Desperate Houseflies: The Magazine

Feel free to pull out your trusty fly swatter and comment on what is posted here, realizing that this odd collection of writers may prove as difficult to kill as houseflies and are presumably just as pesky. “Desperate Houseflies” is a magazine that intends to publish weekly articles on subjects such as politics, literature, history, sports, photography, religion, and no telling what else. We’ll see what happens.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Even in Delaware

Check out this article on one Jewish family's struggle to be treated fairly in the Delaware public schools. I didn't talk to the Dobriches directly, but I did talk to the legal director of the Delaware ACLU about the Indian River school district problem when I was at Americans United. This story is the kind of thing I heard every day in that job (well, that and the nutjob e-mails). Reading it now still makes my blood boil. The lingering resentment I have against Christianity comes precisely from this story, which plays out every day in schools and communities across the country. A lot of people who call themselves Christians are hateful, bitter, tribalistic people. They're fine with you (as long as you're white, but that's a separate story) until they find out you haven't accepted Jesus as your personal lord and savior -- or that you don't vote Republican, wave the flag, etc., or, God forbid, that you have pro-choice leanings. Then, they raise their eyebrows in disapproval; but you can stay in their communities if you're willing to accept the fact that you're a second-class citizen, if you "know your place." You have to be willing to accept the harassment of their vicious children and take it with the good humor that a lost soul should. But if, like the Dobriches, you want to be treated as a full member of the community and you fight to get that, the gloves come off and the vitriol comes out. Make no mistake about some of the more extreme of this group. They will threaten your life, they will kill your pets, they will break your windows, they will slash your tires. Most likely, if you report this to the police, nothing will be done about it. Heathens don't deserve police protection, you see, and the folks who commit these acts are just standing up for God, so they aren't really crimes. But most of all, these people will say things that it is beyond the bounds of decency to say. I will never forget the story of Lisa Herndahl, a mother of five in north Mississippi who wanted to be the one to teach her children religion, not the schools. Many, many things happened to her and her children, but nothing worse than when, after her young daughter lost her hand in an accident, was people in town telling Lisa that it was God's punishment for participating in a lawsuit against the school district.

Where does this level of hatred come from and why are so many people who don't feel it still complicit in it? I have never understood it and still don't. No one should have to endure this kind of treatment.

Schism Over Politics Strengthens Church

I don't know how many people are out there reading now, but I knew that Al at least would really enjoy this article from the New York Times about a Baptist minister who boldly, and to the consternation of many of his flock, preached that the church should not be taken over by conservative politics. He sounds like a right-on guy even if he is Baptist. :)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Freedom Fighters

Sir Ernest Shackleton’s voyage to the Antarctic is one of the greatest stories of survival of all-time. Though unproven, there was a legendary advertisement for the 1914 expedition that read: “Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”

The story goes that over 5,000 people applied. All of which leads me to believe that some may be interested in following Jesus after all.

Discipleship is often removed from it’s root, discipline, and made into something tame, something for those interested in safety instead of a risky adventure that places lives on the line. But a close look at Jesus reveals that following Him involves the latter. In short, Jesus unleashed a resistance movement that wars against oppressive “principalities and powers” of this world, and as Jesus said, anyone willing to take on such a monumental task must be completely sold to the cause, willing to risk all.

Yet the call to be God’s “freedom fighter” is risky not only because of the formidable opposition, but also because of the weapons God utilizes. The world uses violence and revenge, but God fights with love. The world uses greed and power, but God fights with generosity. The world uses self-interest and indifference toward injustice, but God fights with the willingness to sacrifice “self” for the oppressed in the world.

None easy.

Through Jesus, God places an advertisement for freedom fighters, if anyone is interested.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"Never Trust a Woman or an Automatic Pistol" ... John H. Dillinger

Sorry to slip in an extra post, but I couldn’t let this one pass.
Maybe I’ll count it as my next weekly effort.

