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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Wednesday, 25 February 2004

Topic: The Culture

Dead in the streets as the rabble is finally aroused?
No, the cultural war was lost long ago.


Some bloggers use pseudonyms to keep their identities secret, kind of like the pamphleteers in eighteenth-century America. This protects individuals from retaliation for having unpopular views, and it prevents controversial ideas from being suppressed. Heck, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Mark Twain used pseudonyms. In the McIntyre case, the Supreme Court struck down a law that required pamphleteers to identify themselves, saying there was a right to anonymity in a democracy. (See United States Supreme Court. No. 93-986 - Joseph McIntyre, executor of estate of Margaret McIntyre, deceased, Petitioner v. Ohio Elections Commission. April 19, 1995.)

So I don't know who "Billmon" really is, although I suppose if I looked hard enough I could find out.

He sure has some interesting things to say. This below has to do with the proposed amendment to the constitution to ban "gay marriage" (leaving us only with morose marriages?) that was called for by George Bush this week.

Site Name: Whiskey Bar
Description: Free Thinking in a Dirty Glass
Site URL: http://billmon.org/
Entry URL: http://billmon.org/archives/001111.html

Here's what caught my eye:
Ever since the red-meat style of politics came of age in the early 1980s, the Bushes have kept guys like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove on the payroll to do their dirty work -- just as most wealthy families have servants to take out the garbage and feed the dogs. And all along, they've peddled the same pose: "It's not that we want to pander to the yahoos, but we have no choice. Politics is such a coarse business."

Now this is roughly like the schoolyard bully saying, "I didn't want to smash your face in, but I had no choice. I needed your lunch money." Over the years the Bushes - and their faithful family retainers - have developed a kind of proprietary interest in the White House, to the point where Peggy Noonan could rejoice even before the 2000 election in the family's looming "restoration" -- as if the Bushes were the Bourbons and the Clintonites a rabble from the slums of Paris. Which, come to think of it, isn't too far off the mark...

But the end result is kind of an inverse form of noblesse oblige, in which a familial duty (or compulsion) to public service creates an obligation to do whatever is necessary to hold on to power -- instead of the other way around.

However, the will to power is now leading George II and his ministers into deeper and deeper social waters. Gay marriage ain't the pledge of allegiance, and ACT UP ain't the ACLU. The Rovians, I think, are risking (among other things) some fairly spectacular protests at their convention in New York this summer, which may tax even the NYPD's ability to maintain a speech free zone around Madison Square Garden.

This no doubt, will whip the faithful inside the hall to even higher heights of cultural frenzy. This may be a great tonic for the base. But it could really alienate the rest of the country, especially if it were to turn violent -- just as the 1968 protests in Chicago tagged the Democrats as the party of chaos and conflict.

Would such a display hurt Bush, or ricochet back against the Dems? I don't know. But our Kennebunkport aristocrats may want to reflect on the fact that the Bourbon restoration only lasted a relatively brief 15 years, before that Parisian rabble put their old cockades back on and ran the dynasty out of town -- this time for good.
Well, my friend Ric in Paris will get a kick out of this observation that the Bush dynasty is quite clearly parallel to the Bourbons. I think that may be a stretch, even if Peggy Noonan, who wrote Reagan's speeches and now writes for the Wall Street Journal thinks the Democrats are much like the rabble in Paris who so hated the rightful monarchy of the time.

Yes, George the First (Bush, not the German-speaking Hanoverian one in early eighteenth century England) did have his little cultural war calling for a constitutional amendment to carve out an exception to the first amendment of the Bill of Rights regarding free speech - that is, Bush the First wanted an exception to free speech that would make burning the flag in any protest a federal crime. That didn't fly. Oh well.

Indeed, our George the Second has decided to plunge into deep social waters, as this fellow points out. This time it is another "carve out." But this time a specific group of citizens would be told certain rights will not ever be granted to them, by any legislation or regulation or fiat. The "meta-law" - the constitution - would be changed. It would be changed to exclude this class of people from certain rights. One would be hard-pressed to recall any previous change in the constitution that called for specific exclusion from rights and privileges, as previously on matters of race and the rights of women, the change were for inclusion. How odd.

Well, this is a cultural war, isn't it? And Bush the Second says he is a "war president." It fits.

This much more specific that saying you cannot burn the flag when you get grumpy, and yes, could well provoke some unruliness in New York at the Republican Convention this fall. That would be interesting. Mayor Bloomberg is not likely to do what Richard Daley the Elder did in 1968 in Chicago - send in the police to smash some heads. I suspect he knows better.

Yet something is in the air. Violence?

Out here in California our governor has something like that in mind. On Sunday, Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was worried about the potential for violence because of the controversial marriages. "All of a sudden we see riots and we see protests and we see people clashing. The next thing we know is there's injured or there's dead people," he said on NBC's Meet the Press.

