by one horse, and seating two or four persons”) in which one rides for a measured or metered fare or tax is a taximètre cabriolet.

Or “taxicab.”

Or “taxi.”

Or “cab.”

June 23rd, 2015

Longstanding Southern Addictions

Three addictions have afflicted the American South since the antebellum era: Tobacco, whiskey, and an aggrieved sense of entitlement.

May 10th, 2015

Long’s Axioms of Higher Education

With commencement exercises finished this weekend, it’s time for Long’s Axioms of Higher Education.

Axiom No. 1: Graduate school prepares you for . . . graduate school.

Axiom No. 2: A student’s concern about how he or she is performing in the course is usually inversely proportional to the student’s need to be concerned.

Axiom No. 3: Students and faculty are more similar than dissimilar. Both continuously perform cost/benefit analyses. Neither read and follow instructions; neither turn things in on time.

Axiom No. 4: Students, dear professor, are just not that into you. You might surprised how many of them can’t even remember your name.

January 10th, 2015

Blogging #MLA15: Day Three

It’s easy to be cynical about the annual convention of the Modern Language Association. Its session and paper titles are fodder for usually news-starved media during the winter break. (Unfortunately, there is other global news to preoccupy us.) Its spectacle of posturing and pretentiousness is legendary. More snark than the love child of Lewis Carroll and Michael Musto. A pastiche of Ship of Fools, Grand Illusion, and Masque of the Red Death.

Nonetheless, there is something both endearing and insanely noble about an organization whose members simultaneously revere a tradition while attempting currency and relevance. Still spending most of today at the booth of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, I took a break only to fill in for a last minute absence in the CELJ Chat with an Editor service, very ably coordinated by Graham MacPhee (West Chester University). Volunteering for this I have spent the most rewarding hours of any time at MLA’s convention. Some impressions . . .

Long’s Axiom demonstrated again: Graduate school prepares you for . . . graduate school. QED.

Where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing ten years from now? How you answer that question should shape what and where you publish starting now. Decisions you make now will open or close doors ten years from now.

In the best of all possible worlds, it wouldn’t matter where you publish or who publishes your work. However, we live in the postlapsarian world. It matters.

Recent PhDs and early-career professors should all have agents who seek bidders on their mss.

Scholars are knowledge entrepreneurs; we do not know with any certainty if there will be a market for our ideas. The line between faith in yourself and delusion is thin and wavering.

A recent PhD now unaffiliated has discovered a heretofore untranslated piece by Andre Gide, which she has translated. One woman’s defiance of cultural and intellectual torpor.

Another has a dissertation in which she examines ways that Spanish drama from the Golden Age has been revived in the Occupy movement. Resistance.

A doctoral student has done extensive archival research on manuscripts of Marguerite Duras and affirms that the time this research took was worth the effort.

A multidisciplinary early-career scholar has surmounted personal medical challenges in order to restart her career.

The academic job market is more like dating than anything else. Search committees should be seeking a husband or wife; but they end up picking an exciting boyfriend or girlfriend. Kewl kids often don’t make good spouses.

 

January 10th, 2015

Blogging #MLA15: Day Two

My strategy at cocktail parties is to find one location (usually near the bar or buffet) and wait ’til the world comes around over the course of an evening.

So today I staffed the booth of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, which displays samples of our member editors’ journals. I’d reserved a location in the center of the exhibit hall on a corner, where the world of MLA came around over the course of the day. I spoke with new editors, established scholars, advanced doctoral students, and new scholars on the job market or in their first full-time faculty positions.

Hopes, fears, anxieties, aspirations, disappointments, resentments, peeves, delusions, compromises, satisfactions. Ah, the humanity of the humanities!

January 8th, 2015

Blogging #MLA15: Day One

The 130th annual convention of the Modern Language Association began for me on a medieval-Renaissance note.

If Dante Alighieri were alive today, commercial air travel would be one of the storeys of Mount Purgatory. Not the Inferno, mind you, because no matter how awful the experience, it will eventually end.

