Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chen Wenling's What You See May Not Be Real

Bernie Madoff is the devil pinned to the wall by a flatulent bull market ... in this artwork at a Beijing gallery. This will have to do as catharsis for me until, at least, I get to see Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story. Right now I can't get enough of anti-free-market porn.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Am Sick of It All

PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays—clearly the “and gays” is an afterthought, not even thought worthy of inclusion in the group’s abbreviated name) is petitioning to include ex-gays as protected minorities in hate crimes law.

The reasoning appears to be that those who would attack those who attack gays and lesbians are just as heinous as the haters under attack for, um, attacking first. It sounds a bit like the weird moral relativism that the religious right has got curiously adept at (did I say “curiously”? no, I meant “cynically”). There once was a time when the right rejected relativism as some sort of communist plot—but they have now revamped it, creating a new and improved fascist-friendly relativism.

I’d be interested in hearing just how many ex-gays have been brutally attacked and murdered—if any at all—while FBI numbers on hate crimes against gays and lesbians have risen in the past four or five years.

To put the victims on par with the bashers shows that injustice remains an American value.

Another matter, even more sickening: The two amendments to include the public option, meant to ensure health care coverage for all Americans, have been shot down, 15-8 and 13-10, by the US Senate Finance Committee. Five Democrats joined all the committee’s Republicans in rejecting the only real “health care reform” that was ever proposed. Apparently the only viable options are ones that require everybody to subscribe to unaffordable private health insurance, which specializes in denying (on mere technicalities) treatment and/or coverage to people who are sick.

The first of these outrages is perhaps of only limited interest—not to say it lacks any bite, but it is simply the sniveling, pharisaical cant of scared and ignorant buffoons, whom fat-cat financers are using to divert attention from the public welfare issues that threaten those financers’ private interests.

The second, though, indicates the extent of the country’s political rot.

The only solutions to this society’s ills appear to be civil disobedience, subversion, and vehement vocal protest.

I say “solutions” loosely, though, as nowadays such actions, when not ignored entirely, are treated dismissively in the mainstream media (both old and new) and as there is a general consensus now that any form of social and political activism, though admirable and perhaps effective in tiny, invisible ways, no longer works to achieve substantive social and political changes.

In short, there is no “change you can believe in” apart from the small, private changes we individually are courageous enough to make by refusing to participate in society’s many injustices and by promoting reasonable (not to exclude heated) exposure of the lies propagated by the right, financial institutions, and conservative and collaborating “moderate” politicians.

It is hard for me to imagine America’s getting another chance as golden as the 2008 election of Barack Obama as President again—and this golden opportunity to effect real change has been squandered by Obama himself, of course, and by those others whose political careers have been built on fanning fears and then encouraging high hopes for votes at election time, but who ultimately kowtow to corporate lobbyists and toady for fat cats’ contributions when opportunities arise to address the objects of the public’s fears for real and when the public’s hopes are just within grasp of realization.

I hope I am wrong about this—but, frankly, I see no way that I can be: We are screwed. Like anyone else of my age, I am not newly disillusioned, but now I doubt the efficacy of even casting a vote at election times or sending letters to legislators or signing petitions or sending contributions to activist organizations or contending for the truth and reason in public and private forums. All of these actions I have taken—and all I have gotten from the effort is the fleeting conviction of my own rightness, but little by way of tangible improvements.

Still, we must act or else die as something less than men and women. The struggle is likely useless. Nevertheless, long live the struggle!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gay on Paper

I didn’t attend the gay pride rally downtown (Durham, NC) yesterday. The sky was overcast and threatening to storm, and Tim, one of the friends I was going with, decided he did not feel up to it, and Dave, the other friend who had invited me along, was worried the event would be rained out. Instead, Tim had us over yesterday evening for a French dish he was attempting, brandade de morue, potatoes and cod.

As for me, I decided I would rather not go to the rally by myself.

Ann called to say that the usual fundamentalists were out protesting and preaching God’s love for sinners but not their sins, the most interesting part of people, I think, but she also spotted a number of tent-like shelters crowded with the out and proud.

And, yes, I felt bad about not attending the events, which I hear are really worthwhile here—about never having attended, frankly, largely because, despite having been personally open about my sexuality since age 29 (to anyone who will stop and listen, or read my blog), I have seldom felt a particular kinship to the “gay community”—a feeling that has only intensified after I moved to North Carolina 11 years ago but had already been growing steadily since breaking up with my last ltr, almost six years earlier.