Since nothing like that is happening one assumes such statements are offered to make something like that happening more likely. Consider it a suggestion from Arnold to his conservative base. Dead people. He's asking his conservative base to think about it.

Well, Bush is saying he really didn't want to do this "amend the constitution" thing, but he was forced to by events in San Francisco (with that uppity bobo, pretty boy mayor) - and events in Massachusetts (with those "activist judges" who think the constitution trumps the will of all the people so appalled by perversity being rewarded with the rights and privileges of marriage).

Damned bobo (bourgeois bohemian) liberals! See Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (Simon and Schuster, May 2000) by the conservative columnist David Brooks, of course, for that.

Anyway, the younger Bush wanted his war with Iraq and he got it - not nicely and at the cost of now being called a fraud about his public reasons for it, and at the cost of the good will of most of the nations of the world, and at the cost of our dead and maimed, and the thousands and thousands of Iraqi folks who had to die. Just so he wants his four more years in office, and if that means cultural war to punish the gay folks, so be it. And just so with the economy - tax cuts for the wealthy and reductions for those in need, as with today's call for reductions in social security payments to the elderly to finance ongoing tax cuts. And just so with the environment too.

The monarchy gets what it wants.

We have nothing akin to the Parisian rabble that lopped off the heads of the Bourbons. Our "rabble" is sedated - quiescent, passive, happy in their SUV's and then home in front of the television watching the last episode of "Sex in the City" on HBO. Well, the maybe the word for our rabble is "moribund."

Oh yes, the concluding episode of "Sex and the City" that the whole country was buzzing about? Carrie has run off to Paris but ends up rejecting Aleksandr - the self-centered Euroweenie artist played by Mikhail Baryshnikov. Her first true beau, the ultra rich businessman Mister Big, flies over from New York and they meet fortuitously in the lobby of the Plaza Ath?n?e (h?tel de prestige, Paris 8e. Situ? avenue Montaigne) - and with the obligatory long shots of the sparkling Eiffel Tower he proposes to her on the Pont des Arts, (view south to the dome of L'Institute de France) - and then they fly back to Manhattan to connubial bliss, one supposes. No revolutionary rabble to be seen anywhere.

Nope, the cultural war was lost long ago.

Posted by Alan at 22:02 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 25 February 2004 22:43 PST home


Topic: The Culture

I've long felt - long before the Muslim fanatics took down the World Trade Center - that religion was nothing but trouble in this world. I try to avoid it.

The controversial film finally opened today.

This is it:
The Passion of the Christ
MPAA rating: R, for scenes of graphic violence.
An Icon Productions presentation in association with Newmarket Films.
Director Mel Gibson.
Producers Mel Gibson, Bruce Davey, Stephen McEveety.
Executive producer Enzo Sisti.
Screenplay Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson.
Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel.
Production designer Francesco Frigeri.
Set decorator Carlo Gervasi.
Editor John Wright.
Music John Debney.
Special makeup and visual effects Keith Vanderlaan.
Running time 2 hours, 6 minutes.
In general release.

If you go to the left column and click on grittybits.com you'll see my long-time friend, who has children, has actually taken a formal position on this film and has undertaken a letter writing campaign. Parents should not take their children to see this film. Of course that is what Christian evangelicals are doing all over the country today.

What is up with this? For the first time that I can recall, yesterday the Los Angeles Times actually ran a film review on its first page, even if it was below the fold. And it was about Gibson's movie.

You can read it here if you go through their complex registration process.

If you don't care to do that here are highlights from:
A narrow vision and staggering violence
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times, February 24 2004

Turan is the senior film critic of the newspaper and he's not happy.
Combining the built-in audience of the Bible, the incendiary potential of "The Birth of a Nation" and the marketing genius of "The Blair Witch Project," the arrival of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" feels like a milestone in modern culture. It's a nexus of religion, celebrity, cinema and mass communication that tells us more about the way our world works than we may want to know.

The film left me in the grip of a profound despair, and not for reasons I would have thought. It wasn't simply because of "The Passion's" overwhelming level of on-screen violence, a litany of tortures ending in a beyond-graphic crucifixion.

And it wasn't because of the treatment of the high priest Caiphas and the Hebrew power elite of Jesus' time -- a disturbing portrait likely to give, I feel sure unintentionally, comfort to anti-Semites.

Instead, what is profoundly disheartening is that people of goodwill will see this film in completely different ways. Where I see almost sadistic violence, they will see transcendence; where I see blame, they will see truth.
Of course Turan gives an analysis of the film's structure and technique, as on would expect out here in movieland. But in passing he does hit a few key cultural issues regarding the film.
It has the potential to foster divisiveness because of the way it exposes and accentuates the fissures in belief that otherwise might go unnoticed. We all know where the road paved with good intentions leads, and it is not to the gates of heaven.
Don't tell that to Mel Gibson.

