Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Evolution is a thing": Rachel Maddow and the Sweet Revenge of Facts

Rachel Maddow

I'm with those who see Barack Obama's re-election last week as more momentous than his election in 2007. I won't go into all the reasons here, but among them is certainly the fact that Obama's win proved to all of us that America hadn't been taken in. The right-wing media's mendacious version of reality had not prevailed.

Obama is certainly not perfect, he's disappointed the left on many fronts, but last week's defeat of the right's 4-year attempt to brainwash and scare the populace into voting for them is in itself reason for celebration. We are elated not so much at the thought of what Obama will do for us in the coming years, as at the specter of what will not be happening since, thankfully, the GOP lost.

Some in the press are criticizing liberals for gloating too much over this victory; they say it's time to heal wounds, that we on the left should sympathize with the pain of Republican voters. I'm not buying it for a minute. Liberals have every right to gloat this time. The antics of Republicans during Obama's first term have been despicable on every front. If even the man at the top of their ticket thought it was alright to quip that "Nobody's ever asked me for my birth certificate," then the GOP deserves not our sympathy, but our scorn.

Americans who voted Democrat are gloating because they see the election results as a victory of honest truth over bald-faced lies. It's a matter of our faith in democracy, and how we felt it to be threatened. After four years of wiping our faces of the spittle spewed by Fox News and Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, this election offered us something like the sweet revenge of facts.

No one has voiced this elation better than Rachel Maddow. Her MSNBC segment the morning of November 7 (embedded below) is destined to be a classic of American editorial journalism. Maddow's rhetoric is simple, and pitch perfect. Bloggers have already typed out and posted parts of her 15-minute segment elsewhere, but I wanted to offer a longer selection here. I choose to keep Will Femia's title.

I don't agree with Obama on everything, nor do I agree with Maddow on everything, but that matters little. Her delight and mine are the same. Here's some of what she said:


We are not going to have a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe vs. Wade. There will be no more Antonin Scalias and Samuel Alitos added to this court.

We’re not going to repeal health reform. Nobody’s going to kill Medicare and make old people in this generation--or any other generation--fight it out on the open market to try to get themselves health insurance. We’re not going to do that.

We’re not going to give the 20% tax cut to millionaires and billionaires, and expect programs like food stamps and kids’ health insurance to cover the cost of that tax cut.

We’re not going to make you clear it with your boss if you want to get birth control with the insurance plan that you’re on.

We are not going to redefine rape.

We are not going to amend the United States Constitution to stop gay people from getting married.

We’re not going to double Guantanamo.

We’re not eliminating the Department of Energy or the Department of Education or Housing at the federal level.

We are not going to spend two trillion dollars on the military that the military does not want.

We are not scaling back on student loans because the country’s NEW plan is that you should borrow money from your parents.

We are not vetoing the Dream Act, we are not ‘self-deporting.’

We are not letting Detroit go bankrupt.

We are not starting a trade war with China on Inauguration Day in January.

We are not going to have--as a president--a man who once led a mob of friends to run down a scared gay kid to hold him down and forcibly cut his hair off with a pair of scissors while that kid cried and screamed for help. And there was NO apology, not EVER.

We are not going to have a Secretary of State John Bolton.

We are not going to bring Dick Cheney back.

We are not going to have a foreign policy shop stocked with architects of the Iraq war, we are not going to do it.

We had the choice to do that if we wanted to do that, as a country. And we said no, last night, loudly.

Ohio really did go to the president last night.
And he really did win.

And he really was born in Hawaii.

And he really is--legitimately--President of the United States.


And the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not make-up a fake unemployment rate last month.

And the Congressional Research Service really can find no evidence
that cutting taxes on rich people grows the economy.

And the polls were not skewed to over-sample Democrats.

And Nate Silver was not making up fake projections about the election to make conservatives feel bad.

Nate Silver was doing math.

And climate change is real.

And rape really does cause pregnancy sometimes.

And evolution is a thing.

And Benghazi was an attack ON us.

It was not a scandal BY us.

And nobody is taking away anyone's guns.

And taxes have not gone up.

And the deficit is dropping, actually.

And Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction.

And the moon landing was real.

And FEMA is not building concentration camps.

And UN election observers are not taking over Texas.

And moderate reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry 
and the financial services industry in this country are not the same thing as communism.


* * *

Watch takes from Maddow's 11/7 morning segment:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dave Eggers' A.H.W.O.S.G.

I finally relented and started reading Dave Eggers' Heartbreaking Work in earnest. I needed some narrative respite from the critical books I've been slogging through.

Eggers is a skilled writer indeed, preternaturally adept at the American I-narrative mode, and Heartbreaking Work, in its first few chapters, often manages to be both sad and exhilarating. Still I find, now around a third of the way through the book, that I can't stay with it. There's a priggishness in this narrator, a suburban kind of whitebread righteousness, that finally starts to gall.

Yes, I'm well aware Eggers is conscious of his contradictions, that often he is satirizing himself, but I feel still a kind of superficiality in his ground, which seems to be something like: "I am a strong and smart member of my generation who faced up to an extraordinarily painful life change. I am here groping for meaning, imposing my meaning, here as you watch." This may be enough to generate a lengthy narrative, it's true, but it isn't enough to make that narrative worth reading through.

The problem with this narrator is that there's no tradition of thought, no spiritual or philosophical tradition, informing his self-making: he is almost completely defined, and doesn't seem to have any problem being defined, by his familial background on the one hand, and the most banal elements of American culture on the other: sports, the budding start-up culture of the early 1990s, the ephemera of youth fashion, MTV. His ideas of what is necessary to give his brother Toph a healthy childhood are taken over wholesale from his suburban Midwest background and remain completely unexamined. On the other hand, his ideas of the role of creativity--what is valuable and potentially transformative in the world--come direct from early 1990s American youth culture. He swallows that absurd solipsistic notion that a new generation's styles and concerns are interesting or worthwhile simply because they come from a new generation.

I am roughly of Eggers' age, born a few years earlier in the same suburban Midwest. I was painfully reminded of this when the specter of MTV first appeared in his book. Eggers writes of hearing news that MTV's The Real World (the seminal 1990s reality show that followed the "real" lives of 20-somethings) was going to film its upcoming season in San Francisco, where he was located, and how this news was taken in his office of peers:

They are looking for a new cast.

At the office we have a few hearty laughs about it.

"Has anyone seen the show?"



"Some of it."

We're all lying. Everyone's seen the show. We all despise it, are enthralled by it, morbidly curious. Is it interesting because it's so bad, because the stars of it are so profoundly uninteresting? Or is it because in it we recognize so much that is maddeningly familiar?
I also remember when MTV's show came out. It was the early 1990s. I was in Madison, Wisconsin, working in a coffee shop while my wife finished grad school. I also remember talking scornfully of that show, and of MTV "culture" in general, with friends. But the difference is that I don't think any of us ever actually watched the show. We knew of it, had seen a part or a segment of it in this or that Madison living room, but we didn't actually watch such things because, frankly, we were too busy with study or work or spending time together in ways other than sitting in front of TV. I myself was busy reading and writing and working and loving and thinking. And struggling through my own spiritual development. So that, really-- MTV? What for fuck's sake is MTV?

Eggers is far better at spinning a narrative than I am. It's disappointing, then, to see how his novel/memoir moves along. Soon enough his narrator is interviewing at the MTV offices in hopes of being one of the interesting youths featured in its San Francisco season. I put the book down finally during this interview. It's depressing to have someone so good at writing cover pages with such dribble.

I certainly applaud and admire Eggers for his co-founding of 826 National. Some time I'll give a try reading some of his later work. For now it's on to other things: Beckett's Watt, Jack Miles' God: A Biography, Harold Bloom, a new piece by JS Porter; and, as always, the Bible.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sorry, Dave Eggers

Finally picked up a copy of Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius--his 1999 novel that the New York Times said announced the "debut of a talented--yes, staggeringly talented new writer" and that has praised everywhere and anywhere--and I set to reading the Preface, which begins: "There is no overwhelming need to read the preface. Really. It exists mostly for the author, and those who, after finishing the rest of the book, have for some reason found themselves stuck with nothing else to read." I scanned a bit further over the many pages of the preface, then came to the lengthy Acknowledgements, which I saw included a picture of a stapler, then I went to the novel's first page, which I didn't even finish before I put the book down. Through no fault really of that first page.

I just can't do it any more. I just can't. All these pirouettes, words upon self-deprecating spiraling strands of words. Yes, one critic wrote that Eggers' novel was "finally a finite book of jest, which is why it succeeds so brilliantly"--and maybe it is, and maybe it does; but not for me. For me all this is hardly finite enough.

It's somehow gotten that I rarely trust anything over twenty pages.

Perhaps I'll pick up Heartbreaking again some time.

Friday, October 19, 2012

You are what you eat

"Teacher, teacher!" Luke says as I enter the classroom. "A man in your state ate many cockroaches and died. It's really disgusting!"     
     "What do you mean?"     
     "It was in Florida. He ate many cockroaches. They were having a 比賽."     
     "Contest," I say. "They were having a contest."     
     "Contest. It was an eat cockroach contest, and he ate too many and died."     
     "It was in Florida?"     
     "Yes, I saw in the newspaper."     
     "That's disgusting!" Cindy says. "Florida people are disgusting."     
     "It was in your state," Luke continues, delighted. "Florida people eat cockroaches! Did you eat a lot of cockroaches too?"     
     "Well, I'm not from Florida," I say. "I already told you guys. I'm from Wisconsin, in the north. My parents moved to Florida."     
     "Because they have more cockroaches there," Hank says. "Your dad wanted to eat them."     
     "No. I only go to Florida to visit," I say, but then wonder: "Luke, why did someone die from eating cockroaches? Why did he die?"     
     "I don't know. It just said he died."     
     "Are you sure it's a true story?"     
     "Yes! It's true!" he yells. "It's from FLORIDA!"     
     "Why are Florida people so crazy?" Joseph asks. "Like the man who ate people's faces."     
     "It was only one face," Mary points out. "He ate a man's face."     
     "Well..." I begin.     
     "And you," Luke interrupts. "You are also crazy. Soon the police in Taiwan will catch you."     
     "I don't think so," I say. "I'm pretty smart."     
     "No! You are stupid!" a few kids yell. "They will catch you!"     
     "Well, why do you think they'll catch me? I've been here since 1996, I've already eaten three faces, and they haven't caught me yet."     
     "Ewww!" Cindy snaps. "Disgusting!"     
     "Maybe they don't want to catch him," Hank says. "He keeps the night market clean because he eats all the cockroaches."
     "Do you help the government clean the night markets?" Luke asks.
     "Actually cockroaches aren't bad," I say. "But they have to be be fresh. They're kind of 脆脆." And I mime eating and chewing cockroaches.     
     "You are DISGUSTING!" Cindy snaps. "You go back to Florida NOW!"     
     "I like Taiwan," I say.
     "Why do you like here?" Joseph asks.
     "Well. . . . The faces here are more delicious," I say, reaching toward Cindy as if to touch her face.     
     "EWWWW!" they all scream and start pounding their desks.     
     This theme of "Crazy Florida" theme is well established in at least three of my classes. Another class started on it with the news of the Florida pastor who was planning to burn Korans. And there was another previous story about something from Florida, I can't remember what, that they'd heard from the news. So they started getting on me. And I can't really blame them, since I've noticed it too. Florida makes it into the news here all the time. But it's always insanity and mayhem.
     Back when Florida messed up the 2000 presidential election, I got grief for that too. But the kids I teach now don't know about that, as most of them were babies then.     
     After getting home I did a search on the cockroach story. Not in the least surprised to find it true:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yes, I can be fair too

At the second presidential debate of 2012

People sometimes accuse me of being virulently biased against the Republican Party, which I don't think is fair. I judge candidates on their policies, not on which party they represent. And so I watched last night's debate without the kind of venomous "Go team!" attitude many Americans bring to these contests. It's clear that this time Obama delivered the goods, winning through sheer strength of argument. But I must admit I was also impressed by Governor Romney's performance. For a lying flip-flopping chunk of animated vomit whose only goal is to game the system for the top 3 percent, Romney does manage to create a pretty good illusion of reasoned debate. Just saying.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Election

It's never been like this. My mind keeps dwelling on next month's election; I feel I'm possibly more nervous about tomorrow's debate than Obama is. Which is strange. For weeks I've felt prodded by an anxiety that doesn't make sense to me--as if there were something different this time, something enough to provoke a kind of foreboding. Whether they win the presidency or not, I think the coming four years will be the Republicans' last stand. If they lose this election, they are finished. If they win, they get four years in the White House, and probably two in the Congress--after which . . . they are finished. This is evident in the demographics. So the long future of the Republicans--at least in terms of their current ideological configuration--looks dismal. But regardless of this, there's something in this coming election, in the current arrangement of forces, that makes me uneasy. Perhaps it is just a matter of floating anxiety, and my being battered by a virus.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sorry. It's my stomach . . .