72 years ago today, John Herbert Dillinger was intercepted by Federal Agents (they wouldn’t officially become the FBI for almost another year) and local police as he came out of the Biograph Theater in Chicago with two women. The feature showing was Manhattan Melodrama starring Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy, and some say Dillinger chose that theater in the middle of July because it had a new feature - air conditioning. Supposedly he went for a gun and tried to run for it. Still some controversy over what really happened, but whatever the real facts, he was shot dead on the spot. Even though his “career” lasted only 14 months, he was, far and away, the most famous of the Depression Era outlaws of the ‘20s and ‘30s (by “outlaws,” I mean the independent operators as opposed to the organized crime guys like Capone).

Using Dillinger and a few others like “Pretty Boy” Floyd and “Baby Face” Nelson as high profile adversaries, J.Edgar Hoover was able to get legislation passed and build support for his little known Department of Justice operation and build it into America’s first national police force. Hoover ruled with an iron hand, building up a significant domestic intelligence and anti-terrorist operation starting during WWII. Until his death in 1972, Hoover was the scourge of bad guys as well as being feared by every politician in Washington from the president on down. None of them really knew what he might have on them in his famous private files. Those files, by the way, were, as per his orders,immediately taken from his office upon his death and haven’t been seen since.

BTW For any who might be interested, some of my "Gangster Geek" friends actually have a slightly tongue in cheek fan club called The John Dillinger Died for You Society.

Okay, How About Now?

As all you pro-Bushies out there may or may not know, our President is a source of endless amusement for those who disagree with his politics or (ahem) suspect him to be of poor character. Amusement in sort of a sick, surreal way, like I can't believe I'm laughing at this, but if I didn't I would cry. Every time something happens -- and there have been a lot of somethings in the past five and a half years -- I'm like, how are they going to explain that one away? Now they will surely realize that he is an arrogant boob. And somehow or another, they always do manage to explain it away, and nothing ever seems to stick. I have to include the Veep in this phenomenon, since neither publicly telling Patrick Leahy to f**k off nor shooting a friend in the face during a hunt has managed to tarnish his image (well, maybe it has, I'm no expert on public opinion, but it hasn't seemed to).

So when I heard in the past week about (1) Bush's incredibly inappropriate remarks to Tony Blair when he didn't know the mike was on (which, in my mind, were not inappropriate because of his use of an expletive, but because he referred to other world leaders as "jerks"), combined with the unforgivable breach of etiquette of talking with his mouth full; and (2) his even more inappropriate impromptu and unwanted "neck rub" or whatever it was of the Chancellor of Germany, I said again to myself, oh my lord I am so embarrassed to be identified as an American right now.

Now, granted, I get my television news from the Daily Show, and they do a good job of milking all potential humor out of things like this. And you have to laugh. But I'm curious: what exactly is the defense here? For the former, I imagine it goes something like, everyone talks like that off the record and everyone has talked with her or his mouth full at some point. Okay, perhaps. It's still inappropriate to refer to other world leaders as "jerks," however -- but that story got ignored in favor of the sexier story about the use of the word s**t. Sigh. But what about unsolicited touching of a fellow head of state who just happens to be a woman? I just feel like one would have to be really out to lunch not to know how inappropriate that was, and embarrassingly overconfident not to care. I can imagine the words "taken out of context" being uttered here -- but what possible context could explain the grimace from Chancellor Merkel's face?

I find all this really humorous. Anyone else get a laugh out of it? Anyone have an explanation for the neck rub? Just curious.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Where were you when ... ?

All of us have times in our lives which were so special that we can remember details even after many years. Likewise, some events in history command our attention at the time so much that, even years later, we can tell others exactly where we were and what we were doing at the time.

My mother and grandparents told me many times about being gathered around the old battery powered radio and listening to the newscasts on Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941. One of my uncles was home on leave from his Navy assignment at the New York Navy Yard where he was part of the crew preparing the new heavy cruiser “USS Atlanta” for her sea trials. He went back to his post, helped get her commissioned, and went down with her 11 months later in Iron Bottom Sound off Guadalcanal.

I was a Freshman at Harding College, coming down the stairs from my 2nd floor dorm room just after lunch when I heard someone yelling “President Kennedy’s been shot in Dallas.”

Those of you who were alive, do you remember where you were 37 years ago today?