My travel day started at 5:00 a.m. when I awoke to travel to Bradley Airport (serving Hartford) in plenty of time. I was very early; my plane (on a three leg itinerary from Hartford to DC, DC to San Franciso, and San Francisco to Vancouver) was very late. As a result, an agent at the gate, Tamme McCarthy, spent nearly half an hour with me trying to find alternatives (Hartford to Chicago, Chicago to Vancouver). She is the only good thing that I can say about United Airlines.

The only benefit to being stranded in O’Hare while United offered up excuses about “equipment” and “air traffic control” was that it gave me an opportunity to chat with two distinguished scholars in early-modern studies, Arthur Kinney (Thomas W. Copeland Professor of Literary History at UMass Amherst) and Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (Emeritus William R. Kenan, Jr. Research Professor of History and Literature and of English at Harvard).

When I finally arrived at my hotel in Vancouver and my head hit the pillow at 2 a.m. (5 a.m. for my body still on Eastern Standard Time), I realized that I have gone without sleep for 24 hours.

So I gave myself six hours sleep, and went down to breakfast, where I was joined by Nigel Smith (the William and Annie S. Paton Foundation Professor of Ancient and Modern Literature at Princeton), and our conversation ranged over ancient medicine, medieval devotional literature and mysticism, and seventeenth-century thought and politics.

My task for the morning was to set up in the MLA exhibit hall the booth for the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (for which I serve as secretary-treasurer) featuring sample copies of the journals of many of our member editors. A queer eye for the straight booth.

Later in the afternoon, members of the CELJ executive committee met to talk through our two sessions at this convention, as well as to discuss session topics for the convention in January 2016. Then in the evening at our awards ceremony celebrating distinction among journals and their editors, one was struck by the energy, the commitment to intellectual excellence, and the openness to innovation.

Dinner here in the hotel, and so to bed.

 

 

August 11th, 2014

Bezos, Don’t Be a Bozo #JeffBezos #Amazon #Hachette #AuthorsUnited

To Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder, Amazon jeff@amazon.com

Jeff Bezos: Don’t be a Bozo.

Silicon Valley-style arrogance and bullying have become legendary. And, although I have no case for a major commercial interest Hachette, which can take care of itself, I do support the claims of Authors United:

It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation. Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.

Many of us have supported Amazon since it was a struggling start-up. Our books launched Amazon on the road to selling everything and becoming one of the world’s largest corporations. We have made Amazon many millions of dollars and over the years have contributed so much, free of charge, to the company by way of cooperation, joint promotions, reviews and blogs. This is no way to treat a business partner. Nor is it the right way to treat your friends. Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon, we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business. None of us, neither readers nor authors, benefit when books are taken hostage. (We’re not alone in our plea: the opinion pages of both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which rarely agree on anything, have roundly condemned Amazon’s corporate behavior.)

I realize that you believe that we live in a New Gilded Age when businesses are “people” and their owners are absolute. However, I have discontinued my purchase of Kindle books and physical media (print books, DVDs) from Amazon in favor of ordering from my local independent book store.

August 2nd, 2014

Gigatrend Friedman Moist Over “Sharing Economy” @tomfriendman @airbnb

NY Times columnist Thomas A. Friedman, the gigatrend entrepreneur de jour, recently got his panties moist excited about the “sharing economy.” Services like taxi Uber or shelter Airbnb, Friedman breathlessly prophesies, are “burying the past with the future, and actually bringing strangers together.”

The millenarian Friedman declares Airbnb to be the anodyne to the world’s bad news from Ukraine or Palestine.

So here is my Airbnb story, which I think is illustrative of the risks that one runs in an unregulated “sharing” without caring economy.

A couple of summers ago, preparing to present a paper at Rockefeller University, “a world-renowned center for research and graduate education in the biomedical sciences, chemistry, bioinformatics and physics,” on the East Side of Manhattan, I made reservations on Airbnb at the suggestion of a friend.

The location of the apartment was perfect (the East Side, a dozen or so blocks away), and the price was right for this self-funded travel.

Then, a few days before I was to travel to Manhattan, my “host” contacted me to say that his girlfriend, a flight attendant, was coming to town and that he would not be able to let me stay at his apartment. I objected that my plans were made, that his apartment was convenient to my conference, and that I would not be able to make alternative arrangements on such short notice.