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I won't be watching the vice-presidential debate. Or rather I'm ashamed to admit the reason. It's because I have such revulsion for Paul Ryan that I could not stand listening to him for as long as he will have to talk to finish a debate. The idea of an Ayn Rand devotee being so close to holding the second highest office in my country's government makes me sick. And he himself: his vaguely weird Clark Kent Twerp Version kind of handsomeness combined with his Wisconsin twang: these added to his eager-beaver willingness to lie repeatedly--I can't watch the man without a mixture of queasiness and violence rising in my gut. Which isn't right. I should be able to listen to a debate after all. But this is just how it is. So best of luck, Joe. We're behind you all the way. Put that smiley lying little fuck in his place. May we never have to listen to him again after November.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Minor Maladies

To turn middle-aged is to be forced to learn (and to learn the hard way) the real physical meaning of a whole slew of medical terms one had previously ignored as "other people's problems": terms such as bursitis, shingles, prostatitis, acid reflux, etc., etc. Turning forty, one begins to suffer from a new health issue every year or two, and with each of them there is the experience of something like, "Oh, so that's what bursitis feels like." Along with this comes the fact one must suddenly stop doing something one likes. Or doing less of it.

My favorite of these minor maladies in terms of sheer annoyance value is acid reflux. I'd always thought it was just an issue of overeating. But no. When the problem started harassing me last year, making me wish I could somehow tilt my bed up, I went and investigated online as to causes. It turned out acid reflux wasn't really so much overeating, but rather a matter of a valve at the top of the stomach that didn't stay closed when it should. The acid came up from the stomach because the cap on the stomach was loose. Here, I learned online, were the key things that could loosen it:





So if I wanted to stop the acid reflux, I just needed to stop using these four things. Pretty nasty, no? I mean, how sadistic can you get? This is a near exhaustive list of the still legal substances that make life worth living. I will experiment with bed tilting, thank you.

The most recent middle-age malady I've acquired is called shingles. Though I'd heard of shingles over the years, I never really knew what it was. If only I could have maintained that ignorance. Shingles is actually a belated attack from the virus that causes chickenpox. In fact it's like a Stage 2 attack of the same original infection.

I got chickenpox when I was nine, and I assumed that I'd thoroughly defeated it. No such luck. Rather, the virus that caused my chickenpox, varicella zoster, went into dormancy in my nerve cells, and now, 37 years later, has made up its mind to launch a second attack. It is doing this after almost four decades of idleness. Pretty impressive. But if it wanted to impress me, I wish it would just bring me the pox back, which I remember as itchy and mildly fever-inducing. Instead, it seems viruses develop a kind of attitude problem when forced into dormancy so long. Shingles, which has been plaguing me three weeks, is not itchy in the least: it is a vicious biting bitch of a scourge--tenacious and painful as hell. And I'm not doing well against it, though I continue to follow doctor's orders and am taking a regular hefty dosage of an antiviral drug which causes--another cheery medical term--tinnitus. Tinnitus is basically ringing in the ears. Which means that these weeks with the shingles I regularly hear mosquitoes buzzing round my head when there are none. Which is giving the real mosquitoes an unfair advantage. (No, I'm not joking. The ringing I hear is identical to the sound of mosquito wings. Almost uncanny. When it first started I actually believed there was a mosquito near me in the living room. It was only hours later, when I lay down to sleep, and heard the mosquito flying inside my pillow, that I realized it was an hallucination.)

But seriously: I know I've no right to complain about all this. These are only minor health issues, and I'm grateful for the decent health I've always had, as I'm lucky to have Taiwan's health care system taking care of me. Living as we do, amid such racket and pollution, we urban people certainly don't deserve good health. Though sometimes in pain, heartburned, tossing and turning, we are still right to be grateful if we've made it to middle age without any of the major maladies.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Obama: The Sad Relevance of Race

The president as a young man, about 1980.

Though he's repeatedly been called a "radical" or "Marxist" by Tea Partiers, anyone who studies Barack Obama's policy initiatives these past years would have to conclude that our president is actually a centrist. The fact is that Obama has done nothing out of the ordinary for a mainstream leader of a modern Western nation. In Europe, he would even be considered well right of center. American conservatives who now bitterly attack Obama for his "leftist agenda" would, I believe, have to start scratching their heads in confusion if they were forced to read actual leftist writers on Obama. Take political thinker Thomas Frank for instance. Interviewed last month in Salon, Frank communicated clearly the befuddled sense of despair progressives now feel when they survey Obama's repeated failure to push leftward. In particular, they say, the president has had many opportunities to hold Wall Street accountable for our economic woes, could have garnered enormous public support for a stricter regime of regulation on the financiers, but never did so. He never even clearly told the American public the true story of what happened--how their whole way of life had been nearly shattered by the deregulatory idiocy of the American right. In 2009 and '10 our president could have pointed fingers, named names, called for prosecutions, laid out a new and saner financial order. Most Americans would have been behind him. But he did none of these things, instead choosing to waste his substantial political capital trying to reach across the aisle to a party dedicated--as was obvious from the start--to nothing but his destruction. As the disgruntled Frank puts it: "What Barack Obama has saved is a bankrupt elite that by all means should have met its end back in 2009. He came to the White House amid circumstances similar to 1933, but proceeded to rule like Herbert Hoover." Frank further points out that many of Obama's policies have in large measure been continuations of Bush policies. "Marxist radical" indeed.

If Frank is right, and I believe there's much truth behind his despair, we now need to ask: Why indeed did Barack Obama choose the route he did--to bring Wall Street insiders into his administration and let them call the shots, to push for the bailouts without doing the necessary house-cleaning, to let the bankers continue on largely as before?

One of the most depressing facts of being an American during these years has been watching the degree to which race has been used to fire up the Republican agenda. It started early on with birtherism, which many of us assumed would go away after a few months. We were disappointed. Now, years later, the birther nonsense seems strong as ever: even the GOP candidate apparently felt it was acceptable to say that "nobody ever asked me to show my birth certificate." I find this situation not merely disappointing. No, the bland lack of respect these people show for evidence is enough to provoke rage. I still wouldn't say, however, that this is so much a matter of the majority of white Republicans being overtly racist. This crowd was comfortable enough with Herman Cain, weren't they? Rather, what we see in the birther strain is a subtler kind of racism, one harder to call out as such and harder to ascribe to purely racist motives. For many of the wingnuts, I think it is not so much that they can't imagine a black man being president per se. Rather, it is that if an actual black man becomes president and if they disagree with that man's policies, then the racism might come into play in various forms--in this case, in the form of a bizarre willingness to believe (or to pretend to believe) almost any slander told against him. In fact the slanders being spread are beyond ridiculous: the birther slander in itself, for starters; the slander that he is hiding his true religion (Islam); the implication that his education was paid for by an enemy of America and that he is really a kind of sleeper agent now performing a mission to bring the country down. Certainly these slanders can take hold in the paranoid mind because the president is of mixed race and spent part of his youth in a Southeast Asian country. That the slanders flourish, however, should be attributed to the fact that the purveyors can use them as a weapon against the president's (supposedly leftist) policies.

But once racism is kindled, it risks becoming ever more poisonous. And this is obviously what has happened thanks to the willingness of the right to raise these birther-related issues. We can imagine Hillary in the White House pushing the exact same policy initiatives our president has pushed, but we can't imagine the same level of distrust or anger directed against her. Yes, the GOP faithful would have criticized her initiatives, they would have evoked the specter of Bloated Government, but this wouldn't have led to a discourse which painted Hillary as somehow evil, untrustworthy, alien or un-American in essence--a kind of foreign body made to appear ever more foreign and sinister with each passing month. A second Clinton administration wouldn't have led to the crazed fear I see in the right-wingers around me at present--a fear that America is somehow being permanently undone. But since our current president is of mixed race, since he has a partly foreign background, his policies aren't seen as merely the old "tax and spend liberalism"--no, instead they constitute a sneaking crypto-Islamic Marxist plot. Never mind that there is nothing in what he has done to indicate either Marxism or Islam. And never mind, again, that much of what he has done is simply a continuation of policies begun under that noted Islamist communist George W. Bush.

That the GOP's leaders have allowed this to develop as it has is despicable. They should be tarred and feathered for it in our press, but instead it is only noted: "Romney Campaign Goes Birther". That large swaths of the populace fall into such racist hysteria is regrettable, but then it has always been regrettable to me that such large swaths of the populace are uneducated. We have enormous resources of knowledge at our fingertips, we have some of the best universities in the world, but somehow millions still get through our education system while remaining unable to find England, much less Iran, on a map. And being uneducated, they are more likely to feel the world as such, especially non-whites, are somehow essentially other than Americans.

But enough of the sad spectacle of my compatriots drinking the right's racist Koolaid. What concerns me here is rather the question I raised above: namely, why has our president, a man who developed in the progressive crucible of community organizing, a brilliant man besides--why has he not employed more of his progressive fire during his first term?

On the left many people believe it's because he simply sold out. That once he got in his current high office, he found it more appealing to hobnob with Wall Street criminals than to subpoena them. These criminals, so the argument goes, have an insider professionalism that something in Obama appreciates. Now at the top himself, it is expedient simply to become one of them. I don't espouse this theory of the sell-out.

Still, Obama in some measure remains a mystery--not to the Tea Partiers who think they know him after watching Obama 2016--but rather to us on the left who wonder why he isn't more of the radical he is accused of being. In The Audacity of Hope Obama expressed his strong belief in working together and in compromise, and this no doubt explains much of his non-confrontational manner of governing. But many feel this isn't the only reason, that in itself it can't justify what they see as the president's overly conciliatory cool.

I believe the most compelling explanation for Obama's painstaking centrism may also, sadly, be related to race. Our president knows himself to be in an unprecedented American position: he recognizes he is playing a historical role that has never been played before. He is, after all, the first non-white president; he is the first black president. Thus Barack Obama steps back from the more aggressive reforms he'd otherwise push because he fears that if these reforms fail, the failure will not simply be chalked up to mistaken policy--no, it will be seen as vindication of the racist argument that a black man cannot be trusted in the highest office. His burden is thus unique. If a George W. Bush or a Jimmy Carter makes a mess of his years in office, that is a matter of poor policy or personal failure. If, however, Barack Obama makes a mess of his years in office, it is something else entirely: it has a different historical weight altogether; it will have repercussions for his race, his people.

What's more, Obama's wisdom tells him that given the vicissitudes of the world economy, it wouldn't be necessary for his policies to be wrong to still be judged to have failed. No, under such circumstances as we're now in, circumstances we might call nearly impossible, even the best policies could conceivably "fail"--which is to say, they might not lead to the wealth and success hoped for. Our president knows he is living in a time where the world capitalist system may itself be coming to crisis, and that any year now might see a downturn no one will really "recover" from in the old 20th-century sense of that word. If there is such a meltdown or partial meltdown on his watch, at least an Obama administration that had followed roughly the same policies as other recent US administrations could not be blamed for "doing something radical" and so being "instrumental in the end of the American way of life". This, I think, gives Obama further reason not to push truly leftward.