I should say, though, that there are no “communities” that I feel a firm allegiance to, partly out of extreme introversion and diffidence. I am not a joiner. The only time I tried to be a joiner was a seven- or eight-year stretch of adolescence and early-20s adulthood when I was a fundamentalist.

Now, whatever else I have to say about them, almost none of it good, the fundamentalists are superb at communities. I have never felt so genuinely welcomed and at-home than in my years as a bible-believing, -thumping, separated-from-the-world, and painfully closeted homosexual.

Of course, it was acceptance at a price—based on uniformity to self-denying and soul-crushing principles of ethical cowardice—the cost being, of course, repudiation of one’s own complexities and then the anxious emptiness that that incurs. In fact, being a part of a community led me only to a nervous breakdown at age 19.

I’m not saying all communities are like this. I’m not even saying all evangelical communities are like this. But that community I was a part of, in Hialeah, from about 1968 to about 1976, presided over a period in my life of great satisfaction in the company of others—and of inwardly directed rage and intense misery when I was by myself.

Last night, then, Tim and Dave, who are a couple, teased me on the basis of something I had e-mailed them a few days ago—that, while “gay on paper,” I am fairly certain I would not “pass inspection” today. They suggested a number of ways I might be recertified—intense Judy Garland submersion, campy clothing, a course in interior decorating—and here I thought all I needed was to get laid. Things are worse than I thought.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve had sex with an actual in-the-flesh man—as I recall it was October 2008. Married middle-aged heterosexuals "get some" more than I do. In fact, I think this man was a married middle-aged heterosexual (on paper, anyway) … and a Republican.

I’m not counting online sex or masturbation. If I did, I would be not only still certifiably gay, but also a cross between Madonna and Colin Farrell. And, as already noted, I haven’t had a sexual relationship of any duration in 17 years. Yeah, I know, I feel sorry for me, too.

On the other hand, I haven’t tried. I never tried. Being gay was just something I was, at first, and then something I did. My sexuality was never the principal component of my personal identity, and that was by design. I’m several other things besides a man-loving man—and those things require attention, too.

Up until my forties, sex, regular healthy sex, was something that just happened in the ordinary course of daily life. As I got older, I became “invisible” in the clubs and bars I visited. At 56, I have to make a bigger effort to get a bartender’s attention with a twenty in my hands on a slow weeknight—forget about getting him in the sack.

I was never strikingly attractive or hunky, but my youth all by itself was a drawing card back then. I had tricks even before I wanted to admit to myself that I was gay—frankly, conservative evangelical circles in the 1970s were a great place to pick up men, if you don’t mind the cringe factor, frequent betrayals, and nerve-cauterizing bouts of guilt.

I suppose some of you may criticize me for being overly picky. I would object on several grounds. The problem is not that I have set impossibly high standards—I have my “types,” to be sure, and I wouldn’t kick Josh Wald out of bed, but I have been attracted to all types, surfer boys and femmes, muscle studs and chubbies, tall and short, classically beautiful and guys I’m pretty sure I was the only person ever to have the hots for.

Yes, only rarely have I been attracted to someone more than seven years older than myself, and I have had a thing for men in their thirties from age 14 to the present. And so far I haven’t hankered after the black men, redheads, or extreme ectomorphs whom I have met in real life—though, sure, I could be coaxed into a fantasy three-way with Idris Elba, Kevin McKidd, and Ben Whishaw, you bet!

I’m picky in that I want to have sex only with people I am sexually attracted to. But to people who criticize me for not being attracted to other types (them, usually, or somebody they’ve lined up as a blind date for me), I say, “Look. In this society, the people I am ‘supposed’ to find attractive are women. But the fact that I don’t doesn’t make me a misogynist. I wish I were bisexual, but I’m not. I wish I could find pleasure with anyone with a dick [which a lot of straight people seem to think is the case with us gays—and indeed it is with the lucky few], but, no, I can’t, and I can’t pretend that my range is greater than it is, just for the sake of political correctness.”

So there.