His proposed Plan B was that I would stay at his apartment two nights then decamp to the hotel where the girlfriend’s airline was putting her up. (His girlfriend preferred staying in his apartment, he explained. “So would I,” I thought.) Trouble was, he wouldn’t know which hotel that would be until the day of her arrival, and he would have to check my bag into the hotel himself.

At this point my mantra became, “I will live one day at a time having a Manhattan adventure.” Anyone familiar with my MBTI ENTJ personality knows that I consider checking into a Holiday Inn without reservations to be “roughing it.”

On the day I arrived, my “check-in” was delayed by his work schedule, but I oriented myself to the neighborhood and had a fine dinner at a restaurant around the corner. Then I discovered that the key to the outer door of the building he’d given me was temperamental, so getting into the building took considerable prayer.

On the day of the Change of Venue, I learned that his girlfriend’s airline was putting her up in a hotel on the West Side, above Lincoln Center. A lovely location, to be sure, but no longer within walking distance of Rockefeller University. The transfer itself required a complicated maneuver that reminded me of nothing so much as the plot of David Mamet’s “The Spanish Prisoner.”

I was to meet him at a coffee shop two blocks from the hotel. He would take my bag and check into the hotel under his girlfriend’s name. He would return to the coffee shop with the hotel room key. I would go to the hotel without stopping at the registration desk. On the day I was to leave Manhattan we would arrange to meet up so I could hand back the hotel room key.

Grateful that I was returning to Connecticut by train rather than by air (“Did anyone other than you have access to your bag?”), I followed this subterfuge. The rest of the stay was uneventful, and I took advantage of what the West Side had to offer.

In my green and salad days, like many young gay men, on a few occasions I relied on the kindness of strangers in Manhattan (hot sex, post-coital dessert at the Empire Diner, and waking up in the arms of a new friend to a view of the Empire State Building), so I’m not averse to sharing. However, what the sharing-without-caring economy denies us are safety, reliability, accountability, the very things that a makes a regulated economy prosperous. There is a reason that I can’t invite people into my home, fix them dinner, and charge them for the meal.

On the day that I departed, my “host” and I arrange to meet at Grand Central Station (where I caught the Metro North back to Connecticut). He was quite awestruck by Grand Central, to which he’d never been before.

The moral of the story: Never trust a man who’s lived in Manhattan for several years but has never been to Grand Center.

August 2nd, 2014

And Not a Professor Among Them @NYCConf #NYTsft

The Gray Lady is hosting Schools for Tomorrow: Disruptions in the Lecture Hall, asking “Is a college degree really worth the investment?” (the answer, as is well documented, is “yes,” but the the New York Times hasn’t gotten the news yet), also proposing to explore “how innovations and challenges . . . impact the very nature of higher education.”

The Times has rounded up the usual suspects among its list of guest speakers:

  • David Brooks, middlebrow pundit.
  • Mitch Daniels and Janet Napolitano, political retreads who have eschewed K Street for the presidential suites in the Ivory Tower.
  • Michelle Ree, education “reform” charlatan.
  • John Sextion, Platinum Card higher ed huckster.

All this event needs is Thomas Friedman to speak and David Gregory to lead them in the Bonfire of the Banalities.

And not a college or university professor or adjunct instructor among them.

July 20th, 2014

And Fall of the National Geographic

Demonstrating how far the National Geographic Society has declined, this week’s NatGeo episode of How to Survive the End of the World: Hell on Earth: “Examining the possibility of black hole colliding with Earth and its impact on volcanic activity.”

If gold can rust, what ill iron do?

April 30th, 2013

Idea Pollen, Thought Allergies

April may be the cruellest month, not only for mixing memory and desire, but also for allergic rhinitis. For some people, a foreign substance (pollen) stimulates the body’s production of a reactive chemical, histamine. The allergic reaction can be mild (swelling of mucous membranes, production of mucous), or, in the case of some allergies, quite violent, including anaphylaxis (which can lead to death). You can treat the reaction with another chemical (an antihistamine), or you can induce the body’s tolerance for the external substance starting with small, then increasing doses.

This April seems also to have provoked thought allergies from idea pollen.

Recently the University of Connecticut announced a new “branding” or “visual identity program,” designed to make the university (aka “UConn”) and its sports teams more readily recognizable. Reactions were varied from a yawning “whatever” to nostalgia for the recent trademark to critiques of the corporatization of collegiate sports and of universities.