And so, as we listen to Thomas Frank complain that Obama walks a walk far too similar to that of his right-wing predecessor, we might ask ourselves if he isn't maybe doing this precisely because, as a black man in a unique historical role, he has too heavy a burden on his shoulders to walk in a more forthright way. Because to trip up would only confirm the suspicions of those millions of bigots and half-bigots who, no matter what happens, must never be given any such comfort. Would Hillary have had such a burden as the first woman president? I believe there would have been some of this. But given that the West has already had successful woman heads of state, the pressure not to fail would not have been nearly as great. Is Obama's burden, the sadly persistent burden of race, perhaps the real explanation for our "radical" president's surprising lack of radical initiatives? This to me seems likelier than that the former community organizer has sold out.

I don't want to be misunderstood with these remarks. Though I think Hillary would make a fine president, I am certainly not saying that I wish she'd been nominated instead of Obama. There may be some truth to my suspicion that Obama's unique historical position has hobbled his leftism, causing him to miss striking hard enough when the iron was hot, as it surely was in 2009. But even so, I can see he has accomplished much, and I am giving him my wholehearted support for the coming years. If he wins his second term, as I believe he will, there will be new opportunities to reform our oligarchical tax code and new chances to impose regulatory oversight on Wall Street. I can only hope that he will not waste his energies trying to reach across the aisle to that gaggle of Ayn Randian morons that still dares call itself the "Grand Old Party".

In conclusion, I should point out that I'm somewhat uncomfortable speculating on the sad relevance of race and how it might relate to Obama's centrism. There are others who make academic careers studying race relations in America, and compared to them I'm hardly qualified to write on these things. What's more, I'm a white man from rural Wisconsin, so my life experience can give me little cred on the issue of how a black man might deal with holding the most powerful office in a society long dominated by whites. My words here should be taken with a grain of salt, and I welcome any help in identifying my blind spots.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Political Conventions and my Prostate Exam

The mind works in strange ways. I don't know why, but something about watching these two recent political conventions got to me thinking about my first prostrate exam last year. Maybe it was all the talk about medical policy and seniors (which I'll be soon enough). But maybe it was something else too: some more subtle link between the memory of getting my prostrate roughly fondled in that fluorescently lit room and the experience of listening to politicians talk about what they were planning to do if elected. Anyhow, last year I wrote up that unpleasant medical experience in my journal, but never thought to post it on my blog. Now that we're in full campaign swing, however, and what with me thinking about that day again, now might be just the time. My prostate seems somehow mysteriously linked to these national questions, or at least linked to the convention speeches I've heard. I noticed the feeling especially while listening to Paul Ryan. So here it is, my brief study in mid-life male vulnerability, with still unexplained political overtones. --E.M.


July 26, 2011

So you're a man in your forties and you notice that recently you have to urinate more often than before. You're getting up four or five times a night to empty your bladder, and the problem seems to be getting worse.

This was happening to me. Of course I knew what needed to be done. I needed a prostate exam.

But did I really? The morning of the exam I saw that I was by far the youngest of the six men who sat in the urologist's waiting room. I read my Hemingway novel, THE GARDEN OF EDEN, as the girl called in senior after senior. Did Hemingway have prostate problems along with all his others?

The six men waiting with me were so decrepit that only one of them looked up when, soon after my arrival, a gorgeous brunette, about 6'2" and wearing a teensy black dress, entered the clinic and strode straight across the room on her long, ivory legs. She headed directly back to the doctor's office.

What the hell? Did she work in the clinic? Not likely. Probably she was the doctor's wife or girlfriend.

When she left a few minutes later, telling one of the office staff she was going out to get donuts and swinging her car keys in the same hand as held her little red Chanel purse, my suspicion was confirmed. She was not clinic staff.

I went back to my novel and got a handful more pages read before they called me in.

At a small motel on the Côte d'Azur, the impossible Catherine, who really deserved to be strangled, had just told David she'd burned his stories, including the story about Africa that was possibly the most important thing he'd ever written.

I had to give them a urine sample, then was led into a private room. I expected the doctor, but it was a nurse who came in--tall, but with a slight mustache. Very professionally, she began explaining to me why men in their late thirties start to get problems with the prostate. She showed me a little diagram of the whole works, indicating where the prostate was, where the bladder, how it swelled with age, etc. Then she said: "Today I'm going to insert my finger in your anus and feel around the surface of your prostate."

Huh? Wasn't the doctor supposed to do that?

She explained some more about the prostate, and about medicines that could be used, and then said: "As for the exam, I can do it myself, as I said, or you may want the doctor to do it."

This was a question of scruples. Did I want a man to put his fingers up my ass or this slightly mustached woman?

"It's fine if you do it," I said.

Then she instructed me to stand and drop my pants. That was fine with me. I didn't need any of the silliness of having to undress completely and put on a hospital gown.

"First I'm going to check you out in front," she said.

She knelt down and checked me out in front, holding her fingers firmly under my scrotum and making me cough. I thought of Dustin Powers and the fur-coated dice hanging from his rear-view mirror.

"You're fine there," she said. "Now you need to turn around."

Alright, I thought, the moment of truth.

"You need to bend your knees," she said.

I did.

"Not like that, but like you're skiing."

No problem. I'm a good skier.

Then she quickly inserted her lubed finger up my anus, pressing in directly up to the prostate. Whoah! I felt her fingers roughly probing left and right, up and down. As I stood there, half bent over, I realized I hadn't had anything that far up my ass since I was in Young Republicans in high school.

It wasn't really painful, in fact she was decisive and quick, but I could feel the pressure on my bladder and came near to urinating on the floor in spite of myself.

But before I did, she stood up, pulled the latex glove off her hand, tossed it in the trash, and announced: "Your prostate is smooth."

"Like you, babe," I almost said.

With the exam over, I felt oddly closer to this mustached woman, like we'd known each other for years. I wanted to ask her about the plaque on the wall with her name on it, some kind of award or other, but before I had the chance she said the doctor would be with me shortly and stepped out of the room.

What was there left for the doctor to do? I'd already been examined.

I waited about a minute when she came back in with a worried look I didn't like one bit.

"I just got the readout on your urine sample," she said, biting her lower lip. "And, uh. . . . It appears you have some blood in your urine."

I felt my chest begin to tighten. "What does that mean?"

"Well, we can't be certain," she said, "but blood in the urine can indicate cancer of the bladder. And since you ARE a smoker . . . . Well, we may need to have you get some X-rays."

"Alright," I said, the tightness moving up to my throat. "I'll have to get some X-rays then."

"We'll wait until the doctor talks with you."

Then she left again.

I sat there under the fluorescent light of the examination room and felt a faint nausea take hold of me as I took it in. I began to perspire and wondered if I was going to be sick--sick as in nauseous. Bach's Fugue #3, pumped through ceiling speakers, started to annoy me. Was that a volume button on the wall? I tried it, but the music stayed the same. I will quit smoking cigars today, I told myself. I hope I can beat the cancer. I Will beat it, I told myself.

I waited another three minutes, but no doctor. Then another five minutes.

Finally the doctor entered. Around fifty, only slightly overweight, quite handsome. So the beauty in the black dress--now there was no doubt about it, she was his.

The doctor began to explain to me all over again how the prostate normally starts to swell in men in their late thirties, how it constricts the urine passage, and how it can be treated with medication, etc., etc. I didn't give half a damn about that. Why didn't he get to the blood in the urine part?

"As for the slight trace of blood in your urine," he said, "it could be caused by various things, even by the fact that your bladder is being stressed by the swollen prostate."

Then: "I'm going to have them take another urine sample, and if it comes back with blood in it again, I'd recommend you have further testing, just to be sure."

I appreciated that "just to be sure." It meant: "just to be sure it's not cancer," which of course implied it was unlikely it was cancer.

So I went back to do another urine sample, which wasn't difficult in the least, since the nurse had prodded me so thoroughly down there and the mention of cancer had nearly scared the piss out of me besides.

I gave them the little plastic cup with my urine in it and chatted with the office staff while I waited for the results. The woman in the black dress still wasn't back with the donuts. But I shouldn't be thinking about that, I told myself, this was serious.

I watched the nurse with the mustache across the room as she waited eagerly for the computer to print out the stats on my second cup of urine. It was almost like she really cared about the results. I appreciated this. Then I saw a little tape slowly printing out, feeding into her hand. She looked over at me and gave a delighted thumbs up sign.

"Alright," I said aloud. "Good news."

"Yes," she said, coming over. "There's no blood this time. You can go right home and we'll see you in a year."

I left the clinic, my Hemingway novel clutched in my sweaty right hand. In fact the donuts had never shown up. No matter. I walked a bit down the sidewalk to a bench and sat down. I put on my sunglasses and took a little cardboard box from my bag--the box that still held three cigars. I took out one of the cigars and lighted it as I watched the traffic go by.

Stupid, I know, but nothing takes the edge off like a good smoke.

My Wingnut Family

Debating politics with Republicans is like debating marine biology with someone who gets all their information from the movie Finding Nemo. Or rather: That's what it used to be like. Now it's worse. Under the blinding glare of anti-Obama rage, facts have become dangerously irrelevant. Many Republicans' bone-deep discomfort that this man is president has pushed them into a near psychosis. This is no longer just a matter of party affiliation or "conservative thinking". There's no thinking involved here, and certainly no conservative thinking. Their discourse is driven by one thing only: a frantic urge to purge from our body politic something that can no longer be tolerated: that perceived foreigner and Marxist Muslim socialist in the White House.

Too bad for them that he's very likely to remain in the White House. At least I hope. We need Obama's policies to help our country's middle class out of the deep pit the GOP has shoved them into.

For years I've been corresponding with my now 71-year-old mother regarding these issues--me a 46-year-old Democrat living overseas, her a retired Republican living in Florida. Well, I've finally vowed to call it quits on such correspondence. At least it's quits as regards debating her. Why? Consider our recent correspondence, typical in most respects except for its markedly higher temperature. 

My mother started it by forwarding me this instructive link on 8/5/12: 

Subject: Fwd: Pulled Fox News Sunday-Obama Muslim 

Subject: Pulled Fox News Sunday 

Remember all the notices we kept getting to watch Fox News on Sunday at 9PM?  What Happened? 

This is the clip that got pulled due to pressure from the Administration. 

Obama Puts Heat on Fox News to Prevent Sean Hannity airing this piece. 

This is a video that Sean Hannity of FOX News has been trying to show that we are told has consistently been blocked by the Obama Administration for several weeks. 

Watch it now before it gets pulled from the internet! 

Note how the clip is hyped, as if the Obama administration can dictate to Fox News or delete things from youtube. Apparently Sean Hannity has been personally censored by the executive branch. Do the people composing these emails forget First Amendment rights? 

I replied to this "breaking news" video simply by sending my mother a snopes link that lays out the misrepresentations: 

Mom replied to my snopes link like this: 

Forget the Snopes thing on Obama and his Muslim faith. It is so obvious that he is a Muslim. It's even on the film with his big mouth forming the words, bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia, and placating and fawning over the Muslim world. He has made a sham of our country. Most of his voting base are those wanting handouts. He canceled the national prayer breakfast: the first president in history to do so, but he allowed a huge Muslim demonstration with speeches to go on just blocks from the White House. Come on, you have to be aware of this obvious stuff. I can't even type about him anymore. I so detest him and his crooked values. His campaign promised, "Change you can count on!" Who said that Americans wanted our country turned into Socialism? Who said we wanted to have our Christian faith wiped from public places? Who said we wanted gay marriage shoved down our throats? Who said we would be willing to approve of 60 million abortions? Who said, in this day and age, that we should severely cut our military budget while he pours our tax money on all of his supporters? Who said we wanted to be taxed for other people's health care? Who said we wanted illegal aliens flooding into our country just so he could get votes? He ought to be forced to live in the midst of all the people he has illegally welcomed here. He is a pompous self serving arrogant ass! And on and on and on! It is all absolutely nauseating!!!!! Nough said! 

I am now too riled up to type more now. I'm going to try to cool off in the pool. 


I didn't bother to reply to this letter, which repeated the same handful of charges I'd read in at least two dozen letters from her since Obama was elected. Then on 8/12 I got forwarded the following photo: 

Subj: In Savannah

Click on photo.