My wife of one year and I were visiting my parents in Alma Arkansas, and I was sitting on the floor in front of their old Zenith console TV, watching the network coverage of the Apollo 11 mission. At 9:56pm CDT, we all watched the live feed coming from the camera mounted on one leg of the Lunar Excursion Module as Neil Armstrong hopped off the bottom step and become the first human being ever to set foot on another object in our solar system. It all seemed rather routine. Scientific “miracles” had become normal. It was hard to get the feeling that you were witnessing a unique event - a first in the entire history of mankind - but we were.

Comments on the Space Race of the late ‘50s and 60's? Comments on the current Space Shuttle program and what comes next?

BTW This day has WAY too many good anniversaries to limit the comments to just one.

July 20, 1869 - Samuel Clemens, writing as Mark Twain, publishes his first full length effort, a travel book based on a series of newspaper articles written while he toured with a group who sailed from New York and visited Europe and the Holy Lands in 1867. He called it The Innocents Abroad: A New Pilgrim’s Progress, and it may have been America’s first popular “Best Seller.” In the first 18 months, it sold - door to door - over 82,000 copies at $4 apiece, netting Twain $16,500 in royalties, roughly equivalent to $218,000 today. At age 34, Twain became arguably the first “Rock Star” in American culture and remained so until his death in 1910.

July 20, 1881 - Sitting Bull, probably the most famous American Indian chief, surrendered to the US Army at Ft. Buford, Dakota Territory (near present day Williston, ND). Having eluded the American authorities for 5 years after the Little Bighorn fight (most of that time spent in Canada), he finally brought his starving little band of followers in to the reservation. Once the leader of thousands of what one Army officer termed “The best light cavalry in the world,” at the time of his surrender his band consisted of only 40 families - 44 men and 143 women and children.
After his surrender, Sitting Bull lived peacefully on the reservation and traveled a year with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Later, because of his supposed encouragement of the Ghost Dance movement which swept through the Sioux nation in 1890, Sitting Bull was ordered arrested by James McLauglin, the Indian Agent. On December 15, 1890, the Indian Police attempted to take Sitting Bull into custody, but a fight broke out. When it was over, Sitting Bull was dead, along with his son Crow Foot and 6 other of his followers. Six policemen, who were also Sioux, died as well.

July 20, 1944 - At 12:42pm, local time, at Hitler’s headquarters at Rastenburg, a bomb, hidden in a briefcase and planted by Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, detonated during a briefing. Four Nazi officers were killed, but Adolph Hitler, the bomb’s target, escaped serious injury. Hitler regarded his survival as a sign from fate. He later said:
"I regard this as a confirmation of the task imposed upon me by Providence"-and that "nothing is going to happen to me.... [T]he great cause which I serve will be brought through its present perils and...everything can be brought to a good end."
The war in Europe continued for almost 10 more months.

Pick your subject and go for it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Matthew Chapter Three

I'm a beginner at poetry, so take it easy on me. I've titled this one, Matthew Chapter Three:

Sun-streaks pierce haunted clouds while Prophet John preaches
Anticipation: the Kingdom hovers close by.
Popularity piques powerful interests, though
Rebuffed with thunder reminiscent of Sinai.

And then he appears. Gentle, yet regal. The King.
Religious leaders disappear without fanfare.
Prophet John bows in deference, pausing to worship.
Creation halts, awaiting terrible warfare.

And yet, gentleness. No violent army summoned.
No commands bellowed. Instead, a simple request.
Prophet John balks at the idea: the True King in
Submission to him! He refuses in protest.

The King issues his first warm command: Let it be…
Prophet John engulfs his King in a liquid tomb,
Holding his breath until the Life-Giver exhales.
The Spirit descends. God’s voice roars at full volume.

And yet…
The chapter is incomplete without me.
I discover myself in the riverside crowd,
Challenged with the idea of following Jesus

Underneath a sun-streaked sky filled with haunting clouds.

It's ironic that baptism was the main show in town in the religious world I grew up in, though the group that called themselves "Baptists" were seen as our main enemy. Maybe that's why John the Baptist didn't get as much airplay with us - his name was an immediate turn-off.