One respectful feminist critique came from Carolyn Luby, a student at UConn, who took the occasion of the announcement of a new “wordmark” and a new Husky logo (designed gratis, to no one’s surprise, by Nike)  to critique the rhetorical framing of a UConn Husky, perceived permissiveness of student athletes’ behavior, and corporatization in higher education and at UConn, in the form of an open letter to the university’s president, Susan Herbst: http://thefeministwire.com/2013/04/an-open-letter-to-uconn-president-susan-herbst/

Allergic reactions to Luby’s letter ranged from the mental congestion of Rush Limbaugh http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2013/04/26/this_is_how_it_starts_one_uconn_student_says_new_husky_logo_promotes_rape to the anaphylaxis of anonymous comments (including threats of sexual assault) on a Web site http://www.barstoolsports.com/boston/super-page/free-ball-dont-lie-shirt-to-anybody-who-can-explain-what-this-uconn-feminst-is-talking-about/

One does not need to agree with Luby’s premises or conclusions to appreciate that she presents a thoughtful and respectful critique. And she is following in a recent body of critique of the corporate turn in higher education, like that of retired UConn faculty member Gaye Tuchman, who offered an analysis of the aspirations of an unnamed but thinly disguised New England public university in her book Wannabe U. An online petition has been created to offer Luby support.

Academics are not immune to discursive histamine, particularly in online discourse, the subject of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s commentary “#shameonyou” in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But as Salman Rushdie has suggested in a recent op-ed essay in the New York Times, “Whither Moral Courage?,” “We find it easier, in these confused times, to admire physical bravery than moral courage,” the courage to dissent from “commonsense” views and received opinion (what Twain famously called, in a posthumously published essay, “Corn-pone Opinions”).

Americans have a long tradition of anti-intellectualism and a resistance to analysis and critique; we are more interested in practice (physical bravery) than praxis (theoretically informed reflective action). Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is the founding allegory of the American bullying of the intellectual, and Emily Dickinson’s characterization of her mother (“She does not care for thought”) could be said of many Americans individually and of our public life generally. We’ve  had sporadic decades of public intellectuals, but they are exceptions in the annals of American exceptionalism (our exalted  corn-pone opinion of ourselves).

When the temple of our civil religion (politics) is as schismatic as today, we understandably seek to rally around other fictional creeds of unity. Americans have long had an ambivalent relationship with social critique — we turned it into a literary form with the jeremiad but we invariably reject as nagging scolds those who use it.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with gender and feminism.

As pseudonymous “Female Science Professor” writing in the Chronicle (“Fear of Feminism”) observes, when she critiqued a visual representation of scientists, a male colleague with whom she was collaborating was shocked to discover that she was “like that,” i.e. a feminist, and thereafter distanced himself from her on their collaborative project. Was he allergic to feminism?

Writing in the New York Times, Amanda Filipacchi (“Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists”) observes that:

gradually, over time, [Wikipedia] editors have begun the process of moving women, one by one, alphabetically, from the “American Novelists” category to the “American Women Novelists” subcategory. So far, female authors whose last names begin with A or B have been most affected, although many others have, too.

She notes that, “The explanation at the top of the page is that the list of ‘American Novelists’ is too long, and therefore the novelists have to be put in subcategories whenever possible,” and remarks: “Too bad there isn’t a subcategory for ‘American Men Novelists.’” The American novelist who is not one?

Critical social analysts like Luby, Female Science Professor, or Filipacchi question corn-pone opinions and the behavior that follows from corn-pone opinions. Is there a cure for Americans’ allergy to thought?

December 24th, 2012

Merry Xmas; Now Die, Faggots

Pope Benedict’s Xmas message has certainly put the X back in Xmas for me, an x-Catholic and an x-priest.

In his 2012 annual Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia  (whose corruption prompted the pope’s butler to leak secret documents to the press, landing him in jail for his trouble–for which the pope granted him a Christmas pardon), Pope Benedict took on academic gender theory and took aim at the Western political movements in support of the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Its salutation gives you an appreciation for the pre-Copernican Great-Chain-of-Being mindset in which the pope resides:

Dear Cardinals,

Brother Bishops and Priests,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Well, at least you know where you stand there. This is, after all, a vestigial medieval royal court.