I'd seen this guy's sign before. Under "Gaster Lumber and Hardware," in case you can't read it, the owner added the words: "I built this business without gov't help. Obama can kiss my ass." In the version of the photo I saw, someone had captioned it to stress just how Ray Gaster's business owed part of its success to a base of infrastructure and services provided by, yes, our government. In reply to mother I sent the captioned version of the photo, along with an explanation why I felt the right's hardline anti-government mantra was bad for America.

Dear Mom:

Thanks for forwarding me the photo of Ray Gaster's sign. He proudly declares he "built his business without gov't help." Alright, but I think since the 1980s and especially since 2000 too many people are forgetting how important public services are to make our economy work. This can become a dangerous trend. Our American public services have been run quite well since the 1950s, to the point that people have begun taking them for granted and imagine we can do without them.

In fact I've seen the Ray Gaster photo before. Someone captioned it to show what aspects of building a business, any business, depends on a public ground: i.e., government help. Check it out.

Gov't provides our police, our justice system, our military, our road network, and myriad other things. Where would our economy or country be without this infrastructure basis? Think about it.

Click on photo.

Note that I make pretty modest claims here. I can't find any place in my brief letter where I advocate a revolution in which the proletariat seizes the means of production. I don't even address the question of our social safety or how fine its mesh should be. Still, Mom replied as follows:

Dear Eric:

You sound just like Mr Ovomit. Give me a break. We do not need big government to run every faction of our lives. This country was built on the dreams and determination of energetic American pioneers who, with their spirit forged new frontiers. I could literally scream when I hear you and other Ovomit supporters blubber in this way.

Oh yes! Let's just let all the lazy ones pay nothing and sit on their asses with their hands out while they take more and more away from hard working successful people. Let's just drive the spirit of the hard workers into the ground until they finally decide that they are no longer going to strain themselves only to provide for lazy moochers. It's the spirit of the hard workers that then strain further to foster that spirit in their offspring. This then creates further success. Big government is a tyrant with tentacles that cancerously reach into our private lives. Come on, Eric! I don't envision you as the type who wants to be told what you must give from what you've earned. Do you really love the hand of rules hanging over your head? It's this kind of thinking that is going to give our country and our freedoms away. The phrase, "Necessity is the mother of invention" says it all. When people have to count on themselves to succeed they damn well better get off their asses. Name one country that has remained soundly based and successful under Socialism? The entire premise of this system creates laziness and loss of energy in those required to pay for the porch sitters.

I'm so enraged and sick of this jerk who is our president. I find him to be a conniving crooked bastard who has infected the seat of our government with a bunch of weird thinking idiots. He's opened our borders and ignored our immigration laws just to glean votes. In his high flying ways he would not spend one day in the midst of the people he has allowed in here. He is a brainless idiot who is a wolf in sheeps clothing. Best I don't go on anymore. My day is already spoiled after just reading your response and support of this character. You people think you have it all figured out but you don't realize the virus you are promoting.

Do not further rile me. With all this political crap going on I can only pray that our country will survive. We can't begin to afford four more Ovomit years.

I am so furious now. I feel like getting a bottle and drinking all day.


My reply:

If you read my remarks in the letter I sent you, you will see I don't mention anything about socialism or even about Obama. I do not argue for socialism in my remarks, I simply argue that government services are part of the normal running of capitalist America. I simply make the point that our gov't provides a basis of necessary infrastructure, like police and roads and trade agreements and a justice system, and that to keep repeating "Government is bad" or "Government is the problem" is not realistic. Of course corrupt or bloated government is a problem. The question is what to cut and where.

My remarks were about a specific question, but your remarks don't address it at all. Your remarks are so furious, and you just repeat again the same things you always repeat in your letters. It's almost as if writing anything to you about any issue related to politics is to set off a kind of bomb in you that is always the same exact bomb. What's more, I am only RESPONDING to things YOU forwarded me in the first place.

I read both liberal and conservative writers and read a lot. I don't watch TV news for more than 15 minutes a week because I don't find it worthwhile. How do you formulate your ideas of what is happening in America? Where do you get your information? My guess is you get it all from Fox and the grapevine of right wing Fwds that supplies your email inbox.

I am right now going to make a vow, which I will strictly stick to. I WILL NEVER AGAIN WRITE ABOUT OR DISCUSS ANY POLITICALLY RELATED ISSUE WITH YOU or respond to any of your political emails in any way. It is impossible for you to engage in discussion, much less debate. Every single time, you simply re-enact the same exact explosion, regardless of what the specific issue is.

It's as if a man wanted to talk about spinach, and you scream "Ham!" Then he tries to discuss the strawberry crop, and you scream "Ham!" When the issue is cheese, you just scream "Ham!"  It must be comforting to have the one-word answer to all issues.

So congratulations, you have your wish. I won't write back to you in any way or speak in any way when you address political issues.


I got one more letter from my mother to which I didn't bother to reply:

Dear Eric:

You responded to the emailing of the banner created by the man who was angry after Obama's discrediting of workers who have made their own success through hard work. I listened to Obama's insane remark that riled millions of Americans. His remark was clearly aimed for a reason and his reason is so obvious to those of us who see him for what he is.

In all the time of my weighing this man's actions and beliefs there is one thing that has become very clear. He is a very angry racist. He dislikes this country, as does his wife. He views his presidency as pay back time. It's time to stick it to whites, Christians and those who have been very successful after years of working very hard. He has done more to decrease the beauty of our Christianity. His comment, "This is no longer a Christian nation," I believe is mostly a wish on his part. His actions regarding national prayer day and on and on show this desire of his to diminish Christianity. He is absolutely a Muslim who does not like Jews. He is not governing our nation for the good of our nation, but is governing based on his racist positions. His affiliations in Wright's church, and all the other people of that nature, further indicate his internal beliefs. He is constantly poisoning and dividing this country with his war on the well to do. His positions have done more to bring racism to the foreground when it was just becoming a matter of Americans accepting the differences in people. In all these ways he is a man shooting his poison in too many directions. Before Chuck Colson died I went out with the Colsons and Chuck said some extremely wise things all based on my above writing. The sad part is that the leadership we've experienced the past four years is coming from a sick individual who, due to his racism, is unable to successfully lead this country. Hitler was just that kind of person. He gradually poisoned Germans just like Obama is gradually poisoning Americans.

There is a book at Barnes & Noble based on the writings of Saul Alinsky, Obama's mentor. I think I will buy it and read it, although I do not believe it will be a pleasant read.

You, in what you've written in this email, seem to view me as a rather deranged person. I am not. I just feel my country slipping away and, like many, it is sad when a treasure is lost. This is unfortunately a very dangerous time for us to become a nation so divided by a very racist tyrannical type ruler.


So, given this recent back and forth with my dear wingnut mother, I've decided to call it quits. I could cite the rule that the first person to mention Hitler in a debate automatically loses, but what's the point? My political exchanges with her hardly even count as debates. A debate depends on a bare minimum of mutual respect and at least a basic recognition of what the subject is being discussed.

I know this kind of squabbling is being repeated in families across America, and I know as well that it's more comical than sad. It is, in a way, democracy in action. More farcical than pertinent to the actual state of things. A son trying to make points to a politically contrary mother who, after all, raised him since he was pissing his pants. Why does any parent have to listen to their children on politics? After all, she was voting in elections before I was born.

Have I maybe really fallen under the spell of a racist tyrant? I'm actually somewhat afraid to imagine just what book "based on the writings of Saul Alinsky" Mom is referring to. Probably the kind that cites Ann Coulter as a political scholar. Knowing a little bit about Alinsky, I myself could write this book for them in about a half hour. One of their typical shoddy hit jobs.

Why do I post this exchange here? Partly for amusement, partly as a tiny record of the sort of concerns driving the anti-Obama crowd in 2012. I'm saddened to acknowledge that I don't think this movement so much stands for anything as it stands against the very idea that a man with a name like Barack Obama can be our president.


It's now a couple weeks later and I'm visiting Mom here in Naples, Florida. I've pretty much kept to my vow not to discuss politics, but it's an unfortunate fact that the Democratic National Convention was scheduled to occur right in the middle of my visit. And my mother wants to watch it with me. I really should have checked the Convention schedule before I bought those tickets, but here I am now, stuck on the sofa between Michelle Obama praising her husband in her passionate speech last night and my mother, on the other side of the room, providing verbal footnotes to Michelle's every third sentence.

When Mom again raised the issue of how Obama was the first president in American history to "cancel National Prayer Day" I finally broke down and said, "Alright, you've repeated that so many times in email and in conversation that I'm going online right now to check if it's true."

And I did. I found the following page at

Mom read a bit of the page and said, "This isn't true. What is this page?"

" It's probably the most respected political fact-checking site in the country. It's non-partisan; they don't care who's doing the lying: Democrat or Republican, they will call them on it."

"I don't believe that," she said. "I've heard of this page. It's funded by George Soros. This isn't a neutral page."

I said I would go check the Soros connection, but that I'd never heard of it before.

"This is totally slanted information," she said.

"Well, if you think this is incorrect, then you should find a fact checking organization that you trust. One has to verify facts to support one's position. That's just the way it is. Is there a Republican fact checking site you trust?"

"I don't need to check facts," she said. "I know what I think, and Obama is a lying crook."

And that was that: the factuality of the Prayer Day cancellation still stood in her mind. Which to me is almost amazing.

Of course facts are facts--they are not liberal or conservative. So to a certain degree I had already given up epistemological ground by accepting her assertion that facts could be Democratic or Republican. But what to do? What's the use of even verifying facts in a cultural climate where people "know what they think"?

But actually this has only been part of the fun of my time here. Because suddenly this week my uncle, a retired oral surgeon and disturbed wingnut in his own right, has begun battering my email Inbox with forward after forward about what a disaster the Obama presidency has been and how I had better change my mind quick and vote Romney. I get about five of these Fwds a day from him, and they are all of similar caliber--which is to say, somewhere between BB and pellet size. Besides which I get exactly the same Fwds from him as I do from Mom, which means I have to delete everything in duplicate. Yes, I was going to follow a similar principal of non-engagement with the uncle, but finally last night I succumbed to replying after receiving this Fwd (which, in fact, my mother had previously forwarded me sometime last year!):

Fwd: Beware of Obama working for the downfall of America‏  

I hope those who supported Obama in 2008 will read this. He is dangerous to this country and I don't believe there is anything he won't do to get elected again and I mean ANYTHING! I am very concerned.

This is the second well known scholar that I have read who has had, basicially, the same opinion!   

Israeli Psychologist On Obama

Be sure to read all the way to the end. I googled this man and did some reading about him. He is for real. Dr. Sam Vaknin is an Israeli psychologist. Interesting view on our  president. Dr Vaknin has written extensively about narcissism.

Obama's language, posture and demeanor are clear indicators, says Vaknin

Dr. Vaknin States "I must confess I was impressed by Sen. Barack Obama from the first time I saw him. At first I was excited to see a black candidate. He looked youthful, spoke well, appeared to be confident - a wholesome presidential package. I was put off soon, not just because of his shallowness but also because there was an air of haughtiness in his demeanor that was unsettling. His posture and his body language were louder than his empty words.

Obama's speeches are unlike any political speech we have heard in American history. Never a politician in this land had such quasi "religious" impact on so many people.. The fact that Obama is a total incognito with zero accomplishment, makes this inexplicable infatuation alarming. Obama is not an ordinary man. He is not a genius. In fact he is quite ignorant on most important subjects." Barack Obama is a narcissist.

Dr. Sam Vaknin, the author of the Malignant Self Love believes "Barack Obama appears to be a narcissist." Vaknin is a world authority on narcissism. He understands narcissism and describes the inner mind of a narcissist like no other person. When he talks about narcissism everyone listens. Vaknin says that Obama's language, posture and demeanor, and the testimonies of his closest, dearest and nearest suggest that the Senator is either a narcissist or he may have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Narcissists project a grandiose but false image of themselves. Jim Jones, the charismatic leader of People's Temple , the man who led over 900 of his followers to cheerfully commit mass suicide and even murder their own children was also a narcissist. David Koresh, Charles Manson, Joseph Koni, Shoko Asahara, Stalin, Saddam, Mao, Kim Jong Ill and Adolph Hitler are a few examples of narcissists of our time. All these men had a tremendous influence over their fanciers. They created a personality cult around themselves and with their blazing speeches elevated their admirers, filled their hearts with enthusiasm and instilled in their minds a new zest for life. They gave them hope! They promised them the moon, but alas, invariably they brought them to their doom.