But over the years I've done a lot of thinking about a lot of things, and baptism has been one of those standing thought questions. This is not to say that I know much of anything about the subject; just that I've done a lot of thinking about it over time.

One of the things that I've thought about is that baptism seems to be the beginning point in the Gospels (as opposed to the end of a road to salvation). I've found that thought interesting. Baptism isn't portrayed as a culminating event, followed by figuring out what to do in worship assemblies or how to set up a church, but more of a launching point to a new way of life living in the wake of Jesus.

But this past week it has hit me that, of all the thinking I may (or may not) have done about baptism, the role of good old John the Baptist hasn't had much airtime.

Baptism makes it's appearance in the Bible with John. It wasn't portrayed as a custom beforehand: it just appears out of seemingly nowhere with John, and with little explanation - although I realized this past week that there is probably more explanation right there in Matthew chapter three than I had ever considered, mainly in terms of, as they say in the real estate game, "location, location, location."

John baptized in the Jordan River, a quite significant place in the history of Israel. It was here that the children of Israel crossed over into the Promised Land. It was where Moses stopped and where Jesus (oh, the Hebrew word was Joshua) began. I find that interesting.

In Matthew chapter two, we had seen a man named Joseph have a dream and end up in Egypt (just like in Genesis), followed by the fact that a brutal king decided to murder baby boys in an attempt to preserve his power. In both stories, God protected a baby boy as a savior to the people and led that person out of Egypt toward a Promised Land. It was at the Jordan River where a new world order would begin for Israel in Genesis, and God's people would have to "pass through" the Jordan to begin this new life with God. The same thing seems to be happening in Matthew chapter three.

I think it is also significant that Jesus passed through Jordan with the people. Although he did not need to "change his life" as the prophet, John, had been hammering the people with, he did so in concert with God's plan to save people. And when Jesus did, God's Spirit descended like a dove, reminisent of Noah and the Flood, and in effect, a new world had begun.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sports Wall

The picture today is of my youngest daughter in front of my sports wall in my office.

My sports wall has turned out to be a bit more interesting to me than I even intended originally. About a year ago now, I traveled to the Little Rock area for a wedding, and on that trip, I was lucky enough to have arranged a private showing of a breathtaking sports collection at an individual’s house. And it inspired me.

There were amazing things scattered all over this 2,000 square-foot plus basement – a wall full of hall-of-famer’s autographed pictures, every Sports Illustrated magazine ever published, an autographed Ted Williams jersey, the original Sport Magazine autographed by its cover feature Joe Dimaggio, an autographed Shaq Lakers’ jersey was on the floor, and an autographed Bear Bryant hat was sitting under some things. Plus 1000s and 1000s of more fascinating things.

But there were also lots of things that weren’t that impressive to the typical sports fan, things that only the collector found to be treasures. Things like his college cross country awards and his high school basketball jersey. I read an article about his collection, and I was fascinated to learn that he didn’t have his collection insured, his reasoning being that he wasn’t doing this for money, and if something happened to it, it was irreplaceable with money. Got me to thinking.

When I came back to Ocean Springs in late July 2005, I thought I would start my own sports wall in my office. I went through every closet and drawer and box and found every little item of sports memorabilia I had accumulated and took them to my office. I made my sports wall about a week or two before Hurricane Katrina came and destroyed our home, the place in which most of this stuff had been sitting just a few weeks prior.

It is sort of ironic. If I had been able to choose between my wedding album and sports posters, I would have taken the wedding album; and if I could have chosen between the video of our daughter’s birth and my old ticket stubs, it’s the video without hesitation. But the fact that something was saved that should not have been saved makes it a bit more special anyway.