Benedict begins with a classic bait-and switch gambit:

The great joy with which families from all over the world congregated in Milan indicates that, despite all impressions to the contrary, the family is still strong and vibrant today. But there is no denying the crisis that threatens it to its foundations – especially in the western world.

Uh, oh. Clouds on the horizon. Is that hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen I hear? This foundational threat involves an inability to commit — which I would’ve thought is the lament of heterosexual women about their heterosexual men, but I’m wrong. It’s gender theory and its queer political movement, same-sex marriage.

Citing his new ideological pal, Gilles Bernheim, the chief rabbi of France, the pope continues his assertion of dualism by insisting on rigidly fixed (and divinely ordained) gender roles. Dismissing three-quarters of a century of feminist and gender discussion, he even bitch-slaps Simone de Beauvoir:

. . . the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious.

This classic rhetorical ploy, of course, is called petitio principii (“begging the question”): whenever you see the word “obvious,” you are about to be conned. It goes without saying that it is also a cartoonish oversimplification of gender theory, which renders this document was one of the more intellectually dishonest pieces that I’ve read. Then the pope continues with what he sees are the implications of the assertion that gender and sexuality are, to some degree, socially constructed realities:

The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.

This is a clever rhetorical move: associating dogmatic Catholicism with the environmental movement. In other words, if you are against the industrial violation of nature, how can you permit the social violation of Nature? But it also prepares his audience for his underlying syllogism: If industrial manipulations of nature are threatening environmental existence with an eco-apocalypse, then social engineering of Nature (gender theory or legalized same-sex marriage) threatens human existence.

Here is the sentimental nub of the argument:

Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain.

Ah, the Child Card! The pope evokes a sinister image of child slavery, the purchase of children as commodities. This from a man who aided and abetted child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, speaking to an audience of the Church officials who covered up their crimes. As we used to say in the seminary: Girls in white dresses shouldn’t throw mud.

The pope closes this theme by asserting:

When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

Let me unpack this: The understanding of gender and sexuality as socially constructed realities denies God. Denying God destroys human dignity. Defending God by rejecting modern notions of gender and sexuality defends the human.

This lovely holiday message follows on the heels of the pope’s 2013 World Day of Peace message, which was released the week before. The pope cites several threats to justice and peace, beginning with an assertion with which few can disagree: “Anyone who loves peace cannot tolerate attacks and crimes against life.” However, among the “attacks and crimes against life” are those who acknowledge the historically contingent reality of marriage:

There is also a need to acknowledge and promote the natural structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the face of attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different types of union; such attempts actually harm and help to destabilize marriage, obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society.

In other words, proponents of same-sex marriage are equivalent to proponents of abortion, and therefore both are the moral equivalent of murder. Here, too, is our rhetorical pal, Begging the Question:

These principles are not truths of faith, nor are they simply a corollary of the right to religious freedom. They are inscribed in human nature itself, accessible to reason and thus common to all humanity. The Church’s efforts to promote them are not therefore confessional in character, but addressed to all people, whatever their religious affiliation. Efforts of this kind are all the more necessary the more these principles are denied or misunderstood, since this constitutes an offence against the truth of the human person, with serious harm to justice and peace.

The claims to assert self-evident truths, not religious doctrine, to which any reasonable person (regardless of faith) can assent. Anyone who dissents is irrational.

So let me summarize the main points of the pope’s two recent discourses: Gender theory and its political application in the same-sex marriage movement are existential threats to all humanity. And what do you do with a threat to your existence?

This discourse leverages centuries of argument and rhetoric in which homosexuality is imagined as a global threat, a plague, a incitement of God’s apocalyptic wrath. As I have argued in the essay “Apocalyptus interruptus: Christian Fundamentalists, Sodomy, and The End,” this rhetoric goes back to the medieval theologian Peter Damian (11th century) as well as to one of the more popular medieval texts, the collection of saints lives compiled by Jacobus Voragine, Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend), in which we find the charming assertion that on the eve of the first Christmas, all the sodomites committed suicide in order that the world would be pure to receive the Christ Child. The 12th-century theologian Peter the Cantor equated sodomy and murder.