When you are a victim of a cult of personality, you don't know it until it is too late. One determining factor in the development of NPD is childhood abuse. "Obama's early life was decidedly chaotic and replete with traumatic and mentally bruising dislocations," says Vaknin. "Mixed-race marriages were even less common then. His parents went through a divorce when he was an infant (two years old). Obama saw his father only once again, before he died in a car accident. Then his mother re-married and Obama had to relocate to Indonesia , a foreign land with a radically foreign culture, to be raised by a step-father. At the age of ten, he was whisked off to live with his maternal (white)grandparents. He saw his mother only intermittently in the following few years and then she vanished from his life in 1979. She died of cancer in 1995".

One must never underestimate the manipulative genius of pathological narcissists. They project such an imposing personality that it overwhelms those around them. Charmed by the charisma of the narcissist, people become like clay in his hands. They cheerfully do his bidding and delight to be at his service. The narcissist shapes the world around himself and reduces others in his own inverted image. He creates a cult of personality. His admirers become his co-dependents Narcissists have no interest in things that do not help them to reach their personal objective. They are focused on one thing alone and that is power. All other issues are meaningless to them and they do not want to waste their precious time on trivialities.

Anything that does not help them is beneath them and do not deserve their attention. If an issue raised in the Senate does not help Obama in one way or another, he has no interest in it. The "present" vote is a safe vote. No one can criticize him if things go wrong. Those issues are unworthy by their very nature because they are not about him.

Obama's election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review led to a contract and advance to write a book about race relations. The University of Chicago Law School provided him a lot longer than expected and at the end it evolved into, guess what? His own autobiography! Instead of writing a scholarly paper focusing on race relations, for which he had been paid, Obama could not resist writing about his most sublime self. He entitled the book Dreams from My Father. Not surprisingly, Adolph Hitler also wrote his own autobiography when he was still nobody. So did Stalin.

For a narcissist no subject is as important as his own self. Why would he waste his precious time and genius writing about insignificant things when he can write about such an august being as himself? Narcissists are often callous and even ruthless As the norm, they lack conscience. This is evident from Obama's lack of interest in his own brother who lives on only one dollar per month. A man who lives in luxury, who takes a private jet to vacation in Hawaii, and who has raised nearly half a billion dollars for his campaign (something unprecedented in history) has no interest in the plight of his own brother. Why? Because, his brother cannot be used for his ascent to power. A narcissist cares for no one but himself.

This election is like no other in the history of America . The issues are insignificant compared to what is at stake. What can be more dangerous than having a man bereft of conscience, a serial liar, and one who cannot distinguish his fantasies from reality as the leader of the free world? I hate to sound alarmist, but one is a fool if one is not alarmed. Many politicians are narcissists. They pose no threat to others...They are simply self serving and selfish. Obama evidences symptoms of pathological narcissism, which is different from the run-of-the-mill narcissism of a Richard Nixon or a Bill Clinton for example. To him reality and fantasy are intertwined.

This is a mental health issue, not just a character flaw. Pathological narcissists are dangerous because they look normal and even intelligent. It is this disguise that makes them treacherous. Today the Democrats have placed all their hopes in Obama. But this man could put an end to their party. The great majority of blacks have also decided to vote for Obama. Only a fool does not know that their support for him is racially driven. This is racism, pure and simple. The downside of this is that if Obama turns out to be the disaster I predict, he will cause widespread resentment among the whites. The blacks are unlikely to give up their support of their man. Cultic mentality is pernicious and unrelenting. They will dig their heads deeper in the sand and blame Obama's detractors of racism. This will cause a backlash among the whites. The white supremacists will take advantage of the discontent and they will receive widespread support.

I predict that in less than four years, racial tensions will increase to levels never seen since the turbulent 1960's. Obama will set the clock back decades... America is the bastion of freedom. The peace of the world depends on the strength of America , and its weakness translates into the triumph of terrorism and victory of rogue nations. It is no wonder that Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, the Castroists, the Hezbollah, the Hamas, the lawyers of the Guantanamo terrorists and virtually all sworn enemies of America are so thrilled by the prospect of their man in the White House. America is on the verge of destruction. There is no insanity greater than electing a pathological narcissist as president.

My reply to this subtly argued article:

Thanks for sending this. Really an interesting article!!! I mean, it doesn't matter so much that Dr. Sam Vaknin is not actually an Israeli psychologist, as the article claims in its first paragraph. It doesn't matter because, well, in fact Sam Vaknin didn't write the article. So it's kind of a moot point whether or not he's qualified to write the article, since it was actually written by someone else. But that just makes it more INTERESTING!!!

Actually, as far as Republican email forwards go, this article is on the more factual side than most. Why? Because there really is an Israeli man named Sam Vaknin. I mean, unlike most of the forwards you send out, the article here cites an actual expert who exists.

(HELPFUL NOTE: It would be a further great advancement in reliability if beyond citing existing people, these Republican email forwards also (at least sometimes) cited things the people actually said or wrote, instead of just making things up. Maybe in 2016 some Republicans emailers will start to get the knack of this, I don't know.)

(But on second thought, since as of now more than 80% of these forwards are woven of completely fictional quotes and totally invented numbers and statistics, 2016 might be a bit early to expect that much. But it's always good to have goals!)

This article had a strong impact on me, really. And I'll tell you why. After clearly stating that Obama is a narcissist, the article went on to point out: "David Koresh, Charles Manson, Joseph Koni, Shoko Asahara, Stalin, Saddam, Mao, Kim Jong Ill and Adolph Hitler are a few examples of narcissists of our time. All these men had a tremendous influence over their fanciers."

Wow. That's really scary. I mean, I get the implication here. Namely: 1) if Obama is a narcissist, and 2) these other people are ALSO narcissists, then 3) Obama is maybe not a Harvard graduate and democratically elected leader but is actually a psychopathic killer or totalitarian dictator!!!!

Notice that 1 - 2 - 3 that I used there. How I figured it out by clear logic. You see, we Obama supporters aren't so dumb as you say. We can use logic and even follow the difficult logic in academic articles like this one you just sent me. (Well, not "academic" actually because, well, as I noted, Sam Vaknin isn't really a doctor. But the man EXISTS. And that's a plus when you're trying to cite people. If only Vaknin were the person who wrote the article, you'd be getting close to the very lowest basic journalistic standards. But don't worry! You're getting there! As I said, this article is closer than most of the stuff you forward me.)

So, to sum up-- I GET IT. The truth is I'm actually a "fancier" of a dangerous totalitarian narcissist. I'm under his SPELL, like a zombie following blindly to the site of my own dismemberment. It's a bloodbath coming, and I'm too dumb to see it. And these four years so far, these four years of slightly left-of-center politics, well, they are actually just a kind of SINISTER LURE leading us into the coming bloodbath at the hands of a Stalinist Muslim psychopathic narcissist who's out to make Jim Jones and Charles Manson look like Ernie and Burt.

I really want to thank you. I learned some valid and very interesting points from this article, as I also did from those excellent and sometimes grammatically correct articles you sent me from the page called AMERICAN THINKER that is so well written and edited. You've proven to me that American thinker's still exist out there!!!!! Yes, American thinker's.

I assure you, Uncle Web, these links you send me, every single one of them, only further convince me as to what I should do November 6. They are so UTTERLY RELIABLE and FACTUALLY GROUNDED that when I read them I find I have an ever more pressing urge to separate what is factual from what is utter ranting paranoid third-grade nonsense. Because not doing so would be to allow dangerous paranoid crazies further say in the running of our country. And none of us want that!!!

You know, at first I wasn't going to respond to your political forwards--kind of a recent policy of mine--but I finally decided to because, well, you send JUST SO MANY OF THEM!!! It just isn't right to get so many letters and not respond at all. So thanks again!!!! And thanks too for pointing out a few emails back that my support for Obama meant I probably need a brain transplant. I HAD NO IDEA. You even offered to set up an appointment for me.

Wishing I Were an "American Thinker" Too,


This letter is really the best I'm willing to do in terms of avuncular courtesy, given the circumstances of my needed brain transplant, etc., etc.

Tonight it's Clinton's speech, so I'll probably be hearing about Lewinsky a lot--that major late 20th century figure of Western political history.


Political art by my mother, who at 70 has developed impressive Photoshop skills. Most of her work is not political. You can see it at AgelessAndEvergreen.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Romney-Ryan Bible Revisions, #6: The Rich Man and Lazarus

From Minutes: Scripture Meeting, 8/22/12

Rmny: This passage here, Luke 16:19-21, definitely sends the wrong message. The rich guy actually ends up begging from the poor guy!

Ryan: I know that passage.

Secty: We can change it. But how would you like to change it?

Rmny: Just do the usual. It's unrealistic the way it is.

Secty: OK, I should be able to get it on your desk by tomorrow.

* * *

Luke 16:19-21 Revised and Corrected in Line with Romney-Ryan Policies

Jesus: There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The rich man died and was carried away by the Angels to be with Abraham. The poor man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with the rich man by his side.

He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send the rich man to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.'

But Abraham said: 'Remember during your lifetime how you lay by the gate with the dogs, while the rich man worked in finance and built himself a fortune. Have you never heard the saying Necessity is the mother of invention?'

Lazarus said, 'But Father Abraham, people would not hire me for my sores, and I suffered madness.'

Abraham said, 'Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us. There is nothing we can do for you now.'

Lazarus said, 'Then, father, I beg you, send the rich man to my friends to warn them. Perhaps they can find some means to gather a fortune and so avoid these flames.'

Abraham said, 'They have Ayn Rand; they should read The Fountainhead.'

Lazarus said, 'No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they would understand.'

Abraham said, 'If they are not convinced by Ayn Rand, neither will they be convinced even if a rich man rises from the dead.'


Sunday, August 26, 2012

I support gay rights; I'm against gay marriage

Since coming of age in the 1980s, I have always vocally supported advances in gay and lesbian rights, especially advances in their visibility in society. I strongly believe gays and lesbians should be able to be "out" and comfortable with it in the public sphere. As a teacher of children and teens, I have used the classroom to defuse prejudices against gays and lesbians, doing my best to bring children to understand that homosexuality is an innate trait and that homosexuals deserve the same respect as anyone else. Now that the question of same-sex marriage has become so contested in America--with our president stating his support for it and with most of my friends elated that he has--I feel compelled to clarify my own thinking. In fact I am against legalizing same-sex marriage. In a few paragraphs I will try to explain why. 

But can I do so, I wonder, without drifting into the usual arguments--all the tired bromides one hears from conservatives: that heterosexual marriage is "natural," that it is "long-established," that there's "no basis in history" for homosexual marriage--thus no basis for claiming it as a right being denied? Will I be able to avoid repeating what has already been said elsewhere? 

In fact, regardless of how tired or shallow these arguments may seem, I think some of them represent serious issues. Though I have differences with many conservatives arguing against gay marriage, certain of the problems they raise are valid. 

"In our culture marriage is defined as a union between one man and one woman." Anyone who's followed the debate has heard this sentence a hundred times or more, but not often enough is the basis of the statement made clear. Our understanding of marriage as Americans is grounded not only in Judeo-Christianity, but also in the longstanding practices of all Western cultures, reaching back to antiquity. Among the ancient cultures especially important for our own was of course that of Greece, where homosexual relations were normal and highly respected. But even there, in ancient Greece, which often glorified homosexual love--even there marriage was considered as strictly heterosexual. Proponents of same-sex marriage might ask themselves why.

The understanding of marriage as heterosexual has been uniform across all the cultures we descend from, so this phrase as to how "we define marriage" is not simply a Christian ideology stating itself--no, it is a universal human fact. 

There have been many cultures that offered space to homosexual relations, but in world history, across the vast network of cultural differences, the number of cultures that have accepted gay marriages of any kind could be counted on two fingers. Cultures that have recognized anything like gay marriage (and always with restrictions) are about as common as cultures that have accepted first-sibling marriage. We are talking about a phenomenon that counts for perhaps .0001% of marriages over history. This should tell us something about the function of marriage not simply in Christian or Jewish or Western pagan culture, but in humanity as a whole. Marriage is a bond effected between the sexes.