Gibson is sincere in believing this film is highly moral and will lead people to some higher plane, although Turan disagrees:
... it shouldn't be surprising that what's immediately most evident about "The Passion" is its complete sincerity. This is Gibson's personal vision of the greatest story ever told, a look inside his heart and soul. Gibson even personally provided, according to composer John Debney, the despairing wail that accompanies Judas' suicide. When the director writes in the introduction to the film's coffee-table book that he wanted his work "to be a testament to the infinite love of Jesus the Christ," there is no reason to doubt him. Which makes it even sadder that "The Passion of the Christ" does not play that way.
Well, how does it play?
The first hint of trouble is in a brief flashback to Caiphas, the Jewish High Priest (Mattia Sbragia) arrogantly tossing a purse containing the legendary 30 pieces of silver to Judas (Luca Lionello) in such a way that they fall and humiliate the traitor.

In the iconography of the passion, Judas is one of the great villains, and he's usually portrayed in Western art as well as previous films as the most wretched of creatures. Yet in this scene he is treated with more dignity and sympathy than Caiphas, who gives a first impression of smug and unctuous arrogance that the rest of "The Passion" only reinforces.

And we do see a great deal of the richly dressed, obviously well-fed Caiphas the rest of the way. In addition to paying Judas, this powerful Jew is the one who sends armed men to arrest Jesus, manipulates his trial before the Sanhedrin and stage-manages his appearance before Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov).

The Roman governor, nominally in charge, is portrayed as a study in impotent agony, reluctant to hand over Jesus but powerless before the strength of the Jewish mastermind's manipulations. He gives up Jesus to be first tortured and then crucified after a huge crowd of Jews, which earlier had taunted and spit on the man, screams over and over for his head.

What are we to make of this front-and-centering of the Jews in Jesus' plight? In dramatic terms, Gibson and co-screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald likely decided a great hero needed an equally powerful and well-defined antagonist to enhance the story, so why not Caiphas? As Paul Lauer, marketing director for Icon, Gibson's production company, told the New York Times, "You can't get away from the fact that there are some Jews who wanted this guy dead."
So Mel is just telling it like it is? The Jews carry a collective guilt here?

Maybe so. Maybe not.

Some of the detail is here:
As for the film's violence, it too starts early and stays late. Jesus is badly beaten and humiliated, dangled over a bridge by the chains he's bound in, before he's even brought before Caiphas. He's accused of blasphemy and black magic and then shunted back and forth between Pilate and King Herod, neither of whom, absent the persistence of the Jewish elite, would have the stomach to pass any kind of judgment.

Finally, in desperation, Pilate orders Jesus flogged by Roman soldiers.

This is no ordinary movie flogging. This is an unspeakably savage, unrelenting real-time beating, first with a cane, then with an especially barbarous instrument the press material identifies as "a flagrum, or 'the cat o' nine tails,' a whip designed with multiple straps and embedded with barbed metal tips to catch and shred the skin and cause considerable blood loss." All of which is shown in a kind of horrific detail that would be unthinkable in a film that could not claim the kind of religious connection this one does.

When this torture, gruesome enough to disgust even the hardened Romans, is done, the Jews, to Pilate's evident disbelief, are still not satisfied, even insisting that the subhuman murderer Barabbas be released and Jesus, soon to be fitted with a graphically embedded crown of thorns, crucified. Which is what happens, but not all at once.

For "The Passion of the Christ" spends a considerable amount of time on meticulously detailing the agonies of the road to Calvary as well as the tortures of the actual Roman crucifixion, including unblinkingly graphic close-ups of the actual nailing and a shot of a bird pecking out the eye of one of the thieves crucified alongside Jesus.
Well, that will cause you to think twice at stopping at Noah's Bagels for a snack.

Okay then. That is the film. The children of the editor of grittybits.com might find this all a tad disturbing.

And Turan is happy either:
As an actor, Gibson has always had a taste for playing heroes who are physically martyred and put through the tortures of hell. His William Wallace is disemboweled in "Braveheart," the characters he plays in both "Payback" and "Ransom" are savagely beaten and his "Lethal Weapon" hero is nearly electrocuted. The violence in "Passion" is stomach-turning in part because that's the way Gibson likes it. In fact, he likes it worse. When asked by a friendly questioner during an outreach screening if he could have toned the film down, the director replied, "Dude, I did tone it down."

The problem with "The Passion's" violence is not merely how difficult it is to take, it's that its sadistic intensity obliterates everything else about the film. Worse than that, it fosters a one-dimensional view of Jesus, reducing his entire life and world-transforming teachings to his sufferings, to the notion that he was exclusively someone who was willing to absorb unspeakable punishment for our sins.
I guess the guy didn't like it.

