Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Suor Angelica Soars while Fly Falls Flat

To the sublime from the ridiculous...

Puccini's Il Trittico is a triptych of one-act operattas, of which the second "Suor Angelica" is especially powerful. It's about the daughter of royalty who brings deep shame on her family by getting knocked up, then is locked away in a convent and spends seven long years there with no word from her family, until at last her evil aunt the Princess comes to disinherit her and reveals that Sister Angelica's son had died years before. Upon hearing this, Angelica longs to join her son in Heaven and, in her rush to poison herself with flowers from her garden, realizes only too late that suicide is a mortal sin that will damn her to Hell. In pleading that would bring Spock himself to tears, she cries out to the Virgin to save her. In a move that could in lesser hands might have bordered on corny, the irradiantly blueclad Virgin gracefully descends on a wire to hover silently over the stage and brings forth Angelica's son in radiant light. All is forgiven and mother joins son in death, happy at last.

My worries about LA Opera this year from the fatally flawed The Fly have been completely put to rest.

The staging of Il Trittico is a visual feast, with each act quite distinct. Sondra Radvanovsky plays the title role of Sister Angelica with grace and a powerful soprano voice that earned her robust applause midway after the most famous aria "Senza Mama", as well as a long standing ovation after the Finale (which I liked even better), where her voice reminded me of the legendary Renata Tebaldi, whose unequaled concert performance of this role I leave you with here (visually accompanied by various slides of her life). Let the healing power of Puccini and the Virgin wash over you as you listen to the Finale:

Then, compare the Finale above with Renata Tebaldi's own rendition of "Senza Mama" here and see for yourself which is the more moving.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Poor Palin in crosshairs of Con double-cross

At last the coalition between Conservatives and Christian Evangelicals is fraying!

In perhaps the first crack in the glass floor of blind support for Sarah Palin from a bona fide Conservative, Kathleen Parker succinctly identifies the Palin Problem: She’s out of her league.

Some good zingers from the article:

I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.

If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.

What an ingrate! Sarah Palin is very clearly not up to fixing the mess that you caused (or at least the Ayn Rand ideology you represent), but at least she wasn't the one that gambled on the good name of the US and lost, to the tune of $700 billion dollars!

Giddy as I am about this schism, I feel duty-bound to remind you, my inconstant Conservative opponent, of your marriage vows: You Gotta Dance With Them What Brung Ya. In case you hadn't noticed, Sarah Palin has been drawing larger crowds at speeches than John McCain has. If he loses this election, it will not be because of her.

Just read Papa Bush's lips: payback is a bitch, and her name is Sarah Palin (a non-sexist term, given that she self-identifies as a pit bull with lipstick, and she is female). The last I checked, John McCain was voted politician least likely to stay bought, the only kind of honesty a politician can objectively claim.

The bankrupt ethics of Wall Street shows that Conservatives have lost any right to lead this country. If, after a free ride to the Promised Land on the backs of hard-working low-paid anti-intellectual Christian rubes, the Cons attempt to trample them fleeing their hit-and-run megawreck of the American economy (also known as Socialism for the Rich, Capitalism for the Poor), they will certainly lose any chance to.

Then again, since Christian Evangelicals sold their soul to the Devil (Nixon, Reagan, Dubya) to feast at the table of power and now no longer can squeeze through the eye of that needle, maybe they get what they deserve. After all, they have been praying earnestly for Armageddon, and now it seems the kleptocratic oligarchs have delivered.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Fly: more Dreck than Shrek

What an inglorious start of the 2008-09 LA Opera season! As a subscriber this year, I was eager to sink my teeth into a worthy sequel of the exciting original atomic-era 1957 film and the later 1986 remake. Remaking this as an opera is a worthy goal. Opera is essentially a collection of stirring arias stitched together with plot-advancing recitative and some elaborate stagecraft.

With the The Fly, the aimless chanted dialog was unbroken by even a single aria, instead droning on like a Gregorian chant, in weak voices unable to make themselves heard over the robust orchestra (luckily, I could lighthouse from stage up to the supertitles and back every half second to assist my underdeveloped lipreading skills). The only clear voice was from a high tenor leather daddy in the bar scene.