It is, in fact, a strange illustration of grace.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Here's the other one

Since we're not getting anywhere on my slut story, here's the other article I thought of posting yesterday. It's an interesting riff on my gender-roles theory of the opposition to same-sex marriage, minus the feminist perspective. Stanford Law Professor Richard Thompson Ford seems actually heartened that the opposition to same-sex marriage now seems to be not solely based on rank homophobia. But then, according to my view, it never was. Ford doesn't seem bothered in the least by the fact that Americans are clinging with some tenacity to restrictive and overly simplistic notions of gender roles, and doesn't seem to see it as any kind of long-term threat to the right of gay men and lesbians to live safe, valued lives. But there's a reason that the gay rights movement has sunk so much of its resources into the marriage fight. As long as marriage is considered an ideal and privileged status, locking people out of it for whatever reason is consigning them to second-class citizenship. Now, I would personally rather dispute marriage being a privileged status than gays being kept from participating. But that's why I'm more of a radical than a liberal.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Let's Talk About Sluts

I saw an article today that made me think, and that I thought might help stimulate some conversation around here.

The article, in the New York Times, is about the change in use of the word "slut" and its attendant meaning(s). I didn't really get labeled this way when I was in high school, and I'm not entirely sure why, since among my close girl friends I was definitely the most adventurous one (which actually wasn't that adventurous, but everything's relative I guess). But I always said that I didn't believe in that word, that women had just as much right to pursue such activities as men, and that I personally wouldn't use it. Yet, I know that the sexual double standard persists and that it was all around me in high school, college, and law school especially. I was once called a whore in no uncertain terms by a jealous male "friend" who saw me leave the bar with another guy whom I had met that night -- at age 27 he hadn't gotten beyond such, in my thinking, juvenile characterizations.

Now that I think of it, I am sure that numerous people have thought of me in this way, and it just never affected me much, notwithstanding that I have always been vocal about opposing the word. It has always seemed to me that the slut concept is inextricably tied to low self-esteem, and there's a whiff of the idea that girls do these things in a misdirected attempt to be liked or loved, rather than because they want to. Which is its own double standard. Personally, I never participated in anything I wasn't interested in doing, notwithstanding that there were psychological rewards (and usually also detriments) in addition to physical ones. And I was always mystified by the use of terms like "give it away" that implied that having sex diminished a person's worth, that there was some quantity that could be used up and after which one's claim to personhood was spent. How draconian, and how absurd, that seems.

Without going scriptural on me, what does this "slut" concept mean to you all? How do you make sense of it? Do you view people (women or men, or both) in certain ways if you know things about their sexual histories? Envy, pity, contempt, disgust, interest, indifference? What do these reactions say about us and how do they relate to the choices we have made in our own lives?

There are also tons of ancillary questions, like how you discuss your history with your significant other, whether you share numbers and details or keep everything to yourself, whether such revelations cause jealousy or anger and why, and of course, how the next generation is dealing with these issues. And in a broader sense, why sexuality has always been such an incredibly fraught issue that seems to bring out such extreme reactions from asceticism one one end of the spectrum (I always think of St. Augustine) to libertinism. And, of course, why libertinism is only acceptable in men. So, what do you all think?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Old West History Trivia

15 Minutes of Fame

One hundred twenty eight years ago, this fellow was a 28 year old out of work buffalo hunter with nothing to his name but his horse, saddle, and rifle. Three years later, 125 years ago tomorrow (July 14th), he became famous. Can you name this Old West figure and comment on, or tell a little of his story?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Empire Strikes Back (A Sermon)

When Star Wars opened in 1977, the world met unforgettable characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and those quirky robots, C-3PO and R2D2. With “the Force” at our disposal, we cheered the destruction of the evil Death Star and went home happy.

But I’m afraid the happiness was short-lived. A mere three years later, we learned the terrible news that the Empire had struck back. Darth Vader, that dastardly villain, had gone on a mission of vengeance. From the movie:

Admiral Piett: Lord Vader, our ships have completed their scan of the area and found nothing. If the Millennium Falcon went into light-speed, it’ll be on the other side of the galaxy by now.

Darth Vader: Alert all commands. Calculate every possible destination along their last known trajectory.

Admiral Piett: Yes, my Lord. We’ll find them.

Darth Vader: Don’t fail me again, Admiral.

With such open vengeance, George Lucas picked an appropriate title for his movie sequel. The empire did, indeed, strike back. Oddly enough, it serves as a perfect title to the New Testament’s Matthew chapter two as well.