David Edelstein over at Slate didn't like it either, but he takes a lighter view of things.

See Jesus H. Christ: The Passion, Mel Gibson's bloody mess. posted Tuesday, Febrary 24, 2004, at 4:28 PM Pacific Time

Edelstein gets in Mel's case directly:
Ever since his star began to rise after the 1979 Australian thriller Mad Max, Mel Gibson hasn't seemed fully alive on screen unless he's being tortured and mutilated. In the Road Warrior and Lethal Weapon films, as well as such one-shots as Conspiracy Theory (1997) and The Patriot (2000), Gibson courted martyrdom, and he achieved it. He won an Oscar for his labors in Braveheart (1995), which ends with its hero managing to scream "FREEEEE-DOM!!" as he's drawn and quartered. Gibson snatched the pulp movie Payback (1999) away from its writer-director, Brian Helgeland, to make the torture of his character even more gruelingly explicit: He added shots of his toes being smashed by an iron hammer.

Payback: That's what almost all of Gibson's movies are about (including his 1990 Hamlet.) Even if he begins as a man of peace, Mad Mel ends as a savage revenger.

A devout Catholic -- albeit one who believes that Vatican II, which formally absolved the Jews of responsibility for the death of Jesus, is illegitimate -- Gibson has said that what moves him most about the Christ story is that Jesus was whipped, scourged, mocked, spat on, had spikes driven through his hands and feet, and was left to die on the cross -- and that he didn't think of payback; he thought of forgiveness. But by wallowing in his torture and death for two hours, the director of The Passion of the Christ (Newmarket) suggests that he's thinking of anything but.
What follows, of course, is a deconstruction of Gibson's personal psychological problems, and they are many.

Edelstein does give, in detail, the images of the bulk of the movie, the torture of Jesus, and adding them all up finds them so over the top he come to this conclusion:
I know, it sounds like a Monty Python movie. You're thinking there must be something to The Passion of the Christ besides watching a man tortured to death, right?

Actually, no: This is a two-hour-and-six-minute snuff movie -- The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre -- that thinks it's an act of faith. For Gibson, Jesus is defined not by his teachings in life -- by his message of mercy, social justice, and self-abnegation, some of it rooted in the Jewish Torah, much of it defiantly personal -- but by the manner of his execution.
So if you want to see Gibson work out his martyr complex, by all means go see the film.

Or don't. Edelstein finds the film exhausting and puzzling.
Gibson uses every weapon in his cinematic arsenal to drive home the agony of those last dozen hours. While his mother and Mary Magdalene watch, Jesus is lashed until his entire body is covered in bloody crisscrossing canals. When he rises, amazing the Roman soldiers with his stamina, they go for the scourges, which rip and puncture his flesh in slow motion -- all while the Romans and the Jews cackle wildly. Carrying his cross, he falls again and again in slow motion on his swollen, battered body while the soundtrack reverberates with heavy, Dolby-ized thuds. It is almost a relief when the spikes are driven into his hands and feet --at least it means that his pain is almost over.

What does this protracted exercise in sadomasochism have to do with Christian faith? I'm asking; I don't know.
I suspect Edelstein is not a born-again evangelical Christian. Otherwise, I guess, he'd know. I sure don't.

David Denby over at The New Yorker is similarly puzzled:
In "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson shows little interest in celebrating the electric charge of hope and redemption that Jesus Christ brought into the world. He largely ignores Jesus' heart-stopping eloquence, his startling ethical radicalism and personal radiance -- Christ as a "paragon of vitality and poetic assertion," as John Updike described Jesus' character in his essay "The Gospel According to Saint Matthew." Cecil B. De Mille had his version of Jesus' life, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Martin Scorsese had theirs, and Gibson, of course, is free to skip over the incomparable glories of Jesus' temperament and to devote himself, as he does, to Jesus' pain and martyrdom in the last twelve hours of his life. As a viewer, I am equally free to say that the movie Gibson has made from his personal obsessions is a sickening death trip, a grimly unilluminating procession of treachery, beatings, blood, and agony -- and to say so without indulging in "anti-Christian sentiment" (Gibson's term for what his critics are spreading). For two hours, with only an occasional pause or gentle flashback, we watch, stupefied, as a handsome, strapping, at times half-naked young man (James Caviezel) is slowly tortured to death. Gibson is so thoroughly fixated on the scourging and crushing of Christ, and so meagerly involved in the spiritual meanings of the final hours, that he falls in danger of altering Jesus' message of love into one of hate.
Well, I suppose Mel, his father, and a good many evangelical Christian would ask the obvious question - Isn't hate sometimes appropriate? That does seem one way many here and, more particularly, many outside the United States would feel after seeing this film.

Denby does ask how people become better Christians if they are "filled with the guilt, anguish, or loathing that this movie may create in their souls?"