As for the affectations of gay-ness, I am reasonably limp-wristed, love to dance till I sweat like a pig, and have the “gay accent”—hearing my recorded voice is a cringe-inducing reminder of that, along with people calling me “ma’am” on the phone from time to time.

But, no, I don’t call guys “her.” I have two pairs of shoes, of which I wear only one pair, and a pair of sandals. The only drag queens I’ve ever tipped were students of mine, and I wanted to be nice. My place is only slightly neater than most people’s homes, and I haven’t bought new clothes in over a year. I like musicals, but I prefer horror movies. I like Olympic swimming, but I prefer submission wrestling. I like Madonna, but I prefer Emmylou Harris. I used to send money to ACT-UP regularly, but my contributions to gay lobbies and charities have been few and far between.

So, now at age 56, I am alone and reasonably happy about that. I am curious about “community,” but burned once, twice shy. I miss having a regular sex life, but lack the capital to hire escorts or attract anyone who needs to be taken care of … and I am attracted to certain people and not others, and occasionally, and wonderfully, I am attracted to someone who’s likewise attracted to me.

Today I am as socially awkward as I was thirty years ago. But as a painfully shy 26 year old, I had charms I no longer have.

So lately I am “gay” in the sense of being typically cheerful and “queer” in the sense of deviating from the expected—and I have “pride,” loads and loads of it, for many qualities apart from my sexuality as well as for having once had a spectacularly adventurous sex life and regretting almost none of it.

And if I am no longer certifiably gay—or just “gay on paper”—then I am still a man who is intensely pleased with his life and, even with the consciousness that realistically he is past his peak, alert to all the new marvels, new perturbations, and new shit that life still has to offer.

Sunday Beefcake

Monday, September 21, 2009

All Blogosphere, All Opinions

On Friday, President Obama met with a few newspaper editors and outed himself as a newspaper junky. More importantly, he expressed a concern for the failing print news media: “I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.”

Looks like the Commander in Chief just got around to watching the last season of The Wire, doesn’t it?

And I tend to agree with him, with reservations—mainly to add that the people are no longer shouting across the void but, rather, well within the void—the din of petulant and varyingly credible babble of the Internet—like one of the circles of Dante’s hell.

I am, of course, aware of the counter-argument that blogs and the Internet are the greatest assets to democracy since, well, since the advent of the newspaper. The free (though largely "local" or "particular") expression of opinion is a wonderful aspect of the new communications technologies, but the advancement of the blogosphere over other forms of information gathering and dissemination has its drawbacks.

For one, blogs lend themselves beautifully to self-expression but not so well to specific, concrete, factual information. (You might even cite this posting as a case in point.) The blogger feels encouraged towards special pleading, the establishment of ever more scrupulous shibboleths (that deny credibility to any opinions other than word-for-word parroting of the truisms espoused by the blogger or whoever the object of the blogger’s slavish admiration is), grandstanding, sweeping generalizations, and begging the question.

Few bloggers gather firsthand information (sadly, few reporters do either, as the centralizing of news media into fewer [corporate] hands and the reinvention of “news” as a for-profit commodity has usurped any sense of investigative reporting or the public good—or truth). Most plagiarize shamelessly from other blogs, making viral manipulation of the blogosphere fairly simple business for those with the resources to do so. And now 24-hour news outlets (32 minutes of news stretched to infinity) “borrow” heavily from the blogosphere—that is, when they are not commenting, with tireless self-infatuation, on the role of the media in shaping public opinion.

Bloggers are more consumers of information than its producers. In worst cases, blogs are black holes of truthful communication, so determinedly closed-minded and obscurantist as to be virtually useless in the search of accurate, reliable, representative, and credible facts. Blogs are, after all, simply private journals made public. Their model has never been the investigative reporter—or, for that matter, the conscientious analyst and critic.

Bloggers (including me) have not defined a set of ethics and guidelines comparable to those that developed in journalism (but largely abandoned over the past 40 decades—the nail in that coffin being Ronald Reagan’s veto of the “fairness doctrine” in his last full year as President, the mindlessly irresponsible aftermath of which has forever made Sidney Lumet’s once scathing social satire Network [1976] the model of woefully short-of-the-mark prognostication).