The book of Matthew begins with a genealogical list that confirms the truth that God is behind everything even though his ways are different than the ways of the world (for example, how could Tamar & Rahab & the woman who “had been Uriah’s wife” lend the first bit of royal credence to this ancient biography of a man named Jesus?). God’s different ways are once again highlighted in the birth story of Jesus who is offered as God’s crucial move to make his saving presence known to the world.

Well, in Matthew chapter two, the empire strikes back at God. King Herod plays the part of Darth Vader, and we are offered a striking example of what the world needed saving from in the first place.


#1: It begins as a tale of two cities. Jerusalem, home of power (political kings & religious priests), versus Bethlehem, a.k.a. “nowhereland.” In verse 3, all of Jerusalem is disturbed by the news of a true-blood king of the Jews - the powerful city is threatened by the tiny village.

#2: It continues as a contrast in intellectual wisdom. The Magi in all of their Gentile astrologist quackery stand next to the very best in Jewish Bible scholars. The former chase a bright star while the latter decipher Micah properly as to the birth place of the Messiah. Both end up with the same place. Only one side came to worship.

#3: And it is also a tale of two types of kingdoms. Herod’s type of kingdom is held against a new type of kingdom described with the metaphor of a shepherd (verse 6). Herod wouldn’t be a very good shepherd since he oppressed his own sheep, but then again, Herod had no intention of ruling like a shepherd. Power, not care, was his modus operandi. And in fact, when Herod (continued by Matthew) refers to his rival as “the child,” it further reinforces the ruling contrast. To be called “a child” was an insult in the time of Matthew’s writing, so the choice becomes clear: a powerful king vs. a shepherd/child.

So Matthew offers us quite a contrast: a powerful city with powerful intellects and a powerful king standing against an insignificant village and religious quacks and a childish shepherd-king.

Place your bets on the table, boys…

But verse 13 betrays a much bigger picture. We learn that we’ve been down this road before in God’s story.
* A man named Joseph has a dream and ends up in Egypt (sound familiar?)
* A cruel king murders baby boys to squash potential rivals to his power
* God keeps a baby safe to lead oppressed people to freedom
* A journey is made out of Egypt to a promised land

Yes, the powers of this world are scary, making the world a very dangerous place for followers of God. World powers don’t like threats, and God is always a threat to them. World powers will do anything (Herod lies, Herod kills) to stay in power. Yet Matthew 2 is a story filled with hope. We are assured in knowing that, despite of the empire’s strikes, God is still about his purposes, using the most unlikely of folks. And we are reminded that nothing can ultimately stand in the way of God (though “the god[s] of this age” will try their best). Faithful obedience from unlikely people will win in the end. God will see to it.

C-3PO once said, “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.” Han Solo replied, “Never tell me the odds.”

Han’s response is the mantra of God-followers.

Well, you probably remember that The Empire Strikes Back was not the end of the movie series. In fact, even after the Jedi returned, we learned that there were many stories that even preceded the others. Similarly, Matthew 2 was not the end of the story either, though God prevailed. Before the chapter even ends, the appearance of evil Archelaus betrayed the resilience of the powers of this world. God responded unconventionally again with a move to despised Nazareth. Who would have thought it?

And today, the battle continues. Economically, the powers of greed and materialism continue to strike. Socially, the powers of self-absorption and “busy-ness” continue to strike. Religiously, the powers of segregation and self-righteousness continue to strike. But as in Matthew chapter 2, God continues his unconventional counter-moves.

Which leads me to a question: Whose kingdom will you choose to follow? The world that will lie and kill to maintain its power, or the God who would take risks and die out of love for others?

Paul once wrote to Colossae, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”

May that force be with you.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Gateway Arch

Friday, July 07, 2006


At New York's Kennedy airport today, an individual, later discovered to be a public school teacher, was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a setsquare, a slide rule, and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra movement. He is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

"Al-Gebra is a fearsome cult, "Gonzales said. They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of absolute value. They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to themselves as unknowns, but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, 'There are 3 sides to every triangle.'"