To break this basic heterosexual meaning of marriage is to undergo a major cultural shift. Proponents have presented it as the extension of a basic right to a currently denied minority, similar in this respect to the extension of voting rights to women. As women are citizens who should have the same voting rights men have, so gays and lesbians fall in love and should have the same marriage rights heterosexuals have. But I find that this argument relies on a false parallel. Because allowing same-sex marriage is not really a matter of extending a currently denied right; it is not a matter of enfranchising a larger number of people. Rather, recognizing gay marriage is to change the meaning of marriage per se, and to change it in an unprecedented way.

Strictly speaking, a right is not being denied in any case. There is no law on our books that states a gay man cannot marry. Rather, given the heterosexual nature of marriage, gay men and lesbian women are not inclined to marry. To marry, after all, entails a particular kind of bond with a member of the opposite sex, which would of course conflict with homosexual orientation. Disinclined to exercise their right to marry, they nonetheless retain that right.

This kind of argument may sound callous, but it should not be misconstrued. I am not suggesting that homosexuals try to change their orientation and seek marriage with opposite-sex partners. No, I believe they must live and create relationships according to their desires. The point of raising the question of rights here is rather to clarify that, strictly speaking, all adults already have the same right to marry. In my state of Wisconsin, as a man, I can marry any unmarried woman who is not close family. A gay man has precisely this same right. That he is disinclined to exercise this right is not to the point. Claims that gay and lesbian rights have been denied are thus a misrepresentation. Individual disinclination to marriage is what is at issue here, and such disinclination, legitimate as it is, is different from the issue of the right in question. Strictly speaking, a right has not been denied. What same-sex marriage supporters want is not the same rights heterosexuals have (they already have these rights); no, what they really want is to change the meaning of marriage.

This basic distinction about rights should also make clear why the oft-heard comparison of the same-sex marriage movement to the civil rights movement is false.

But I want to return to the history of cultures, which after all puts the issue in its proper deep perspective. We must not forget that anthropologists have long sought a universal meaning for marriage--i.e., one that would apply to all world cultures that have been studied--and that the data gathered over the decades has been enormous. What have we learned from these many decades of study? One salient feature emerges: in all world cultures marriage relates to the conception and legitimation of children. Marriage, in its deepest cultural sense, is an imprimatur given by society for the right to bring forth a new generation. It is not so much a romantic contract between two people as it is a ritualization of the facts of human generation--the biological facts. Marriage is the way culture assimilates the difference between male and female as these pertain to bringing children into the world.

Marriage, then, is everywhere the founding relationship of future generations. On a ground of love and responsibility between the sexes, it provides the possibility of giving birth to children to be raised in the cradle of this love. That children have both a mother and father raising them is not necessary of course, but the Western institution of marriage rightly sees this as the ideal. After all, it is physically a mother and father who must conceive every child. Given the chaos of social life and the varied environments in which children end up being raised, we tend to forget that every single human being in history, gay or straight, has had exactly one mother and one father. Marriage sanctifies this biological fact; it is both fount and protector of new life. There is no worthy reason to depart from the universal human practice and only now, in the twenty-first century, bring different kinds of relationship within the borders of what is called marriage.

Though grounded in biology and the facts of childbearing, marriage currently exists in many people's minds as a kind of romantic contract. But this understanding of marriage as romantic contract is peculiarly modern and does not do justice to marriage's cultural depth--to its depth and meaning even in our postmodern society. What's more, our modern understanding based on romance is also, as many scholars have noted, responsible for the serial monogamy we now see in America: people marrying two, three or even more times in as many decades and thus undermining the vow of marriage as permanent.

As pointed out above, even the cultures that normalized or glorified homosexual relations, such as that of ancient Greece, never made a move toward instituting same-sex marriage. Now we can see why. Marriage is and has always been a ritualization of the difference between male and female as this difference pertains to the raising of the next generation. To change this basic understanding is to change much more than our thinking about what kinds of adult love are acceptable. 

I do not by any means think homosexuality is an acquired habit or a psychological perversion to be ashamed of. Most people who define themselves as homosexuals were born as such. Nonetheless, if one thinks in terms of the institution of marriage, homosexuality must be acknowledged as a problematic outcome in individual sexual development. 

I do not believe homosexuals can or should be "cured". Those who can be cured are probably not strongly homosexual to begin with. I do not believe homosexuals should be ashamed to be oriented as they are. Even so, again, homosexuality represents a problematic difference from the norm. 

Given that in all cultures sex is hedged about with rituals and restrictions (i.e., sex is inherently problematic) it should be no surprise that many cultures have seen homosexuality as problematic. In a society like ours, that claims to value all its members, the best we can expect is to develop ways to live with the difference that is homosexuality so that the least victimization results. The extreme positions we see now, however (traditionalists insisting that zero social recognition be given homosexual couples, liberals demanding that they be offered the title of marriage) do not seem to me to accomplish this goal. I believe both extremes are off-base, and hope, ultimately, that neither wins the day. 

American society has for the most part learned to treat gays and lesbians with respect. This does not mean, however, that gays and lesbians have the right to fundamentally alter social institutions to fit their difference. It is unfortunate, but homosexuality, the result of an individual's sexual development, brings with it certain limitations when the issue is marriage. These limitations should not be imposed on the whole of society; or, to put it another way, the difference that is homosexuality should not be legislated away, final costs to be paid by the heterosexual institution of marriage. 

To be gay does not stop one from being a genius. Or from being a hero. Or from being a model of ethical action. It does not stop one from being brave. 

It does, however, make it very difficult to marry. Because marriage is between male and female. To say so is not to make a value judgment about different kinds of erotic love, but simply to state a fact.

 It is a fact supported by the entire documented history of humanity.

I might also approach this issue from another angle, starting from a common criticism one hears from those supporting same-sex marriage, namely: "What gives you the right to decide that love between a man and a woman is better than love between a man and a man? Why judge some kinds of love to be better than others?" In fact my argument doesn't depend on this kind of judgment at all. The dignity of marriage isn't grounded in an assessment of this or that kind of love relation. Rather, it is grounded in the ancient social recognition that offspring result from male/female relations and that these offspring must be integrated into the social fabric. Marriage is the social contract that all cultures have solemnized to effect this integration. It is the basis of the transition between generations. As such, marriage has precisely nothing to do with any erotic relations that may develop between men and men or women and women.

There are many people who would acknowledge some of my points here, but who would finally want to stop with definitions and history and such and simply say: "But same-sex marriage--at the end of the day, who is hurt by it? Are heterosexual couples in any way threatened by allowing their lesbian neighbors to share the same social status 'married'?" 

My answer would be that there are some social changes that do not bring immediate problems for those who witness them--they do not threaten the people down the block, say--but that will nonetheless cause problems over the course of generations. 

Changing the meaning of marriage in the way proposed further weakens marriage as the institution ensuring new generations, and may lead to the irrelevance of marriage as such. Many people will balk at this assertion, I know, but it is not mere rhetoric. Such a change would represent a further shift away from biological meaning toward romantic contract, and, happening now, may be enough finally to sink an institution already battered by the phenomena of serial monogamy (easy divorce and remarriage in our society) and increasing out-of-wedlock births. I think it is no coincidence that these things are happening at the same time that same-sex marriage is gaining ground. All are instances of a current cultural disrespect for marriage in its deeper meaning.

A ritual that does not effect a union across the basic male-female division cannot be called a marriage. To call a relationship between two men a marriage is to stretch the meaning of marriage to breaking point: it becomes no longer a ritualization of sexual difference, ultimately grounded in procreation, but rather, as I've indicated, entirely a matter of romantic contract. Marriage loses its radical depth, which is that of biology, the most basic ground of human generation. 

Those who think legalizing same-sex marriage would have no impact on the status of marriage in general need only consider our neighbors to the north. When gay marriage became legal in Canada in 2005, legislators were faced with a problem they hadn't foreseen, a linguistic conundrum of sorts. All laws on Canada's books had been worded with heterosexual marriage in mind, the status quo up to that point, and thus contained language that didn't match the newly enacted reality on the ground. In an article in the the journal Touchstone, Douglas Farrow explains how Canada got out of this snag:

In its consequential amendments section, Bill C-38 struck out the language of "natural parent," "blood relationship," etc., from all Canadian laws. Wherever they were found, these expressions were replaced with "legal parent," "legal relationship," and so forth.

That was strictly necessary. . . . [T]he state's goal, as directed by its courts, was to assure absolute equality for same-sex couples. The problem? Same-sex couples could be parents, but not parents of common children. Granting them adoption rights could not fully address the difference. Where natural equality was impossible, however, formal or legal equality was required. To achieve it, "heterosexual marriages" had to be conformed in law to "homosexual marriages."
Farrow eloquently analyzes the implications of this subtle legal change. Not only is a crucial element of the meaning of marriage removed from Canada's law books (namely the biological link between parents and child) but what comes to fill the void thus created is none other than the power of the state:
[Marriage becomes] nothing other than a legal construct. Its roots run no deeper than positive law. It therefore cannot present itself to the state as the bearer of independent rights and responsibilities, as older or more basic than the state itself. Indeed, it is a creature of the state, generated by the state's assumption of the power of invention or re-definition. Which changes everything.
Farrow interestingly points out that this issue is generally ignored by both proponents and opponents of gay marriage. In fact only legal scholars would be likely to notice it as a problem in the first place. It is but one example of how redefining something as fundamental as marriage can bring unintended and potentially far-reaching consequences--in this case giving the state expanded jurisdiction over both families and the meaning of basic words like "parent" and "child".

The legalization of gay marriage would certainly impact our schools as well. Though our education system has rightly rethought issues of gender orientation in the classroom--teachers no longer code interests or subjects as especially "for boys" or "for girls"--one can easily imagine such efforts going overboard and leading to a kind of reverse-victimization. Whereas now our teachers correctly try to prevent boys from bullying others who show feminine characteristics, it's easy to foresee a time when teachers will be expected to bully boys who behave, well, like boys. Think this is unlikely? Well, take a look at the importance "gender-neutral education" has recently acquired in Sweden, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.

Swedish ideas of a gender-neutral classroom fit into a wider national movement to do away with traditional ideas of male and female, which are seen as impediments to individual development. Swedish "gender activists" do not simply seek equality between men and women (Sweden is already seen as a world leader in such respects) but actually the erasure of differences between men and women. As a recent piece in Slate makes clear, many Swedes think it is best if such erasure begins in the classroom:
Several preschools have banished references to pupils' genders, instead referring to children by their first names or as "buddies." So, a teacher would say "good morning, buddies" or "good morning, Lisa, Tom, and Jack" rather than, "good morning, boys and girls." They believe this fulfills the national curriculum's guideline that preschools should "counteract traditional gender patterns and gender roles" and give girls and boys "the same opportunities to test and develop abilities and interests without being limited by stereotypical gender roles."
Though I agree that girls and boys should have such opportunities, I am put off by the idea that some schools have "banished references to pupils' genders". This is, however, just the beginning of the sort of invasive gender-deprogramming to be expected once such movements gain traction. Swedish gender activists have also promoted a gender-neutral pronoun, hen, to replace the traditional pronouns for he and she. Such a neutral pronoun is no doubt useful, allowing one to write "A good driver keeps hens eyes on the road" instead of the more cumbersome "A good driver keeps his or her eyes on the road"--but usefulness is not the main reason the pronoun is being promoted. It is being used, rather, to replace the gendered pronouns he and she, as in "Lisa is a good student. Hen always does hens homework." In this sentence there is no stylistic reason to use hen instead of she; there is, however, a very heavy-handed ideological reason. Identifying Lisa linguistically as a girl suggests that the fact she was born of the female sex has some bearing on how she develops: it suggests that her femaleness is part of her identity. Gender activists think it shouldn't be.