Most bloggers I have read, of all shades in the political spectrum, like to pontificate with an air of absolute certainty—without qualifiers, without nuance, without a shred of proof. They condemn “old media,” rightly, as tools of the corporations or big government, depending on their own political outlook, sometimes without even a vague awareness that corporations and government have been all but one and the same for quite a while (one thing Network got right, regrettably). The old media is all “bread and circuses.” But the new media, no better, is all Christians and lions.

But the “old media” many bloggers condemn is relatively new—born circa September 24, 1968, ironically at the point that TV news achieved its high point and most populist stance. And the “old media” even today carries pockets of resistance to the mainstream—South Park, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher—which have inspired a certain if sometimes nebulous resurgence in radical thinking—now that “thinking” itself is de facto “radical.”

I think it’s time to resubmit the fairness doctrine—into mainstream media (newspapers, TV news, news magazines) if not in the unruly and nearly unmanageable blogosphere. In 1959 Byron White expressed the essence of this doctrine:

A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a radio frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others.... It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.

But you might ask, Doesn’t the current state of the Internet already permit the viewers and listeners such a forum? And you would be right—but the blogosphere caters to narrow circles of usually like-minded ideologues and shows no promise of ever achieving a “general circulation” or attempting an open-minded, ostensibly unbiased approach to factual truths.

And without “newspapers of record,” hopefully in competition with and corrective complementation of each other, there is no route towards a consensus of the truth, so necessary for fostering democratic opinion making.

I tell my students that they have the right to any opinions they can back up and none to opinions they can't. But if all we have to back up our opinions are just other opinions, often biased, sourceless, cut-and-pasted, and sometimes anonymous—and, even worse, as we see now, contemptuous of facts—we wind up with only people shouting, veins popping at their throats, at each other in the void.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Beefcake

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Short Answer

The short answer is always “I don’t know.” But then the question is “How much effort, past that, are you willing to make?” But the right answer is always the short answer.

How far you are willing to go before finally conceding that you just fucking don’t know is the difference between being an analyst and a bullshitter. Analysts and bullshitters alike fabricate, but bullshitters go the distance, to where “I don’t know” is just a faint flickering figure on the horizon.

Analysts circle “I don’t know” like flies on a dead squirrel, never quite losing the scent of their own ignorance, honest enough with themselves and others to hover just over agnosticism on whatever topic they essay to understand better.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Putting Faith in its Place

More crystal clarity from the good folks at QualiaSoup:

Monday, September 14, 2009


There are days like today when I sense that I hang from a single thread. And that thread stretches from the sky to the top of my head, and it hums with every move I make, like a guitar string being strummed. And there are times, like the present moment in my life, when that string is untangled to any other string, and I am free.

And I don’t feel this thread when I’m sick. I don’t feel it when I have money in my pockets for shopping. I don’t feel it when it when others are around to pull me in their directions. I don’t feel it when lust is burning in my heart. I most definitely do not feel it when the TV is on. And I don’t feel it when my mind tries to tell me to hold tight to any particular creed or ideology or school of philosophy.

But I feel it now. Slightly abuzz with Budweiser and the music of Cyndi Lauper, Johnny Rivers, the Chiffons, TV on the Radio, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Laurie Anderson. I feel it now the way my dog must feel it when he’s chasing a ball or running free.

The thread is pulling me up. It’s making me dance in my living room with my pants off. It’s making me feel like conquering the world I’ve already vanquished in my head.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

365 Days of Working Out

Sunday Beefcake

Saturday, September 12, 2009

In Memoriam

My father died eight years ago today. Apparently he fell over backwards in a small ceramics shop, seized by a heart attack a few minutes after he raised the flag at half mast at Friendship House, where he volunteered several days a week after my mother died (six years earlier).

He had called me Monday night to let me know that his dental surgery had gone fine. He left a voice mail because I was out teaching an evening class. He was getting his teeth fixed because he had a new girlfriend, whom I was scheduled to meet for the first time at Thanksgiving—as it turned out, I met her later that week when I went to Augusta with my friends Barbara and Elizabeth to pay up on his cremation and figure out what to do with his stuff.

I called him that Tuesday night to see how he was doing. Fine, he said. It was not a long conversation—neither one of us is famous for his long conversations on the telephone. I asked him if he had seen the World Trade Center collapsing on TV that morning. He had, he said. I said it was bad. He said, yes, it was bad.