The set dressing was elaborate but steel-gray and static, without a single set change. The funds provided by the NEA and the James Irvine Foundation having been no doubt exhausted on an admittedly good-looking pair of ominous telepods, the other scenes were simple props (desk, folding chairs, fake pool table) placed stage front, without even the benefit of decent lighting design to hide the lab equipment behind. In fact, in one memorable lighting mishap, the lone spotlight fails to illuminate the armwrestling match (don't ask!), instead brightly lighting a patch of empty stage several feet in front. I can only assume the folding table did not hit its mark. Later, a massive rack of back lights shone in our eyes — and on each other — blinding the audience to all but the cables and scaffolding.

The libretto was mere plot without drama, jarringly punctuated with mixed tone ("Swear that you love me. Do you swear? Pinky swear?", as the two principals interlock little fingers in an oath of fidelity). Contrast this with the passion of Donn'Anna crying out for revenge in Mozart's Don Giovanni: "Fuggi crudele...vendetta!" Such was the wrath and passion of this that years later, I can still sing the aria aloud. Even the brief nudity and muscled bare chest of the would-become Fly Seth Brendle (played by scrumptious Daniel Okulitch) could not elicit passion from his romantic interest. Political correctness having now placed off limits the inherited power of traditional stereotypical for "leading ladies" such as wife, mistress, coworker, or even infatuated student, the vapid libretto of David Henry Hwang (of M. Butterfly fame) settles for a skeptical female science reporter (a non-sexy job in the best of times), who after a one-night-stand turns into a spy for her ex-lover and boss.

The transformation from human to Brendlefly (which we learn is the scientific term for the fusion of Seth Brendle and musca domestica), far from the grand Kafkaesque (or even Teen Wolf) metamorphosis that I had expected, was tackily accomplished with a Creature from the Black Lagoon outfit and a computer monitor (sung aloud by monotonous chorus offstage), describing in bizarrely graphic detail the physiological changes underway: "First, he bit his fingernail off, then his teeth fell out, followed by his gums, then he learned to vomit his stomach acid, then suck them back up." I had had my fill of this stuff back in Junior High. Indeed, the fact that white liquid was ostensibly oozing out of cracks in his skin (we take the computer monitor's word for this, as nothing is shown on stage) was apparently thought so tittilating and witty that the identical line was used a minute later to describe what oozed out of his fingers and toes when they fell off. In short, ten minutes listening to a human autopsy report. The final scene has the leading lady end with a Palinesque announcement that she is pregnant with a flybaby and will not abort her larva in utero but rather give birth to this fruitful ménage-à-quatre fusion of man, woman, fly, and telepod (assuming it does not kill and eat her in childbirth like an Alian). Given religious conservatives' opposition to both abortion, bestiality, wireless internet, and group marriage, I wouldn't even hazard a guess whether they approve of her intention to raise the fly offspring on her own outside the bounds of a traditional family structure. (Sounds like we need another California Proposition to stave this one off...)

Truly, the only character that engendered my honest affection was the baboon puppet, expertly animated to give a charm exceeding that of the Winged Monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. The insufficiently shocking grotesque moments where baboon and later Brendlefly were turned inside out were not signalled for the proximity-challenged with a helpful stage scream, faint, shout, or gesticulation, giving me plenty of time to analyze the red paint on the mannequin and mourn the missed climax.

It is probably unfair to expect the cast to have done more with such a simple libretto, lacking dramatic irony, false or real climax, or surprise. Indeed, the first Act ended so abruptly that the audience did not think to clap. Again, at the curtain call, the applause was hanging on out of sheer politeness while the cast stole a second bow.

Still, all of the above challenges paled in comparison to the true stinker of the night. The music, written by moving picture soundtrack writer Howard Shore, had the feel of a soundtrack. Arias are no doubt very difficult to write to be memorable, lyrical, without ripping off the great operas of yore. Still, this audience member would have appreciated the attempt. I can only contrast this with operatic musicals like West Side Story or especially Rent, which successfully stood up to Shakespeare and Puccini, respectively, with both courage and originality. I would say more about the amorphous mass of notes, except that even two hours later I cannot remember a single motif or chorus. Apparently, the music of the second Act was so poorly received in Paris that it was rewritten for LA, and indeed the first several bars where qualitatively different (as though written by another?) but soon gave way to the same basso continuo paralleling the enless recitative.