The Slate piece, which is worth reading in full, ends by suggesting some of the difficulties in the offing for these attempts to "reform" Swedish education:
Ironically, in the effort to free Swedish children from so-called normative behavior, gender-neutral proponents are also subjecting them to a whole set of new rules and new norms as certain forms of play become taboo, language becomes regulated, and children's interactions and attitudes are closely observed by teachers. One Swedish school got rid of its toy cars because boys "gender-coded" them and ascribed the cars higher status than other toys. Another preschool removed "free playtime" from its schedule because, as a pedagogue at the school put it, when children play freely "stereotypical gender patterns are born and cemented. In free play there is hierarchy, exclusion, and the seed to bullying." And so every detail of children's interactions gets micromanaged by concerned adults, who end up problematizing minute aspects of children's lives, from how they form friendships to what games they play and what songs they sing.
Americans may wonder why a whole nation, in this case the Swedes, would ever let such a misguided clique of ideologues take over the education of their children. The Swedes, in fact, are vigorously debating these changes. But still, how is it that a wide sector of mainstream Swedish society came to accept such ideas in the first place? The answer, I think, has something to do with the indefatigable energy of gender activists.

The stigma previously attached to homosexuality has caused great pain for gays and lesbians, and many have understandably been pushed into an almost feverish need to normalize their status in society, to defeat at whatever cost the dominant culture of "heterosexism". Their efforts have had some success. In Western universities over the past thirty years, via the often radicalized curricula of gender and cultural studies, many educated people, heterosexuals among them, have learned to think of socially accepted sex roles as a kind of oppressive and unnatural system, an ideologically grounded system of domination. The more "progressive" approach suggested in many of these university courses, the more enlightened way to deal with the sexual dyad of male and female, is to do one's best to erase it: to suppose there is really no normal way to be male and female, that all gender roles are just "cultural constructs", and usually wrong constructs at that. The world would be a better place, many have come to believe, if the next generation could be raised without any notions of male and female at all: children could then grow up free to be what they really are--hen.

It should be no surprise to anyone, while we're on the subject of oppressive ideologies, that a disproportionately large percentage of the scholarly work supporting these views was written by gay and lesbian academics. Though I think some of their insights have merit, I would suggest that the impetus to their efforts was mainly personal. Working through university departments, they struggled both to theorize their own place in the world and to find a route of escape from the burden of their difference. So what if the route of escape they finally discovered entailed remaking the whole of society? They set to work building the movement. Their goal? To do away with the very idea of normal sexual development.

While I sympathize with gays and lesbians for the bigotry they've suffered, I don't support this theory-based quest against heterosexual norms. I don't support it because I see what happens once it gains traction--once, that is, the critique of normal gender development becomes ascendant in important areas like education. Forged on university campuses, the movement is soon making education policy in elementary schools. Its supporters are, as I've said, indefatigable, and their goal is nothing less than to transform society. Thus it soon can become official education policy that boys acting like boys and girls acting like girls is somehow wrong; that children need to be carefully monitored to prevent "heterosexist" tendencies from taking root. This is what is happening in Sweden, and it is clearly a kind of reverse-victimization. Children who develop normally must be victimized, they must be quickly deprogrammed, in order to ensure that the ensuing social order won't make gays and lesbians feel left out. (A further disturbing example of how enthusiastic some parents have become about this brave new "gender-free" world can be seen here.)

If there is such a thing as normal sexual development (and I think there is, although we can only define it in rough and imprecise ways) then the five or eight percent who do not develop according to this norm will inevitably, in some instances, feel just that--left out. The best that a just society can do about this is, first, to keep from stigmatizing them and, second, to give them space and freedom to develop in their way. Many on the American fringe (think Westboro Baptist Church) show absolutely no sense of the required justice. But while America still has a ways to go in respecting the dignity of homosexuals, this does not mean that homosexuals have a right to remake our culture according to their own difference. This is why, in terms of marriage, I am against legalization. What we need instead is a compromise that both respects marriage and gives space to gays and lesbians.

One suggested compromise that does just that was formulated by Ryan T. Anderson and Sherif Girgis in 2009. Anderson and Girgis refer to the two sides of the marriage debate as "revisionists" and "traditionalists". They presented their work initially in response to a previous compromise, published in the New York Times, that they believed gave too much to revisionists and too little to traditionalists. Specifically, and on this I agree with them, they stated that traditionalists would never support any definition of civil unions that could make them a steppingstone to legalizing same-sex marriage. Such attempts, they pointed out, had already been made in two state courts. The problem is that once a state defines civil unions in sexual or romantic terms, cases may be raised arguing that such "second-class marriages" are unjust because they are obvious instances of "separate but equal" institutions. The state is then cornered into enacting same-sex marriage.

The Anderson-Girgis compromise suggests creation of a type of civil union between two adults that is not defined in sexual or romantic terms, but that offers most of the substantive benefits offered to married couples. Such unions would be recognized by the federal government and would be supported by traditionalists as part of a trade off. The trade off is that revisionists, those now arguing for gay marriage, would have to desist from attempts to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. DOMA, a US federal law signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, has been challenged on grounds that it is unconstitutional.

Although I am not keen on some of the formulations in Anderson and Girgis' original presentation of their compromise (some of their language seems to me needlessly slighting of homosexual relationships) I agree with them in general. Their proposal accomplishes the essential: it defends marriage as it's currently defined; it gives space and a degree of dignity to gay and lesbian couples. But although I can imagine most traditionalists supporting such a proposal, would the gay and lesbian community do so? I find myself doubting it. And the reason, I have to admit, relates to that indefatigable character of gay activism I noted above: it seems that what gay and lesbian activists really seek is not so much the tangible rights of marriage as the complete obliteration of any notion in mainstream society that they are not normal.

However the battle develops in the coming years, I think it is obvious that marriage traditionalists must, at the very least, hold to something like the Anderson-Girgis compromise if marriage is to be defended.


I admit that I hesitated writing up this piece and posting it. I did not want to offend. I think many Americans now find themselves in a position similar to mine on this issue. They've been supportive of gay and lesbian rights and understand that being homosexual is not a "choice". What's more, they welcome a world in which gays and lesbians can be open about who they are. But now these same Americans, who've accepted the reality of homosexuality, see the gay and lesbian community attempting to change the definition of marriage. They're deeply against redefining marriage this way, but don't know how to proceed. They're having trouble stating their opposition to such a change, because they don't want to seem intolerant of gay and lesbian friends, coworkers, family members, etc. Though they might have a clear position on what marriage is, they are trapped by their sensitivity to gays and lesbians from stating it.

In short, many Americans, at present, are hushed. Doubtless the gay and lesbian community is partly depending on this cowed silence of the majority to push through same-sex marriage. I don't think they can be blamed for trying. They've suffered much, and for them, the cost of changing the meaning of marriage is worth it. I don't however think that it is worth it for America as a whole.

Americans need to find the courage to fight for marriage. They must do so while showing respect for gays and lesbians. It doesn't show either hatred of homosexuals or intolerance or backwardness to argue that gay marriage represents a harmful modification of a millennia-old institution. Marriage long predates the current legal arrangements under which we live in our democracy. It is prior to the state, more fundamental than the state, and we should not allow the state to fundamentally change its meaning.

Homosexuals have the right to develop their relationships as they like; they have the freedom to do so. This does not mean, however, that they have the right to impose their redefinition of marriage on the whole American population. Marriage is and has always been a relationship between man and woman. We would be wise to keep it that way.

Eric Mader

Comments on an earlier version of this article posted May 20, 2012 can be seen below. An index of my further posts on this topic and rebuttals I have received can be found here. --E.M.

FROM Steve:


I recognize your three primary arguments, although vastly more nuanced and spoken with empathy towards the LGBT community, as not anything I haven't heard here in the South.

Let me start by refuting the part of your argument which I will call "the slippery slope" argument. The core of that argument is that if such a change in "marriage license requirements" as set by the state were to happen, the implications for other aspects of long standing law could have perverse, potentially dangerous, and certainly more pervasive government intrusion into the private affairs of people. Although I do understand there are risks associated with these possible implications, I find the argument specious. Mainly for the simple reason that legal statutes are changed, modified, interpreted and reinterpreted so often and with or without and legal criteria it is as if statutory law is malleable and without foundation if one brings enough legal and monetary fire power to a statutory la. So my answer to that argument is "so what"? Sure there'd be implications, but in the end, there always are, just as there were when women were elevated to "legal adult" status, or black ancestry was elevated to human status.

Your larger argument and the thrust of your argument was that marriage is steeped in historical "pre-government" status. I would argue that it was even pre-Christian, pre-language. That however is also not an argument that stands up to a deeper understanding of "the law" as it functions today. Marriage is either a special, holy, historically derived, agreement between two people (sanctified by a God, a group, or a power yet to be seen at a podium that can read a teleprompter). Or marriage is a license, issued by the government that provides certain legal rights to the qualified applicants. If it is the first, then there is no need for government to authorize, sanctify, or provide any reason to regulate it. Because it is made between two people and their "whatever". If it is the latter, then the qualifications for such a license as compared to the benefits enured by the possessor of such a license are of valid concern. Does it matter if they are of a certain age? Does it matter if they are a certain race? Does it matter if one party has a vagina and the other penis? And by the virtue of such paired genitalia, does this automatically mean that a private entity called "medical insurance" stands correct to deny medical insurance based on the contract "of licensure" called a Marriage Certificate? If this was merely an issue of medical insurance, this would be easy to fix. But it is not. There are all kinds of legal benefits that enure to the possessor of this "fishing license" known as a marriage certificate. And it is my opinion that the state should not be in the mixing of the first argument (historical reasoning) with the second. And invariably, once you mix these notions up - Christians in particular get confused about the difference between statutory law, and their belief in God's laws.

Your final argument is that once this happens, the evidence is that countries then feel an obligation to make everything gender neutral. I hear you brother. Except this is the same overreach that the "stop gay marriage" folks are doing by blocking marriage licenses from consenting adults. The social engineering may happen, but reasonable people will have to block that too. Not because it is immoral, or against history or a God, but because it doesn't serve our humanity. However, giving consenting adults a licensure within the culture will have no discernible impact on those who look to marriage as a construct that derives its meaning from many things, other than the license issued by the state.

I welcome your reply.



Thanks for the lengthy reply. Just as you say my arguments do, yours too take up positions I've heard before . . . in the North.

I find that your points hold together logically, and you obviously have the confidence in your position to deliver them in a hard-hitting way. You've spent time debating the issue with thoughtful people. My problem is as follows: It seems to me that your position holds together logically only because it deploys language that misconstrues what marriage is in our culture. You'll have to bear with me while I sort out our differences on this point.

I'll try to answer your main argument first, which is based on the two "choices" you offer as to how we might see marriage. But before I even begin that, I'd like to suggest a basic concept that I'm sure you'll agree with. Simply put: The question of what marriage essentially is in a given culture can only be answered by how marriage works in that culture. Thus, to give an example, if you want to know what marriage is for a particular tribe in the Amazon forest, you have to ask them what it is, then observe carefully how they practice it: the rules, rituals and expectations, etc. There would be no sense going to the Amazon and telling them: "You guys have it all wrong. Let me tell you what marriage is." I think you can agree with this basic point about defining a cultural practice.

And so: You write that marriage is either A) an "agreement between two people sanctified by a God, a group, or a power yet to be seen at a podium that can read a teleprompter"--in which case it is seen as "special" or "holy"--; or it is B) "a license issued by the government that provides certain legal rights"--in which case, I'm guessing, you'd say it is not seen as "holy". For your argument to hold up, we must choose one of these two as defining marriage.

For me, there are many reasons this either/or doesn't work as a ground from which to make worthwhile points about marriage. To begin with, as I think you'll see if you consider any of the actual marriages you know around you, marriage in our culture is obviously both A and B, so the dichotomy you pose is more or less false. We can't choose either A or B because real marriages are almost always both. I think this scuttles your whole argument.

Instead of dwelling on this problem, however, I'd rather set aside "choice A or B" for the moment and consider instead some of the language you use in your reply--the words you use to describe marriage from the get-go; the things you take to be "obvious" about marriage, but which, maybe, I wouldn't find so obvious. This, I think, is the best way to clarify our differences.