I went to work the next day. Wednesday. I remember nothing about it. I remember the day before, watching with my boss and coworkers as the towers fell, trying to gauge how we felt, how much we would let ourselves feel, how real we were going to let the whole surreal mess be to us.

When I got home, I had a phone message. It was the woman who managed Friendship House. She asked me to call her back. She said it was about my father. Of course I knew something was up. The sound of her voice let me know that it was bad. How bad I wouldn’t let myself guess. That this woman I didn’t even know existed was calling me and asking me to call her back was a clear indication it was very bad.

I called back. She started crying and couldn’t get the words out. Somebody else took the phone, somebody I didn’t know who talked to me as if she knew me. My father was dead. Okay. Okay. I will drive down at the end of the week, in two days. I will take care of stuff. Thank you.

I called Elizabeth. She came over. She asked me if I had cried. I didn’t know. Maybe. I was numb. It was the same feeling I had had when my mother had died. It was as if I had just suddenly had an arm or a leg amputated. Something that was a part of me for all my life was now gone. And now the other one was gone. I was a double amputee now.

I called relatives. My mother’s brother said he and his wife would meet me in Augusta. He was a retired Southern Baptist minister, and the only minister of any faith I know whom I can now respect. Whatever else his religion was—obscurantist, judgmental, mean-spirited—was mitigated by his basic human decency, and its sorrier traits were never evident in his actions or words. I called my father’s family, whom I hardly knew, my family (father, mother, and me) having been without actual sense of roots because my father was in the Air Force for the first sixteen years of my life and we had moved every three years or so. They would send me twenty dollars … for whatever needed twenty dollars. (I gave the money to Friendship House.)

Today has been a one-man memorial at my place. I’ve graded papers, walked the dog, and picked up some beer and dog food at Kroger. Mostly I’ve mulled over the facts of my relationship with my father—like most sons, I found those facts very quickly exhausted—and I’ve contemplated death—my own death, sure, and death in general. Don’t hold your breath for me to report any big insights I came up with. Death answers nothing—it’s like reading all the periods in a favorite book … but only the periods. You get nowhere. Fast.

“Nowhere fast” is as good a definition of death as there is.

As I get older, life starts speeding up. Eight years was a huge chunk of time when I was young. Now it’s nothing. I was watching a television show recently, one that was originally broadcast ten years ago. It featured a song by Dido. And here I was still thinking that Dido was something new. Ten years ago seems so new to me. All the styles on the show—homes, clothing, automobiles—look like what I still would like to buy if I could afford them—and if I had them, I would probably consider myself up to date. I am far behind the times. The high-school kids on that show are now playing the parents of teenagers on other TV shows. It makes me cringe to think (it will make you cringe, too) that from time to time I now find myself yearning with deep, sad lust over youths who were born at a time when I was already beginning to feel old.

My dog Ripley, who turns 13 next month, is now the last link I have with my past before ten years ago. My dog Ripley and Facebook, where old friends from high school have lately come creeping up on me out of a cybereal fog, rubbing their eyes like Rip Van Winkle, grinning stupidly, wondering where it all went … and went so fast. We chuckle over our astonishment, shaking our heads from side to side, just like the old folks we’ve become.

But my dog Ripley—now 90 in dog years—is somebody my father petted, somebody who cuddled in the lap of Luis, who died five years ago of AIDS complications, who at the time of his death was my furthest back friend (we had known each other since the ninth grade). My dog, who was born almost a year exactly after my mother died, has been more a part of my life now than anybody except for my parents, and they are gone, and in some sense I have spent more time, hour for hour, with my dog than I have spent with anyone in my entire life, including my parents, old lovers, et cetera.

So I am taking good care of my dog.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Grizzly Bear's "While You Wait for the Others"

Directed by Sean Peknold (2009)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

American Health and Civics

What does it say when the President leaves it up to Congress (i.e. the legislators, i.e. the lawmakers) to come up with a plan to reform American health care—although said President has campaigned on such reforms and, even at a low point in the President’s popularity, 70% of the US population (i.e. we the people who voted the legislators and the President into office) still support the most liberal version of such a plan—and yet, and yet, said Congress has not been able to hash out even a halfway acceptable plan because the legislators’ constituents matter less than the health insurance companies that stuff the politicians’ campaign chests?

What does that say?