The tragicomedy of the The Fly is that it fails utterly to excite even with the benefit of nudity, a rather humorous sex/rape scene, backstory of compelling Promethean hubris, onstage acrobatics, and geek humor. This takes some doing, since the jokes actually made me laugh out loud, so I will repeat some here. You will either scream with the smug laughter of an insider, or be left bemused and bored.

Why did the chickin cross the Möbius Strip?

— To get to the same side.

Who was Heisenberg?

— I'm not certain...

Why do scientists have such trouble picking up women at parties?

— Because they are so rarely invited to them.

Ah, French champagne. Although I think it's from California.

So I guess it can't be champagne. So why does it have bubbles?

Reacting negatively to criticism of the score, a professional musician friend of mine (who often works orchestrating and performing film scores) suggested I take some blank note paper and a pencil and try my own hand. I certainly am no musician, but think I might just have a go at a better libretto. Good drama is disguising human tribulations in animal clothing, not dressing up soap opera with fancy lab equipment.

In all fairness, the LA Opera has taken on a bold and ambitious season repertoire year, with two Wagner Ring operas, as as season ticket holders we are proud sponsors. It is completely understandable that they need to bookend the season with modern works (The Fly, The Birds), both to cater to younger tastes of the new subscribers of a younger generation, as well as to fill out the schedule with less-costly ventures. Let us hope that The Birds (unlike The Fly) will take flight.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Character counts, not cowardly casuistry

The Library of Congress shamefully discriminated against hiring a highly qualified (and as it turns out transgendered) candidate (whom they had wanted to hire) after that candidate expressed the intention just before starting work to transition from male to female. Quoting from here:

The ACLU filed the lawsuit against the Library of Congress on June 2, 2005. After retiring from the military, Schroer, who had been hand-picked to head up a classified national security operation while serving as a Special Forces officer, applied for a position with the Library of Congress as the senior terrorism research analyst. Soon thereafter she was offered the job, which she accepted immediately. Prior to starting work, Schroer took her future boss to lunch to explain that she was in the process of transitioning and thought it would be easier for everyone if she simply started work presenting as female. The following day, Schroer received a call from her future boss rescinding the offer, telling her that she wasn't a "good fit" for the Library of Congress.

Happily, a federal judge has just ruled against Library of Congress, which, in a shocking bit of casuistry, had moved to dismiss the case several times, claiming that transgender people are not covered under Title VII of 1964. Leaving aside the legal validity of this assertion (the judge found it specious), this is a very disturbing example of the metaethics of our modern culture, where what is ethical is reduced to what is legal. Morality is replaced by prejudice, ethics by not getting caught.

Good character demands more than avoiding censure. There being in any case certainly no federal law requiring the firing of transgendered persons, how was it that the applicant's boss justified this action? Did the position, like a Hooter's waitress, require extra-professional qualifications? Perhaps, the unspoken requirement was to contribute to a "positive and comfortable work environment" (i.e. pander to others' basest prejudices)?

There is a philosophical question about the source of ethics, dating back at least to Attic Greece. Does ethics proceed from morality (do what you think is right) or from casuistry (rule-based, satisfing the minimal common-law framework that society requires)? I believe the better course of action of an ethical person is to take the more restrictive result of these two: do your duty to yourself and to others, where both can be accommodated.

The above judgment redeems the plaintiff, but for the defendant there is little chance of redemption. What does not flow from within cannot be sucked from without. That judgment must be left to a higher power.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Putting my money where my mouth is

Call it an insurance policy. We all know what road is paved with good intentions. We also know that the road to victory costs money. In a state as large as California, that means a lot of money.

Some people are so eager to "defend" marriage that they are trying to force me into an involuntary divorce. I am optimistic that the mean-spirited (or misguided, depending on how charitable I am feeling) California Proposition 8 will fail. However, I could not look myself in the mirror if it passed and I had done nothing to oppose it.

I just contributed money to the No on Prop 8 campaign, a coalition of just about everybody against this attack on marriage equality.

When I was in college, I marched against Apartheid and went to rallies. Now that I am older and too busy to donate time, I am glad that I can still play a part. If you also are so moved, No on Prop 8 will be glad to make use of whatever time or money you have to offer. The opposition has raised almost all its money from outside California, who see this as a make-or-break moment for their retrograde beliefs. They have outraised us more than 3 to 1 and promise to spend $20 million to prevail in November. Strangely, church collections are more motivating than public radio beg-a-thons. What does that say about the Blue half of this country?