Good question.

Denby too suggests the problem is Gibson:
By contrast with the dispatching of Judas, the lashing and flaying of Jesus goes on forever, prolonged by Gibson's punishing use of slow motion, sometimes with Jesus' face in the foreground, so that we can see him writhe and howl. In the climb up to Calvary, Caviezel, one eye swollen shut, his mouth open in agony, collapses repeatedly in slow motion under the weight of the Cross. Then comes the Crucifixion itself, dramatized with a curious fixation on the technical details -- an arm pulled out of its socket, huge nails hammered into hands, with Caviezel jumping after each whack. At that point, I said to myself, "Mel Gibson has lost it," and I was reminded of what other writers have pointed out -- that Gibson, as an actor, has been beaten, mashed, and disembowelled in many of his movies. His obsession with pain, disguised by religious feelings, has now reached a frightening apotheosis.
Apotheosis? Mel Gibson finally make all his sadistic and masochistic issues holy? Maybe so.

And Denby agrees with grittybits.com
What is most depressing about "The Passion" is the thought that people will take their children to see it. Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," not "Let the little children watch me suffer." How will parents deal with the pain, terror, and anger that children will doubtless feel as they watch a man flayed and pierced until dead? The despair of the movie is hard to shrug off, and Gibson's timing couldn't be more unfortunate: another dose of death-haunted religious fanaticism is the last thing we need.
Agreed. But did Denby just lump Gibson in with Isalmic fanatics in the mountains of Afghanistan filled with hate and obsessed with death and pain and suffering? Yep. And appropriately so.

Those guys hate us. And Gibson, though he claims it is not so, has a problem with the Jews.

Jami Bernard is the film critic and columnist for The Daily News, and author of the film books "Chick Flicks," "Total Exposure," "First Films" and "Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies." She has this to say.
No child should see this movie.

Even adults are at risk.

Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II.

It is sickening, much more brutal than any "Lethal Weapon."

The violence is grotesque, savage and often fetishized in slo-mo. At least in Hollywood spectacles that kind of violence is tempered with cartoonish distancing effects; not so here. And yet "The Passion" is also undeniably powerful.

... Is it anti-Semitic?

Yes.

Jews are vilified, in ways both little and big, pretty much nonstop for two hours, seven minutes.

Gibson cuts from the hook nose of one bad Jewish character to the hook nose of another in the ensuing scene.

He misappropriates an important line from the Jewish celebration of Pesach ("Why is this night different from all other nights?") and slaps it onto a Christian context.

Most unforgivable is that Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov), the Roman governor of Palestine who decreed that Jesus be crucified, is portrayed as a sensitive, kind-hearted soul who is sickened by the tortures the Jewish mobs heap upon his prisoner.

Pilate agrees to the Crucifixion only against his better judgment.

The most offensive line of the script, which was co-written by Gibson with Benedict Fitzgerald, about Jews accepting blame, was not cut from the movie, as initially reported. Only its subtitle was removed.

... Religious intolerance has been used as an excuse for some of history's worst atrocities. "The Passion of the Christ" is a brutal, nasty film that demonizes Jews at an unfortunate time in history.
But Gibson says it just the truth. Well, as he sees it.

Am I being too negative?

The Los Angeles Times does the heavy lifting for us all and gives us a scan of other views:
"Relentlessly savage, 'The Passion' plays like the Gospel according to the Marquis de Sade. The film that has been getting rapturous advance raves from evangelical Christians turns out to be an R-rated inspirational movie no child can, or should, see. To these secular eyes at least, Gibson's movie is more likely to inspire nightmares than devotion."
- David Ansen, Newsweek

"It's a very great film. It's the only religious film I've seen, with the exception of 'The Gospel According to St. Matthew' by Pasolini, that really seems to deal directly with what happened instead of with all kinds of sentimentalized, cleaned up, postcard versions of it."
- Roger Ebert in "Ebert & Roeper"

"Where, one wonders throughout, is the 'tolerance, love and forgiveness' that Gibson has promised his audience? Where, beyond some furtive snatches of back story, is the buoyant embrace of life and hope that Christ's message represents to millions? This movie is little else besides a depiction of punishment so ruthless and unyielding that watching it unfold feels like punishment."
- Gene Seymour, Newsday

"What is the audience for this Passion? Many Christians -- who would appreciate the message -- may be repelled by the film's unrelenting bloodletting. The teen boys who make box-office winners every Friday night may like the blood, but they want their heroes to fight back and blow stuff up. Nor is this exactly a date movie. No, the audience profile for 'The Passion of the Christ' is fairly narrow: true believers with cast-iron stomachs; people who can stand to be grossed out as they are edified. And a few movie critics who can't help admiring Mad Mel for the spiritual compulsion that drove him to invent a new genre -- the religious splatter-art film -- and bring it to searing life, death and resurrection."
- Richard Corliss. Time

"The bloodiest story ever told.... Gibson's fervor belongs as much to the realm of sadomasochism as to Christian piety."
- Peter Rainer, New York

"Gibson, as director, producer and co-writer, is fetishistic in his depiction of the pain Jesus suffered during the last 12 hours of his life. The beating and whipping and ripping of skin become so repetitive, they'll leave the audience emotionally drained and stunned.