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cultural Elite Blues

I used to subscribe to a ton of magazines. All the usual suspects: The Nation, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, Ms., and so forth. Reading about politics all the time eventually got depressing (and expensive!), so I let most of those subscriptions lapse. I still get Mother Jones, which usually has pretty interesting fare. But my very very favorite magazine (after Legal Affairs, which regrettably stopped publishing earlier this year) is The New Yorker. Which is odd, because The New Yorker is really hit or miss in terms of my interest in the topics. Sometimes I’ll leaf through a whole issue and not read one article. But two things keep me coming back: the sheer variety of topics, and the fact that when a New Yorker article is interesting, it’s also damn good, and long enough to really enlighten. I get so fascinated by New Yorker articles sometimes that my husband will ask me a question and I won’t even hear him.

This happened again just last night when I was reading the current issue. (Oh, I forgot to mention the other wonderful thing about The New Yorker – it’s a weekly magazine. By the time you get around to finishing one, there’s another one waiting for you to flip through). There was a really engrossing article inside about the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. I have seen the group advertised on Comedy Central as I fast-forward through the commercials of TiVoed Daily Show episodes. I might have been dimly aware that Jeff Foxworthy is among their number. But I really didn’t know much beyond that, excepting perhaps the self-knowledge I’ve developed over the years about my own sense of humor that this would decidedly not mesh with it.

I wish I could link to the article, but The New Yorker is pretty stingy with their online content and there’s not even an opening paragraph available. But basically, it was one of those wonderful meandering articles the magazine often publishes, covering the rise of Foxworthy and his compatriots, and focusing especially on their agent, one J.P. Williams, and his interactions with the industry, including details of deals with Comedy Central, which has picked up the group and showed their work to good ratings.

Not surprisingly, there was a lot of red-state, blue-state stuff in there too, and I finished the article feeling like I had learned something interesting that I hadn’t known about before, but also feeling irritated and bothered by the huge gulf that separates me from seemingly most of the rest of the country. Not just politically, but culturally (or are those the same thing?). I mean, I’m hardly unaware that the fact that I read The New Yorker at all makes me seem to fit a stereotype. But why is that? It’s a great magazine. Why aren’t other people interested in it too?

In particular, I bristle at the word “elite.” There’s no faster way to get under my skin, except perhaps to wave a flag in my face (wink, wink), than to accuse me of that. Especially because I know it has some truth to it, in a strange convoluted way. That's the conundrum -- I feel that this conflict is unnecessary, but I still have feelings that reflect my participation in it.

In that vein, then, the reason that the Blue Collar Comedy article really bothered me is that it said that Hollywood types are really uncomfortable with the content of the shows, have always been surprised at the reception they get, and only embraced them because their act makes money. Frankly, I relate to that, and I don’t relate to the Blue Collar guys. I don’t find jokes premised on the idea that married men are emasculated to be funny. I don’t understand the appeal of the phrase “Git R Done” (or even what it means, really). I don’t find bathroom humor at all amusing, whether it’s Adam Sandler or Larry the Cable Guy. (The one exception is the 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls, which had some amusing moments in that vein). Not to mention the racist and homophobic elements, whose unacceptability goes without saying. I wouldn’t deign to watch the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, and I don’t understand why anyone else would either.

In fact, the quote from the article that I read aloud to David and found laugh-out-loud funny was this one, from comedian Doug Stanhope: “Blue-collar comedy is about the poverty of imagination and the celebration of complacency. But it just goes to show that if you serve this country wet sh*t on a buckled paper plate, people will line up for it in droves.” I said to David, “that’s about the size of it.”

And it's not just the Blue Collar Comedy guys, either. I have a distinct memory of my ex-boyfriend who I dated in law school telling me in some detail about the WWF event to which he had to take the residents of the group house where he worked. My eyes were wide with horror and disbelief that anyone would find this entertaining. But the venue was packed, and everybody just loved it. "Bread and circus," I remember him saying. And I smiled knowingly, secure in my conviction that, well, I was too good for that kind of crap.

I guess I should just embrace the elite label since it apparently fits me so well. But there's a way in which it is too oversimplified to be at all descriptive of my life or the lives of my friends and colleagues. And I suppose that what haunts me is the possibility that the redneck label also distorts more than it describes. On some level I know that this must be the case, but one thing's for sure: the Blue Collar Comedy troupe has done little to enlighten the rest of us about what lies beneath the stereotype they've been so successful in perpetuating.