Be a part of history in the making. Take (as I have) the Starbucks matching pledge. For every dollar you spend at Starbucks (or whatever church you religiously attend), match that with a dollar to No on Prop 8. We will need a decisive victory, or this hydra will be rearing its ugly head in two years' time.

And I will, once again, be living in sin.

White privilege and the N-word

Resolved: Whereas you can say the N-word, I cannot. I am fine with that.

For y'all following along at home, take a look at this link to read up on White Privilege and to arm yourself with some perspective on the issue.

Then watch the following episode of The View and try to hear why white people are in no position to lead the charge on getting past racial-divide bitterness. Listen especially closely to the last half where Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck discuss the legitimacy of using the N-word (and try to ignore the "girl fight" aspect that many men instinctively turn off to...the point here is about race, not gender).

(Alt. link here)

In summary caricature: Post-racial Barbie insists on teleporting to the Promised Land already ("why won't you take yes for an answer?"), while Angry Black Woman demands first an admission of guilt before letting her move on ("you're not hearing me").

Here's the reality. White people do enjoy an advantage over black people in America. This is true whether either group wants to mention it, fight against it, or deny it. To be angry about this undeserved privilege, or to repurpose and arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to use a single sometime slur, is the right of black people. To acknowledge the undeservedness of this privilege (however unsought or undesired) is the duty of white people. Until this is agreed on, there can be no leaping to a post-racial utopia.

If you think it is unfair to be blamed for something you didn't cause, or to have one English word that you didn't even want to use put off limits to you but not to others, it is. But don't move this injustice to the top of your queue just yet. Those slots are already taken by far worthier indignities.

I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir. I just wanted to go on record. There has been far too much "get over it already" white indignation for my taste in the discussion over the role of race in the Presidential election, and there needs to be some push back. We now resume our regularly scheduled blogging...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It's the Party, stupid!

Have you heard the one about the Independent Voter?

An undecided Independent Voter was faced with the dilemma of whether to vote for Obama or McCain. As a test, he asked each of them several questions:

  1. How will you fix an economy ravaged by eight years of plutocratic Republican policies?
  2. How will you engage a complex and increasingly multilateral world?
  3. What kind of Supreme Court nominees (up to 3 of them!) will you choose to replace the aging (liberal) Justices that may leave office in your term?

First, Obama gave an articulate, reasoned, and policy-rich reply, based on his inspiring life story and the values of the Democratic Party.

Then, McCain delivered his blunt assessment that government corruption and national security are his top priorities, where partisanship will have no place.

The Independent Voter was very impressed by both their responses. He then gave long and careful consideration...

And then voted for the one whose Vice-President has the biggest tits.

If you are offended because the previous line is sexist, then shame on you. You have let the politicians, media, and bloggers misdirect your attention. For this is much more than sexist, it is personalist. With due apologies to Gov. Palin's breasts, the real outrage here is the tacit (and widespread) belief that we should elect our President based on individual traits: charisma, speaking ability, gravitas, quick wit, and (in Obama's case) strikingly handsome looks.

Grow up. The truth is much simpler: the best predictor of Presidential policy-making is Party, not personality. Speeches come from people, actions come from party caucuses. This is not a horse race, it is a referendum on political philosophy.

We are a divided country in the scariest of ways: age. The older half of the Supreme Court is liberal: Stevens (88), Ginsburg (75), Breyer (70), Souter (68). The younger half is conservative: Roberts (53), Alito (58), Thomas (60), Scalia (72), Kennedy (72). You do the math.

Enter the dreaded Independent Voter. Our election will be decided by people who are not merely ambivalent about their own views on public policy questions, but are hostile to the very idea of partisanship itself. They base their vote not on a rational analysis of probable future Presidential decisions, but on individual (and largely irrelevant) personality quirks. Obama sounds like the voice of a new generation. McCain looks like the wisdom of age.

Get real. Turn off the hype and read the 2008 Democratic and Republican Party Platforms. For those who don't like to read, here is my one-line summary of each:

  • political    rights  of the individual
  • economic power of the group
  • economic rights  of the individual
  • political    power of the group

If this choice is not clear enough for you, then maybe you should just vote for the one with the hottest bod. I can think of worse ways to pick a Presidential candidate.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Republican Hypocrisy in Overdrive

salon.com highlights a hilarious Comedy Central video serving up Republican hypocrits (including your favorite and mine, Karl Rove) contradicting themselves.