Right at the outset you try to get at the essence of marriage by saying it is "an agreement between two people". I think this fact that you take to be so obvious is crucial to where your argument goes subsequently. Now don't get me wrong here, I don't really disagree with you. Yes, marriage is always, in our America, an "agreement between two people". But still, I find this description only partial, and that if you use it as the definitive one, you will quickly, so to speak, throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In my thinking marriage is not so much an agreement as a status. It is a status shared by two people vis-a-vis society and God. You can even leave God out of it if you like, I think my point still stands. Marriage is not so much between two people as it is, first, between two people and, secondly, between that couple and society. What's more--again even if we leave God out of it--I think we can see here the importance of a kind of "sanctifying" in relation to marriage. Cultures everywhere, ours included, typically affirm the beginning of a couple's married life with a complex ritual. This universality of ritual demonstrates, I think, that marriage has an important communal element. And so I would argue: marriage is not simply an agreement between the two people marrying, and perhaps it is not even essentially such.

When you write that marriage is "sanctified . . . by a group . . . yet to be seen at a podium that can read a teleprompter", I find myself asking what you can possibly mean by "yet to be seen". You yourself chose to use the word "group"--because I think you acknowledge the communal element of marriage. To me it's obvious the pastors or priests or rabbis who perform the majority of marriages in our society do just this "teleprompter reading" when they conduct marriage ceremonies: they do it as spokesperson for the "group": i.e., the community gathered for the event. And they are present and visible. What I'm getting at here is this: Even if you don't believe in the God that is the ground of these religious systems, you still must recognize, anthropologically speaking, that this is a communal ritual meant to confer a certain status on the couple. Further, that the great majority of marriages still happen via these ancient rituals is just more evidence that, as I argue in my essay, the meaning of marriage pre-dates the modern state by a long shot. These rituals reach back centuries or millennia, as you know. Marriage, even our current understanding of marriage, is much older, and more primal, than the mere "registry of marriages" that our state governments provide in city halls across the country.

But then what does it mean to base your support for same-sex marriage on this state-sanctioned aspect of marriage that finds its most tangible form in a mere license (choice B in your dichotomy)? You seem finally to be arguing that marriage is just a matter of "two consenting adults" and "a license". For me, this is such a partial definition as to be almost meaningless. It fatally impoverishes one of the central institutions of our culture. You even choose at one point to evoke a fishing license as a kind of metaphoric parallel to marriage. I know, I know, you'll say that this is because here you're trying to stress the "non-holy" or merely "statutory" aspect of marriage, that in fact this is the whole point of choice B--namely, the state shouldn't "get involved" in issues that relate to the choice A aspect of marriage, the "special" or "holy" aspect. Well, I also believe in separation of church and state, but on this point, I think you're putting the cart before the horse--way before the horse. Because, in America, the state was not founded with a charter to establish the definition of marriage. That definition had already been established by the people the state was founded to serve. Yes, the state's business may have eventually extended to offering "marriage licenses", etc., but this doesn't change the fact: the state had no charter to impose either marriages or divorces upon the citizenry. The only instances otherwise would have been when the state enforced the divorce of accidentally married siblings (I don't know if this has happened in the US) or when the state outlawed Mormon polygamy. But this latter example only further proves my point: the state was there to support monogamous marriage as the only acceptable kind because this is what the American people had recognized from the beginning. In other words, in the Mormon case the state did what it was supposed to: it defended the marriages of the vast majority of citizens against a minority attempting to change the definition to suit their own new practice.

The idea, then, that the state is entitled to change the definition of marriage is wrong. Further, even if a slight majority of citizens were to vote for such a change it would still be wrong. Why so? Because marriage is a status recognized by the community; and in the case of state or federally licensed marriages, one must say: recognized by the community as a whole. Thus if even twenty or thirty percent remain unconvinced that a couple is viably married, this should be decisive in convincing the state not to license such a marriage. The license, after all, is not the marriage itself, but merely a recognition that the community acknowledges the marriage as real. And the community, in this case, is the whole of the citizenry, not a mere majority.

What we have, then, in the case of the "marriage equality" movement is an instance of a minority pressing a) an entirely novel definition of marriage that b) has zero historical precedent, and hoping to get it established in law by c) a majority of Yea votes, while ignoring d) the sizable percentage of Americans that, whether for religious or cultural reasons, will not regard such marriages as real. This, in short, is a serious impasse. And the state shouldn't go there. Because the state's business is only to recognize marriages recognized by the community: it is emphatically not to suggest that certain novel kinds of marriage be recognized by offering to license them.

Aside from the other problems I raise in my essay, I think this problem of tens of millions of American citizens who don't agree with this changed definition should already be enough to decide the issue.

It used to be the case, and doubtless still is in some churches, that the pastor conducting the ceremony would say: "Into this holy estate these two persons now come to be joined. If any person can show just cause why they may not be joined together--let them speak now or forever hold their peace." I think the case of same-sex marriage can be considered from this point of view. There are still far too many people who would stand up and say: "Sorry, but, er, yes, I do have reason these two should not be married. They're of the same sex." You might call this bigotry if you want, and in some cases it certainly is connected with bigotry, but usually it's simply a matter of our culture's idea of what marriage is.

If it some time comes about that 98 percent of the American population believes same-sex couples can be married, then we'd be talking about a different reality and my argument here would lose much of its force. Because 98 percent would amount to communal recognition. But this is nothing like American reality at present. And so I think: case closed.

Perhaps you can see by these remarks why I think your dichotomy A or B can't really support your argument. Marriage in America is both A and B. Anthropologically speaking, the two "choices" can't be separated, so ultimately they aren't choices, and your attempt to argue for same-sex marriage by saying that marriage is mostly B doesn't hold up.

And it doesn't hold up on one further ground as well: If one were pressed to choose which of the two, A or B, the institution of marriage could live without, one would have to choose B. Because choice B, as I've shown, is little more than the state's recognition of a communal reality. It is nothing but a license. It says something about the merits of their arguments that those pushing for same-sex marriage have to lean so heavily on this choice B.

I can't help but feel, Steve, that in many of my remarks above I am not so much arguing against your points as I am raising aspects of marriage you already recognize but that you have decided, in the interests of the same-sex marriage debate, to put aside. You can do this maybe because these aspects don't much matter to you.

You raise some other points, but I won't address them this time as I've already written more than I intended.


FROM James:

It's very thoughtful, Eric. The issue puts all of us at an impasse, and I wonder how we can move forward. Just a few weeks ago, I was called a bigot within my department (because I opposed the forced inclusion of sexually diverse literature in sophomore lit courses). I was asked by the chair and dean to issue a "clarification" of my views, which I did, because I consider myself someone who can be humble and someone who, as Auden says, "If equal affection cannot be / let the more loving one be me." You get the irony there...I'm quoting Auden! Anyway, what a mess. If one is a believer in the scriptures as divinely inspired, and the scriptures speak against homosexual practices, then one shouldn't take these things lightly. As many have pointed out, thousands of years of a standard shouldn't be considered lightly due to cultural shifts. Liberals would try to make us think that there is a direct correlation b/w race and sexuality, and that is a false comparison on many levels. Anyways, I have to get to some things this morning, but I thank you for your thoughtfulness, and I hope you don't catch too much flak for it. Surely, you will. Even though your statement is more liberal than most Christians would allow. You will catch it from both sides. Sexuality is a minor issue compared to many other things of importance to humanity, though I do believe that God's greatest metaphor of his relationship with us is based on that of bride and bridegroom, and when you start messing with the vehicle, the tenor is distorted.

FROM Steve:


I have to admit, your argument is very persuasive. And it has changed me. It has changed my perspective on the views of many of my more socially conservative friends' assertions by providing a deeper construct for what I view is something they have thus far been unable to articulate. Thank you. Going forward, I will be more empathetic to their views, simply because your insight into this matter has provided, for me, a firmament for building a bridge to theirs (yours). Nonetheless, I still think my argument is stronger. Although, my perspective has shifted from one that is clear cut, to one that needs to take into consideration a few deeper perspectives. Bearing your deeper points in mind, let me assert why I think the whole of my argument is still more valid as a matter of public policy.

The thrust of your argument rests on history, culture, and the role of government as it pertains to these concepts, and more to the point, asserts that I am using a trick of language to dodge that core issue. (Which I will confess was my way of avoiding the larger historical argument) It is my view, that history is both a starting point and a point of reference. As is the political appreciation for the concept of ‘the majority’. As I am sure you know, the founders of the American Constitution feared the tyranny of the majority more than the overreach of providing rights to minority interests. In other words, the majority as concept, is often times, and more often than less, not the ideal or even best methodology for determining morality, or even legally ethical standards. So, in my view, reliance on what the majority thinks is not of any value. This is not to say that the majority is never right. It is just not a valid way to determine certain matters, with specific focus being brought to cultural mores as it pertains to legal constructs. I agree that for many, if not for all, the concept of marriage is bigger than a licensure question. And in my view, ever since the John Marshall court in the US, the entire concept of law as it pertains to the citizenry is based on the deeply founded concept of contracts. Contract Law. That is what American law is all about. Starting with the Constitution and moving on down to the issuing of bonds by local municipalities, all rights, privileges and authorities are provided and grounded in contracts. When you blend these two concepts, the concept of protection from tyranny of the majority, with an insistence on contractual law, we are left without any other guidance for how to govern, with the sole exception of cultural, historical, and social precepts derived from a myriad of sources. What this means to me is that we can utilize ‘how things used to be’ to help guide us on how to govern today.

The challenge in utilizing the past as a means for determining how to govern for today, and in to the future is that it too is trapped into a logic of its own making, having its derivations stemming from the past that came before it.

This is why social change is difficult. This is why when social change occurs, government is impotent until the people in government no longer see the challenge and change occurs legally, or the worse route happens when the social order/change overwhelms governance, and we have temporary chaos.

Government is in the business of maintaining, and issuing contracts in the American system. The specific license in dispute is the marriage license, which is issued locally by states. It is not a federal contract. The social change that is upon us is that a minority of our citizenry wants access to the dignity that ‘they believe’ is conferred by issuance of this license to their minority group. By your larger argument, the issuance of this license WILL give them that dignity. It will provide them acceptance into a larger social and societal “pillar” in our culture. And it is this that is the very problem. It is my opinion that government contracts need to be just that. They should not, nor can they in truth, give dignity. And it is this very notion that is at the core of the problem. Only acceptance on a broader societal level can provide dignity and status. This broader dignity is earned by generational shifts and change in our social mores. Which leaves our generation with the challenge of having to balance two truths. The first truth is that from a legal and contractual basis, the marriage license is entered into and out of with such disregard for societal and historical precedence, and carries with it mythological and societal acceptance that it’s value in terms of spirit and culture is significantly more idealized than it is in actual practice. The second truth to be balanced is that legally this particular contract provides a myriad of actual, real world, benefits from private corporations, private entities, and governmental and societal agencies which require it.
When it comes right down to it, marriage licenses today are a contract that provides legal authorization for real world stuff. It also provides social, historical, and deeper meaning to many. That deeper meaning I would argue does not stem from the ‘license’ or contract itself. Since government agency can only be held to account for contractual obligations, and not the larger or deeper meanings of things, the balance of the scale is tipped to the real world.

I’ve been divorced twice now. I can say from my own personal experience that marriage is way more than a contract or a license. It does provide all of the many deeper things that you cited in your argument. But government cannot provide those things. And so in the end, if all the local municipality can provide me with, is a sheet of paper that states that I am qualified to marry, then that is all they should do. And since those qualifications are so low, so easily attainable, I believe it is unwarranted in any jurisprudence to block people with the same genitalia from engaging in that contract. 

I guess what I am saying is, and it is funny to think it, because it is a very modern conservative notion, but I think that the institution of marriage should be privatized. In that way, we remove the government from the determining of how societal mores are executed in real world contractual benefits. In that way, we could have Macy’s marriages, Facebook Marriages, Judeo-Christian Marriages, and Same-Sex Marriages, (and so on) all of which would be contracts that the state would recognize as legally valid, thus providing the contractual benefits to the engaged parties in the contract, while getting the government out of the business of determining what is socially acceptable (on this particular issue).

I look forward to your additional comments Eric.