Monday, July 03, 2006


I know I’m posting late again, but a couple of other posts have shown up lately - one from someone who doesn’t post very often - so I decided to not clutter up the blog with a mediocre and uninspired offering on my appointed day. I can be mediocre and uninspired anytime. Also, with a topic like “history,” I just couldn’t resist waiting until the anniversary of our country’s founding. The chance only comes once a year.

Two hundred and thirty years ago today, The Declaration of Independence came back from the printer and was given to the public. It was actually signed - but only by John Hancock - two days prior, and some of its’ authors thought that July 2nd should be celebrated instead of the 4th. Once the copy hit the streets in Philadelphia, however, the 4th of July took on a life of it’s own in the national memory, and that one pesky detail was largely forgotten.

For Americans, July 4th is the ultimate patriotic holiday. Unfortunately, the term “patriotism” has taken a beating in this forum lately, and I must admit that I share many of the feeling I’ve seen expressed here. Any time I hear or see any public figure - be they preacher, military commander, congressman, president, or local politician - wrap themselves in the flag to support some issue or other, my first reaction is to put my hand on my wallet. The current issue - the flag burning amendment - whether it is worthy or not, is only the latest example. For those intent on always defining patriotism based on abuses of it, I’m afraid there will never be a shortage of examples to use, mankind being what he is.

I would argue, however, that there is a kind of patriotism that isn’t the same as the blatant pandering we see too often from our elected officials and other public figures. I think it boils down to a simple love of a person for their home and way of life and the belief that both are worth preserving and passing on to their children. If that is arrogance or selfishness, so be it. No matter what you may think of the policies of the current administration - or the previous one or the next one - everything you enjoy today as an American was paid for by many nameless folks who practiced what I consider a valid form of patriotism.
John Quincy Adams, who saw the Revolution as a teenager, for a time acting as his father’s secretary on a diplomatic mission to Europe, and went on to become president is credited with this quote:

”Posterity - you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you make good use of it.”

To me, real patriotism is not a dirty word, and is fairly simple. I was given, free of charge at birth, citizenship in what I believe is, even with all it’s failings, the best country the world has ever seen, and I’ve visited a fair number of others over the last 35 years. My job, as I see it, is to sacrifice, if necessary, to see that it is passed on to those two little boys in the picture. Mikey and Jamie are my grandsons and, in 20 years or so, they can take over. For now, though, it’s still up to Dad and Grampy.

Happy Birthday USA

God Bless America

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Matthew and the Margins

In Warren Carter’s insightful commentary, Matthew and the Margins, he lays out his approach in the preface this way: Matthew’s gospel…is a work of resistance written from and for a minority community of disciples committed to Jesus, the agent of God’s saving presence and empire. The gospel shapes their identity and lifestyle as an alternative community. It strengthens this community to resist the dominant Roman imperial and synagogical control. It anticipates Jesus’ return when Jesus will complete God’s salvific purposes in establishing God’s reign or empire over all, including Rome.

To put it simply, Carter's claims is that Matthew writes to Jesus-followers so they can stand together against the powers of this world while waiting for Jesus’ return; and though this purpose relates well to us today, the powers of this world are a lot less obvious to us, and therefore, potentially more sinister.

To Matthew’s original audience (probably Antioch), the world powers were obvious: Rome (politically), and Jewish leaders (religiously). In our world, America flies the banner of political freedom, and the Church of Christ (of which I am a part) promotes the idea of congregational autonomy, so it isn’t easy for us to see controlling powers at work.

But I believe they are there.

Today’s “powers” that the alternative community of disciples (church) are to resist take the forms of things like “busy-ness,” individualism, class divisions, materialism, and the marginalization of religion, just to name a few. I believe these are the types of powers that are to be resisted by those of us who take the message of Jesus (as presented by Matthew) to heart.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Picture of the Week

Looking over the Old Courthouse into the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis from the roof of the Radisson Hotel (taken last Monday).

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