A beloved friend of mine, who remains a Catholic priest (and of whom I have no doubt that he is often the channel for healing for many people), laughed off these papal statements as inconsequential, the last gasps of a dying Vatican Curia. Secular friends are inclined to do the same.

But I remind you: In many places in the US and in many places throughout the world, the pope’s words have real consequences on real people, real lives, and real bodies. In the US, the organized and well funded efforts by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the efforts by bishops in individual dioceses, and the preaching by Catholic pastors will influence political decisions about marriage equality. In Uganda, the so-called Kill the Gays Bill, which would providing two penalties (life imprisonment and execution), has been working its way through that country’s parliament.

For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. The words of the marriage vow remind me of Tony and Bob in Chicago. They remind me of Ron and Art (and their three adopted children, including my goddaughter Anna) in Storrs, Connecticut. How these couples pose an existential threat to humanity, much less to peace and justice, is beyond me. I will defend their humanity, however, against the assaults of religious extremists, by any means necessary.

November 19th, 2012

What Liberals Need to Understand

From Mavis Gallant’s diaries while living hand-to-mouth in Spain in 1952:

Chose cinema over potatoes. I found myself watching the women’s clothes, drinking in their texture, appreciating every bite the actors put in their mouths. When one of the characters (because of some imbecility of plot) wore old clothes and pretended to be be poor, I was furious and felt cheated, having chosen this over a meal. Now I really understand why the Italian poor detest De Sica and neorealist films, and why shopgirls like heiresses and read very line in gossip columns. I mean, I understand it, and not just intellectually.

(The New Yorker, 9 & 16 July 2012, p. 50)

November 13th, 2012

Lucy Ann McVey Long (1928-2012)

Several years ago, I suppose we first knew that something was wrong when Mom’s phone conversations became unusually short before she quickly handed the phone over to Dad. A short telephone conversation with Lucy seemed unimaginable. Legendary as talkative, garrulous, voluble, loquacious, Mom had a tea named after her, according to a friend of mine: Constant Comment. But the growing shadows of dementia made it difficult for her to follow conversations, and in her last weeks she went gentle into that good night. The last time I saw her a couple of weeks ago, she was asleep most of the time, but would wake up to say “I love you” or “You’re all so good to me,” and then fall asleep again. Now, the rest is silence.

I want to share with you three stories about Lucy. The first is a story that she told me. The other two are events that I witnessed.

Growing up in a family of ten children with an alcoholic father in a frequently chaotic household, my mother hungered for something that would transcend this instability. She once told me that, as children attending a Catholic school, she and her brothers and sisters could not afford the snacks in the school’s snack store, so the nuns of the school, who baked communion wafers to sell to parishes, fed them the “factory seconds,” the broken or irregular wafers as snacks. I think this story illuminates Mom’s relationship to the Church: During the week, unconsecrated communion wafers fed her body; on Sunday, consecrated wafers fed her soul. The Eucharist for her was real food.

The second story happened to Mom and me in the summer of 1963 when she took me swimming at Chevy Chase Lake swimming pool. Dad had just finished his associate degree at Montgomery Junior College and was starting at the University of Maryland. In 1963 Washington, DC, and its environs in the Southern state of Maryland were restive with racial tension. Later that summer would mark the March on Washington, the occasion of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” but its vision was not the tenor of the suburbs of Montgomery County that long hot summer. So on a summer weekend, Mom took me swimming to Chevy Chase Lake swimming pool, parking a couple of blocks away on Connecticut Avenue. But when we got to the front gate, we found the staff sitting at a card table in front of the gate. When my mother told them “One adult and one child,” they replied that the pool was now a membership club, but that membership only cost five dollars. A membership club, only five dollars in 1963 before the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act meant only one thing. Lucy knew what that meant. She said to them, “I know why you’re doing this, you’re doing this to keep colored people out of this pool; I think that’s disgraceful and I won’t have anything to do with it.” And she grabbed me by the arm and stormed back to the car. Now she could have said to herself, “You know, it’s an imperfect and unfair world, and there’s not much that I can do about it, and it’s just five dollars.” Or she could have simply told them, “No, thank you,” and left. But there was a reason she reamed them out new orifices that day. Lucy was never willing to be, in that memorable phrase of Thomas Merton, a “guilty bystander.” She understood in her bones that injustice to one, is injustice to all.  And she also knew that Christian morality was not confined to a narrow range of human behavior, to a narrowly personal domain, that the demands of her faith were as compelling on a hot Saturday afternoon as on a Sunday morning. Mom was on the bus before the nuns on the bus.