It is a must-see for anyone who still believes that Republican hacks have gotten on board the Straight Talk Express. Maybe these people should stop trying to help John McCain before he bolts the GOP entirely!

John McCain is AWOL

Poor John McCain.

He is now officially Absent Without Leave from the culture wars surrounding him on all sides. He persists in an irrational delusion that political division is based on political egos, rather than on rational and profound disagreements on the nature of our social contract: individual rights vs. group obligations, political freedom vs. economic liberty, role of religion in politics and society, constitutional guarantees vs. public safety, freedom of expression vs. cultural comfort, parental vs. societal interests in the protection and upbringing of children. The list goes on and on, with perhaps two-thirds of Americans ready to shout at the top of their lungs over each of these issues.

Who is this Solomon John McCain to settle our legitimate disputes by dividing the baby in two? Maybe on tax policy, but what about gay marriage? Reproductive freedom? Separation of church and state? These are land mines in American society. You can steer left or right of them, but compromise will end badly.

John McCain was short on specifics in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. I will add my own commentary [in brackets], pointing out where he and I do not see eye to eye. I find myself siding with the Christian Right on this one: there is a culture war going on, and John McCain is nowhere to be found. For indeed, managing this war is the true role of the modern American Presidency, and there is no room for appeasement.

I'm grateful to the President [whose name he dares not utter here...] for leading us in those dark days following the worst attack on American soil in our history and keeping us safe from another attack many thought was inevitable; [and for no other reason?]....And I'm grateful to the 41st president [whose name he also strangely fails to speak aloud] and his bride of 63 years, and for their outstanding example of honorable service to our country. [Shockingly, he fails even to allude to Ronald Reagan, the very founder of the modern Republican coalition!]

Finally, a word to Sen. Obama and his supporters. We'll go at it over the next two months. That's the nature of these contests, and there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and admiration. [Utter silence descends on the audience here] Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other. We're dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal and endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. No country ever had a greater cause than that. And I wouldn't be an American worthy of the name if I didn't honor Sen. Obama and his supporters for their achievement. [So McCain is saying that the vast majority of hard-core Republican supporters are unAmerican? No wonder the audience went silent...]

And I've found just the right partner [actually, the Christian Right found her for you] to help me shake up Washington, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. She has executive experience and a real record of accomplishment. She's tackled tough problems like energy independence and corruption. She's balanced a budget, cut taxes and taken on the special interests. She's reached across the aisle and asked Republicans, Democrats and independents to serve in her administration [does this remind you of a certain former "compassionate conservative" governor?] . She's the mother of five children. She's helped run a small business, worked with her hands and knows what it's like to worry about mortgage payments and health care and the cost of gasoline and groceries. [Oh, and did I also mention in passing that she is a fundamentalist Christian, a card-carrying member of the NRA, and an anti-choice extremist, none of which are presumably worth mentioning here?]

She knows where she comes from [rural America, tired of urban domination] and she knows who she works for [God].

I'm very proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country. [Actually, she and the country seem to have gotten very well acquainted without his mediation, seeing as he apparently chose her only days before her nomination].

You know, I've been called a maverick [or loose cannon, if you are less charitable. My friend Brendan reminds me that an honest politician is "one who stays bought"!]; someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it's meant as a compliment and sometimes it's not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don't work for a party. I don't work for a special interest. I don't work for myself. I work for you. [Who exactly is the "you" here? A solid majority of Americans have a strong affiliation with a political party that they feel does authentically represent their "special interests".]

I've fought corruption, and it didn't matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans. [There are roughly three main Republican themes: God, Country, and Wealth. Care to guess which one has recently fallen out of favor?]

I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn't a popular thing to do. [I have to give him this one! Clinton failed this test of conviction with her once-bitten-twice-shy triangulation strategy.] And when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said I'd rather lose an election than see my country lose a war [leaving aside of course the larger question whether it was wise for the Republicans to have started the Iraq War in the first place.]

I fight for Americans. I fight for you [not in my name, please...] I fight for Bill and Sue Nebe from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who lost their real estate investments in the bad housing market. [Ok, I confess this example leaves me dumbfounded. Are we really to feel sorry for a (presumably) working-class couple that borrowed money they couldn't pay back to gamble on a get-rich-quick scheme flipping houses? Say it ain't so, John!]