"Yes, yes. That's the point, Gibson has said -- he wants his film to be shockingly graphic to show the humanity of Christ's sacrifice.

"But the idea that children should see 'The Passion' as a learning device -- that churches are organizing screenings and theater trips for their parishioners and catechism classes -- is truly shocking. Grown-ups -- even true believers -- will have difficulty sitting through the film. Just think of the trauma it will inflict on kids."

- Christy Lemire, Associated Press
Well, Roger Ebert liked it. And Laura Bush said she really wants to see it.

I'll pass. Mel Gibson can work out his own problems without my nine dollars. And I've long felt - long before the Muslim fanatics took town the World Trade Center - that religion was nothing but trouble in this world. I try to avoid it.

Posted by Alan at 13:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 28 February 2004 23:12 PST home

Tuesday, 24 February 2004

Topic: The Law

"Have you no decency sir? Have you no shame?"
Back to commentary and pointers to news and views here and there - my jury duty ended late this afternoon as the district attorney used one of his preemptory challenges to thank and excuse me from the murder trial down in Superior Court. Guess he didn't want a smart-ass from Hollywood who has been a member of both the ACLU and NAACP for decades sitting there listening to him try to convict that back man on the other side of the room. I understand. I'd have been trouble.

So anyway, the first two days of this week keep me from looking around the web. But when I did, I see many folks are talking about Bush calling for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and as the first draft indicated, making any kind of "civil union" also quite illegal.

As I understand the Bush argument it goes like this: The president knows, somehow, that almost everyone opposes "gay marriage." He further knows that the courts, particularly the Massachusetts Supreme Court, ruled that such marriages were not only quite legal but protected as a right of association or whatever, and really the state had no ability to ban them at all. People can marry whomever they wish - it's not the state's business to ban such marriages or deny rights and privileges to people so married. Fine. But the Bush argument is that judges shouldn't rule something legal and just fine and dandy when everyone knows that something is just plain WRONG. His argument is that this is a democracy and the majority rules, not the "activist judges" he so hates. If the majority says something is right and proper, then the judiciary in each state should bow to the will of the people. Of course in 1840 that would mean in many states slavery would be just fine, and it was. Bush would say no court at any state level or the federal level should have the right to rule against the majority. People want slavery? Fine. Racial segregation? Fine. In the early part of the following century that would mean woman would not get the right to vote - as the majority view was that also was not fine and dandy. Right now I would guess a little more than half of the population of the United States feel that most news and commentary should be banned, as harmful to the country, and only Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh be allowed to give use the news and tell us what it means.

There are those of us who believe that the judicial branch of the government exists to be a pain in the ass to the majority, telling them that even though the majority thinks one thing is right and the other thing is wrong, the constitution lists ten core rights and implies many others that are out of bounds to majority opinion. You know - freedom of speech, including burning the flag in protest (that amendment died a few years ago), and freedom of assembly and association, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and its implied right of privacy. You know the list. The right to marry who we wish, even those of - gasp! - another race, is now allowed, as Alabama was the last state, in the early sixties, to be told its law banning such "wrong" behavior was unconstitutional. The majority at the time, or in a particular state, may not like it, but too bad for them. People have the right to so what the what as long as no one else is harmed, as long as the majority is unable to prove there is no "irreparable harm."

So we have a new issue now. The parallel is clear. These "activist judges" are more properly "anti-public-opinion judges." They have the job of protecting the specifically enumerated rights of the minority from the whims of the majority. It's not pretty. But that's the way it is. And Bush hates them for it.

The federal appeals court out here was asked last week to make the City of San Francisco "cease and desist" - to stop the marriages of same-sex couples. The court said they would like to do that - but they couldn't see the "irreparable harm" the other side claimed was there. They ruled the other side failed to prove "irreparable harm."

That leads to Bush's even more basic argument:
After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization.
And you must judge for yourself whether that is so. Is this presumption? Or is it protecting the right of a minority and causing no real harm?

Actually some of feel such same-sex marriages may actually do real good. With "traditional" marriages ending in divorce more often than not, allowing couples who have been living together - faithful, stable and mutually supportive for decades - have the same rights and privileges rewards stability and good behavior. For heterosexuals in serial marriages - as many heterosexual folks marry and divorce twice or more - rewarding them with rights and privileges seems counterproductive. Shouldn't we, as a society, promote stability and order?