Where did this sense of social justice come from? She and her family had known anti-Catholicism in the city of her birth, Atlanta, Georgia. She and her family had not been permitted to rent homes in certain DC neighborhoods that had been redlined with the letter “N”—Negro. She also knew her mother’s story: My grandmother and her siblings were orphaned and each farmed out to different relatives, my grandmother to relatives who faithfully reminded her that she was there because of their charity. From her mother my mother understood that, while public assistance can be problematic, private charity is often mean, stingy, and unreliable.

My final story occurred later that year after John Kennedy’s assassination. She insisted that we pay our respects, not by watching TV but by going downtown to watch the funeral cortege. So she and I stood on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and K Street in the bitter cold of that day as the Kennedy’s funeral procession made its slow way to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, then she and I walked up to the cathedral where we stood in the cold beside the limousines of dignitaries and cabinet secretaries parked bumper to bumper. One of the chauffers took mercy on this woman and her son shivering in the cold and let us sit in the back seat, listening to the funeral on the radio. The chauffeur, an African-American man from Atlanta, Mom’s birthplace, and mom discussed racial politics in America. Only Lucy would engage a cabinet secretary’s chauffer in a conversation about the most pressing social and political issue of the day. It seems also providential now that the limousine was that of Anthony Celebrezze, secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, given Mom’s lifelong concerns with all three, including her career with the Food and Drug Administration, her advocacy of health care reform, her finally getting to go to college to earn a bachelor’s degree in the early 1980s. Lucy was not content to be a distant observer of history; she wanted to be there where and when history happened. So she and Dad and I were in the gallery of the Senate in 1960 when the Medicare law first came up for a vote, the junior senator from Massachusetts sitting directly below us, and Vice President Richard Nixon, president of the Senate, sitting directly across from us. And on the day that Nixon was inaugurated in 1969, Lucy insisted in going over to the house of Democratic kingmaker, Clark Clifford, where a farewell for Lyndon Johnson was being held so she could tell President Johnson that she thought he was a great man for what he had done in the eventual passage of Medicare and the war on poverty. Only Lucy.

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking about Mom’s special relationship to music, music of all kinds from Broadway show tunes to sacred choral music. She and Dad for many years sang here at St. Patrick’s in the choir. In the 1940s and 50s she was denied that opportunity because the Church prohibited women from singing in liturgical choirs, which outraged her. So joining the choir here was the fulfillment of a dream. One of this choir’s favorite anthems was Virgil Thomson’s arrangement of the Isaac Watts metrical setting of the 23rd psalm, which begins:

My Shepherd will supply my need:

Jehovah is His Name;

In pastures fresh He makes me feed,

Beside the living stream.

And the anthem ends:

There would I find a settled rest,

While others go and come;

No more a stranger, nor a guest,

But like a child at home.

And Lucy, who never knew a stranger and always welcomed the guest, is now a child at home.

October 9th, 2012

Being Liberal Admins Banned by Facebook?

According to a posting on Being Liberal’s Tumblr site:

(W) I am posting the summary of the messages that I have received from Facebook after being banned from posting ANY content ANYWHERE on Facebook. The Being Liberal page in last week had received several “warnings” for alleged violations of Copyright and propagating hate speech. There is no reasonable way of appealing from those decisions. We accept the fact that FB is a private space that is not covered by First Amendment and that Facebook can do whatevere they want. I refuse to believe that there is an organized corporate driven Facebook “attack” on liberal pages. However I believe that there is right now an “army” of paid trolls working for the conservative black PR macjine that is reporting our content… and at the enbd Facebook algorithms are responding to that by downgrading our standing and stats. This is the game of numbers ONLY the increase support from Liberal community can offset the negative numbers created by reporting of our page.