"I, out of an effort to give Congress the ability to do their thing and not step on their toes,” the President told ABC's Good Morning America this morning, with heaps of irony, “probably left too much ambiguity out there, which allowed then opponents of reform to come in and to fill up the airwaves with a lot of nonsense."

So tonight President Obama is going to speak to the people and supposedly explain to us and our Senators and Representatives what exactly he means by “health care reform” as well as, one hopes (but with little confidence), why exactly it may not be the best idea in the world to leave the matter of health-care decisions in the hands of insurers, who fucked it up in the first place … who do, in fact, already convene “death panels” to decide the fates of poor putzes who have made them rich on premium payments that somehow never translate to assured medical treatment … who do, in fact, already limit the choices of physicians and hospitals permissible under the insured’s respective plans.

And what does it say that said President’s address to the nation (carried on all major networks, except Fox—Fox, which will broadcast So You Think You Can Dance for the sake of those for whom rumba auditions are more pressing than the high cost and low success rate of American medicine) will occur on the eve of the Supreme Court’s hearing (at its own insistence) the case for letting corporations have unhindered influence in the course of American political campaigns and elections in the future, reversing decades of attempted (though flawed) protections on our democratic processes.

No, no, no, no, NO.

No to corporate personhood!

No to the idea that health insurers should sit at the table and decide how to turn a ruse of “health care reform” into bigger profits—with the government mandating our universal patronage of a corrupt system, with hardly any regulation on pricing and benign negligence on safety and best practices!

No to the assumption that it is the place of the Executive Branch (not the people, whose general mandate has been crystal clear for 10 months now—despite corporate media’s flourishing of attention to sideshow demonstrations by the pathetically misinformed) to inspire and stage-manage the formation of laws protective of the people’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!

If I ruled the world, as they say, insurance (private carriers or public option) would not even be the issue—but rather public clinics and public hospitals, staffed with publicly-funded doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and technology providing high quality health care to all US residents—yes, I do mean “socialized medicine,” by whatever new name you want to call it—but, but, but that is socialism! I know. I know. And according to WHO statistics on health, longevity, disease prevention, and overall costs, it’s better than what the US free market now provides.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I Scream, You Scream

This in from Towleroad. On Tuesday, same-sex couples can legally marry in Vermont. To celebrate, Ben & Jerry's Homemade ice cream is changing the name of its "Chubby Hubby" flavor to "Hubby Hubby," with a rainbow-lit wedding theme.

Sunday Beefcake: Edilson Nascimento

From Tetu.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sinead's Hand

Ireland's MarriagEquality ad with Hugh O'Conor is so much smarter and more poignant than any its US counterparts have put out there. The HRC and No on Prop 8 people ought to hire its advertising and PR firm to come up with something better than the snarky celeb-filled viral campaigns they've been coming up with.

The real issue, of course, is why any two sound-minded and capable adults should have to rely on anyone else's permission to marry and start a family.

Sure, there was a time when marriage was a matter of community, back when banns were routinely published and friends and family were invited to stand up and state why two people should not join together or to forever hold their peace, back long long ago when there were still such things as real social community and a concept of the common good. But even back then the state had no hand at all in the process.

Surely by now at least some of the thick-headed homophobes have figured out that letting the state tell people whom they may and may not marry sounds exactly like the "socialism" they so routinely malign and demonize in other contexts. If it's so fucking important for conservatives to have "choice" in the matter of dermatologists, why is it not likewise important in the matter of mates?

I would think a reasonably good way to save money in these hard economic times would be to shut down all government marriage-licensing offices and let people decide the matter of life partners for themselves.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Book of Job

Job is my favorite Old Testament book, but it’s a downer. Not that it doesn’t have its touches of Jewish humor, understated and vicious, though neither Job nor any of the other characters are Jews, and the book is supposedly of Sumerian (not Hebrew) origin.

It’s rather amazing that it ended up in the Jewish scriptures (Tanakh) at all, back when rabbis collected and canonized them, sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE. For one, it depicts God and Satan as old pals—with what amounts to a sadistic running bet about how much pain and misery righteous Job can bear before he starts cursing God.

Of course, some Bible commentators argue that “Satan” in the Book of Job is not the devil at all—some other Satan perhaps (the name refers to a position—“adversary” or “prosecutor”). Even so, the book pictures God involved in—or at the very least giving his consent to—some awfully mean behavior, all to make a point or two to this guy Satan, whoever he is.