Oh well. That argument won't fly with most people. Too bad.

So what are others saying?

See George W., Judicial Activist: The religious right made him do it.
Timothy Noah, SLATE.COM, Posted Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2004, at 4:34 PM PT

This is a long discussion of legislation versus amending the law, and the state's rights issues. Here's how he ends -
If Bush really believed marriage was something to be decided legislatively, he'd wait until a judge struck down the statute before waving the white flag on its constitutionality. And he'd certainly avoid dictating what "any state or city" should do...

Instead, Bush is doing the courts' work for them, declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional while at the same time portraying himself as judicial activism's victim. He's like Cleavon Little in that scene from Blazing Saddles where he whips out his gun and takes himself hostage. In fact, it's his fundamentalist supporters who've taken Bush hostage, and they couldn't be less interested in helping Bush remain consistent about the proper role of the federal government. The only real belief animating this political discussion is the bigoted one that homosexuality is an abomination. President Bush may not subscribe to that belief, but he's more than happy to cater to it.
Yeah, yeah. It is a bit political, isn't it?

The most curious responses are from, of course, the conservative, Republican supporters of Bush who happen to be homosexual. Bush's decision to support this constitutional amendment hit them hard - particularly Andrew Sullivan, who has perhaps the most popular political site on the web. He goes all out:
WAR IS DECLARED: The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families. And just as importantly, he launched a war to defile the most sacred document in the land. Rather than allow the contentious and difficult issue of equal marriage rights to be fought over in the states, rather than let politics and the law take their course, rather than keep the Constitution out of the culture wars, this president wants to drag the very founding document into his re-election campaign. He is proposing to remove civil rights from one group of American citizens - and do so in the Constitution itself. The message could not be plainer: these citizens do not fully belong in America. Their relationships must be stigmatized in the very Constitution itself. The document that should be uniting the country will now be used to divide it, to single out a group of people for discrimination itself, and to do so for narrow electoral purposes. Not since the horrifying legacy of Constitutional racial discrimination in this country has such a goal been even thought of, let alone pursued. Those of us who supported this president in 2000, who have backed him whole-heartedly during the war, who have endured scorn from our peers as a result, who trusted that this president was indeed a uniter rather than a divider, now know the truth.

NO MORE PROFOUND AN ATTACK: This president wants our families denied civil protection and civil acknowledgment. He wants us stigmatized not just by a law, not just by his inability even to call us by name, not by his minions on the religious right. He wants us stigmatized in the very founding document of America. There can be no more profound attack on a minority in the United States - or on the promise of freedom that America represents. That very tactic is so shocking in its prejudice, so clear in its intent, so extreme in its implications that it leaves people of good will little lee-way. This president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance. Gay people will now regard it as their enemy for generations - and rightly so. I knew this was coming, but the way in which it has been delivered and the actual fact of its occurrence is so deeply depressing it is still hard to absorb. But the result is clear, at least for those who care about the Constitution and care about civil rights. We must oppose this extremism with everything we can muster. We must appeal to the fair-minded center of the country that balks at the hatred and fear that much of the religious right feeds on. We must prevent this graffiti from being written on a document every person in this country should be able to regard as their own. This struggle is hard but it is also easy. The president has made it easy. He's a simple man and he divides the world into friends and foes. He has now made a whole group of Americans - and their families and their friends - his enemy. We have no alternative but to defend ourselves and our families from this attack. And we will.
So much for that Bush supporter.

James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal gives they typical "true" Bush supporter response to Sullivan: "Since when do gay people have generations?"

And the commentator Atrios points out:
Anyone who's been paying attention over the last few years knows that the Republican party went from pandering to the Christian Right to being mostly taken over by them. It is true that the other major wing of the Republican Party - the corporatists - probably don't agree with them on much, but nor do they really give a shit. There's a reason for that - being wealthy insulates you from a lot. All the culture war stuff really doesn't matter when you can afford to live how you want, send your kids to private schools, etc...

As for wealthy gay Republicans - having money means that most of the effects of bigotry and discrimination are much less important. Gay marriage? Who cares if you get pension benefits when your partner dies if you're wealthy. It isn't that being wealthy means you can escape discrimination fully, it's just going to matter a hell of a lot less.
So the Log Cabin Republicans will probably leave the party after many years of faithful support of conservative causes. Fine. They're gay. Now they're morose. The rich gays will stay and support Bush.

Oh and by the way Atrios also give is this - some of the "Rights, Benefits, and Responsibilities of Marriage" according to the Government Accounting Office (GAO). There are 1,049 such goodies according to the GAO. Here are just some:
Tax Benefits
Filing joint income tax returns with the IRS and state taxing authorities.
Creating a "family partnership" under federal tax laws, which allows you to divide business income among family members.