See: http://beingliberal.tumblr.com/post/33207327524/banned-by-facebook

October 4th, 2012

How Linda McMahon Made Her Millions

September 21st, 2012

Rmoney Campaign & Pay-for-Performance

Appearing in the news on the same day (oh bless the gods of synchronicity!) . . .

Romney campaign gave bonuses to top staff

and

Conservative punditista Peggy Noonan announces “Romney Needs a New CEO.”

Clearly in the Republicon world, pay-for-performance is for the suckers below the executive suite.

September 7th, 2012

A Rush to Support the President

One of the advantages of being an old whore who’s been working these mean streets for decades is that you’ve seen it all before; you take names and you remember faces (some fondly, some not). So in the current presidential campaign, permit this old whore a walk down memory lane to 1992.

[Cue flashback music.]

Following the successful completion of the first Persian Gulf War (driving the invading Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait), Republicon President George H. W. Bush briefly enjoyed astronomical approval ratings . . . until recession struck. Late in 1991, the New York Times (5 Nov. 1991)reported:

In more than a dozen interviews, occupants of the executive suite, like other Americans, said they were dismayed by what they see as partisanship and just plain perverseness in Congress. . . . Old fashioned tonics like easier money and fiscal stimulus are not out of favor. . . . But for the most part they emphasized other means when asked their prescriptions for the nation’s ills.

James Zimmerman, the COO of Federated Department Stores (now Macy’s Inc.), said that:

It’s critical that consumers have hope. Washington should send a strong message to consumers that the Administration and Congress will do whatever is necessary. . . The fixation on the budget deficit is wrong.

Ad exec Jerry Della Femina said:

The problem is confidence–confidence in our leaders. George Bush is not leading the cheering squad. Since Truman, the U.S. economy has only done well when we’ve had a cheerleader in the White House.

But one man had the courage to come to President George H. W. Bush’s defense, writing in the New York Times (15 Oct. 1992) as the presidential campaign entered its final weeks:

The key to these debates, however, is television ability, pure and simple. President Bush needs to cut through the noise so that his strong message will connect with the public. To do this, he must marshal his passion, his energy, his conviction, his confidence. And he must do so in such a way that it forces Governor Clinton off his formulated answers, allowing the public to take a true measure of the man.

This brave conservative pundit came to President Bush’s defense in his handling of the economy, calling out the Democrats’ negativity and alarmism and applauding Bush’s optimistic (or, as he might say, “realistic”) vision:

The starting point must be the economy. Granted, this is a tough economy, but the President should not be defensive about his optimistic message, which is absolutely correct. I am weary, as he should be, of his opponents sneeringly characterizing him as “out of touch” because he dares to portray the American economy as the strongest in the world. It is.

This bold conservative stood up for President Bush against the Democratic doomsayers who thought that Americans were not better off than they’d been 4 years before:

Inflation has been whipped, inventories are lean, interest rates have been wrestled to 20-year lows. Housing starts, retail and car sales have been posting gains. Although politically tempting, Mr. Bush must not, as Mr. Clinton has, pander to the electorate’s current masochistic desire for tales of economic pain, misery and woe. The President’s upbeat reckoning is, in fact, an honest one.

President Bush’s defender? Rush Limbaugh.

My, how times have changed.

August 22nd, 2012

Next Time You’re Asked to ‘Like’ the Pledge of Allegiance

A recent Facebook meme presents you with a picture of white elementary school children making the Pledge of Allegiance and invites you to “LIKE if you did this every morning and think that they still should!” So far it has nearly half a million “Likes” and over 30,000 “Shares.”

Pledge of Allegiance

But consider:

The generation (the so-called “Greatest Generation”) that adopted the pledge in 1942 (during World War II) and added “under God” in 1954 (at the beginning of the Cold War) also brought you massive resistance to racial integration, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and decades of toxic industrial environmental damage.

The generation (the so-called Baby Boomers) that was required to say the pledge daily brought you the student free speech movement, anti-Vietnam War protests, the sexual revolution, recreational drugs, the Iraq War, Internet porn, Enron, the Great Recession, and disco.

In other words, empty-headed nationalistic sentimentality is no substitute for the hard work of living up to the documents that begin “When in the course of human events . . . ” and “We the people . . .”