No doubt many of these same commentators believe that the serpent that tempts Adam and Eve in Genesis is the devil, though the story (as actually written) never identifies the snake with the devil at all—and, in fact, the serpent isn’t even deceptive: he asks a straightforward question of Eve regarding God’s commandment and then states a fact about the forbidden fruit that even the Lord God himself confirms as true by the chapter’s end. It’s not even clear in the story what exactly the serpent does wrong to deserve having his legs taken away.

But my point to the bible commentators is that you can’t just go picking and choosing your fundamentalisms—claiming to believe the literal truth of the bible and then saying that somebody called Satan in the bible is not actually Satan but that a talking snake that the bible never identifies as Satan is.

What is more, we see in the Book of Job that God tends to backpedal in his position on Job's fate with this Satan fellow. At first, he’s cool with Satan’s destroying all Job’s children, servants, and property but forbids him from bodily touching Job himself. Then after Job takes all this abuse, hardly flinching and not once blaming God (who is, after all, to blame—read the fucking story—it’s all right there in Chapter One!), the Lord God agrees to let Job be smitten with painful boils from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. Nice God!

The next amazing aspect of the story is the part when Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to visit Job, ostensibly to commiserate and offer some comfort.

Some comfort!

All three blame Job for his troubles—arguing that God does not mistreat the righteous, that Job’s hard times are at least partial evidence that Job must have done something wrong (whether he remembers it or not), and that if Job will only repent and turn to God, God will save him. In other words, they say pretty much exactly what everybody who knocks on my door with a bible in his hands tells me … and Job just laughs them off, making fun of their pious self-righteousness (“Surely ye are the people and wisdom will die with you!”—sarcasm) … moreover, when God finally does show up to speak for himself, he agrees with Job, not his judgmental friends.

Job’s message is basically this:

… that if you are living a life of misery, it is better had you never been born. In fact, miscarriages are luckier than people who have to live with constant grief and pain.

… that nobody can argue with God because an argument can occur only between two equals, and nobody is equal to God.

… that trees have it better than human beings, because if you chop down a tree, at least there’s hope that it can sprout up again and grow back, but human beings, once they’re dead, are just dead, finito, no after life to speak of. (Job 14:12)

… that a human being cannot even fully understand nature, so it’s a little bit presumptuous to pretend that you understand the mind of nature’s creator. (When he shows up, God gets in a zinger by asking Job’s pious friends exactly what part of the universe they had a hand in slapping together.)

… that you are born naked and property-less, so it’s kind of hard to justify that losing everything you’ve gained over a lifetime constitutes a real injustice.

… that animals don’t fret about the future or miss the good old days—when bad things happen to animals, they whine for a while and then just buck up and deal with the present realities—which, the Book of Job suggests, is God’s plan for human beings too. (God even tells Job to get up on his feet—that “thine own right hand can save thee” (Job 40:14, KJV).

… that man is in no position to state whether God and his actions are good or evil—God is just that much bigger than humanity! Things are what they are. God controls everything. It’s not man’s place to make judgments or estimations about what God’s up to.

… that apparently even God is an agnostic—or at least likes agnostics more than know-it-alls!

In the end, God heals Job, and manages to restore Job’s previous wealth two times over, largely by having Job’s extended family and friends freely share their wealth with him (Welfare! Socialism!)—he even gives Job new children, possibly even better children than the ones he smites for no good reason 40 chapters earlier.

Interestingly, Job’s (new) daughters are named (Jemima, Kezia, Kerenhappuch—whom, hopefully, everybody just called Keren), but his sons are not (Feminazis! Man-haters!) And all three were quite the babes, the scripture tells us. Could this suggest that Job was written by a woman? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Also, when Job dies (at a ripe old age, we’re told) he leaves inheritances to both his sons and his daughters—a gender-blind egalitarian inclusiveness that was almost unheard of in ancient Jewish society … or, for that matter, in the whole ancient world.

In short, the Book of Job is the perfect book to read aloud to your friends who think they are speaking for God and perceiving his true intentions. And individually bound copies of this book should be sent to every preacher and evangelist with his or her own TV or radio show, too … in hopes that the whole bunch of them will learn just to shut the fuck up already.


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