Estate Planning Benefits
Inheriting a share of your spouse's estate.
Receiving an exemption from both estate taxes and gift taxes for all property you give or leave to your spouse.
Creating life estate trusts that are restricted to married couples, including QTIP trusts, QDOT trusts, and marital deduction trusts.
Obtaining priority if a conservator needs to be appointed for your spouse -- that is, someone to make financial and/or medical decisions on your spouse's behalf.

Government Benefits
Receiving Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits for spouses.
Receiving veterans' and military benefits for spouses, such as those for education, medical care, or special loans.
Receiving public assistance benefits.

Employment Benefits
Obtaining insurance benefits through a spouse's employer.
Taking family leave to care for your spouse during an illness.
Receiving wages, workers' compensation, and retirement plan benefits for a deceased spouse.
Taking bereavement leave if your spouse or one of your spouse's close relatives dies.

Medical Benefits
Visiting your spouse in a hospital intensive care unit or during restricted visiting hours in other parts of a medical facility.
Making medical decisions for your spouse if he or she becomes incapacitated and unable to express wishes for treatment.

Death Benefits
Consenting to after-death examinations and procedures.
Making burial or other final arrangements.

Family Benefits
Filing for stepparent or joint adoption.
Applying for joint foster care rights.
Receiving equitable division of property if you divorce.
Receiving spousal or child support, child custody, and visitation if you divorce.

Housing Benefits
Living in neighborhoods zoned for "families only."
Automatically renewing leases signed by your spouse.

Consumer Benefits
Receiving family rates for health, homeowners', auto, and other types of insurance.
Receiving tuition discounts and permission to use school facilities.
Other consumer discounts and incentives offered only to married couples or families.

Other Legal Benefits and Protections
Suing a third person for wrongful death of your spouse and loss of consortium (loss of intimacy).
Suing a third person for offenses that interfere with the success of your marriage, such as alienation of affection and criminal conversation (these laws are available in only a few states).
Claiming the marital communications privilege, which means a court can't force you to disclose the contents of confidential communications between you and your spouse during your marriage.
Receiving crime victims' recovery benefits if your spouse is the victim of a crime.
Obtaining domestic violence protection orders.
Obtaining immigration and residency benefits for noncitizen spouse.
Visiting rights in jails and other places where visitors are restricted to immediate family.
Got it? That's what they're NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE.

Okay. You decide.

What is Bush up to? Kevin Drum says this about the proposed federal Marriage Amendment (FMA):
Is reigniting the culture wars really a winning strategy for Bush? And why did he feel like he had to do it?

... I suspect that Bush is not personally especially homophobic. Rather, he's supporting FMA mainly because he thinks it will help him win votes.

What's more, this is actually more despicable than if he were acting out of genuine conviction. To me, it looks like he's willing screw an entire class of people that he doesn't really care about just in order to win a few more votes. That's contemptible.
Yes it is. As usual.

Now, when will Kerry or Edwards or any other possible opponent of Bush this fall take the high ground and state the obvious. My friend Martin is fond of my late father's usual expression in such circumstances - "What is this happy horseshit?" Exactly.

I would like just one of the Democratic candidates to simply say to the Bush proposal, no. No, gay marriage is fine. No problem. No "irreparable harm" - in fact, no harm at all. These are good people trying to do the right thing. No, this is GOOD for our country. No, they actually do deserve the same rights and privileges as same-sex couples who marry, and maybe deserve them more that the Spears girl or Liz Taylor. No, we should do the right thing and let them be happy. Lord knows there's enough unhappiness in the world as it is. It's matter of common decency.

Geez, one of them could echo the words from the McCarthy hearings in the fifties and throw those words in Bush's face - "Have you no decency sir? Have you no shame?"

But that won't happen. Not even loony Ralph Nader will say that. Cowards.

End of rant.

Tomorrow Mel Gibson's movie opens. I'll do that rant in the morning.

Posted by Alan at 22:59 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 24 February 2004 23:20 PST home

Monday, 23 February 2004


Blogging will resume shortly...

No blogging yet today.

Sunday is the day I do final assembly and post the week's new issue of the parent magazine. As some of you know, there were tremendous difficulties this week with the hosting service. And I lost Monday and Saturday to family business, and reported for jury duty today. Sigh. Almost all the technical issues are, however, now resolved and the new issue has been posted. See Just Above Sunset Magazine.

Check it out.






Much of what appears here is extended and expanded there, and you might like the full-sized photos this time.

And in the automotive section Ric sent along a really funny photo from the "retro" show in Pars.

Do visit.

Posted by Alan at 18:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
home

Sunday, 22 February 2004

Topic: Photos

If my hosting service hadn't failed, this would have been in Just Above Sunset Magazine today - something I glanced up in the Hollywood Hills in the rain.
I guess it is spring here.



Posted by Alan at 23:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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