I fight for Jake and Toni Wimmer of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Jake works on a loading dock, coaches Little League, and raises money for the mentally and physically disabled. Toni is a schoolteacher, working toward her master's degree. They have two sons; the youngest, Luke, has been diagnosed with autism. Their lives should matter to the people they elect to office [as opposed to my life, which doesn't? Just making sure...]. They matter to me [which is why he will do what exactly for them? Increase federal spending on autism research? Pray for their souls? Feature them in his acceptance speech?]

I fight to restore the pride and principles of our party. We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger [while George W. Bush searched in vain for his lost Veto stamp?]. We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both (!) parties and Sen. Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies. [Both parties? Flash quiz: which party received the most donations from Big Oil? Guesses anyone? Actually, no need to guess. Here is the breakdown for the last twelve years. Notice a pattern?

Donations to both political parties by the oil and gas industry

I think we can guess where 3/4 of the corruption has gone.]

We lost their trust, when we valued our power over our principles. [I assume by "we" he means "the Republican Party"?]

We're going to change that. [You will have plenty of time to do this while serving some well-deserved time-out in the penalty box.]

We're going to recover the people's trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics. [Excuse me? I will give you Reagan. But Lincoln and (Teddy) Roosevelt? Lincoln freed the slaves from the Dixiecrat bigots that fled the Dems in 1948 and whose fellow Southerners now make up a major constituency of the Republican party. Teddy Roosevelt set aside huge tracts of the West for preservation, not oil drilling. And he left the Republican party out of the same disgust that McCain must be feeling about now.]

We believe everyone [or maybe just American citizens?] has something to contribute and deserves the opportunity to reach their God-given potential [except gays, who cannot get married, or atheists, whose potential is not God-given] from the boy whose descendants arrived on the Mayflower to the Latina daughter of migrant workers. We're all God's children and we're all Americans. [We pause while Mr. McCain clears this first with his Republican base...]

We believe in low taxes, spending discipline and open markets. We believe in rewarding hard work and risk takers and letting people keep the fruits of their labor [provided of course that you have nepotistic connections, access to capital, and the privilege of birth and race lotttery, good education, and a social safety net when risks fail].

We believe in a strong defense [i.e. America first], work, faith [in Christ], service, a culture of life [i.e. anti-choice but pro-death-penalty], personal responsibility, the rule of law [created by those in power], and judges who dispense justice impartially and don't legislate from the bench [such as in Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Gideon v. Wainwright, Lawrence v. Texas, and yes, Roe v. Wade. Should I go on?]

We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities. [Who doesn't, unless their prejudices should infringe on my constitutionally guaranteed rights.]

We believe in a government that unleashes the [economic, not social] creativity and initiative of Americans. Government that doesn't make your choices for you [unless God commands it], but works to make sure you have more choices to make for yourself [unless your choice is to terminate your pregnancy or get married to a same-sex partner].

I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can [across the board, so the very rich get most of the benefit]. My opponent will raise them [albeit on the richest 5% of Americans]....I will cut government spending [unlike his own party currently in power, which has increased federal spending more than did any previous President and Congress ever before]. He will increase it [no doubt to pay the trillion dollars (!) that the Iraq war will cost the U.S. Treasury].

My health care plan will make it easier for more Americans to find and keep good health care insurance. His plan will force small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages, and force families into a government-run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor. [Actually, a bureaucrat does stand between me and my doctor. He is a bean counter for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of California, and it took six months and testimonials of medical necessity from two oral surgeons, a primary physician, an orthodontist, and a dentist, along with implied threats of a lawsuit, to prevail on appeal in a routine and very necessary lower jaw surgery authorization. Lucky for me, there is no government bureaucrat interfering in this relationship!]

Keeping taxes low helps small businesses grow and create new jobs. Cutting the second-highest business tax rate in the world will help American companies compete and keep jobs from moving overseas [and possibly even trickle down to the masses enough to maintain their political support]. Doubling the child tax exemption from $3,500 to $7,000 will improve the lives of millions of American families [though not mine]. Reducing government spending and getting rid of failed programs will let you keep more of your own money to save, spend and invest as you see fit.

For workers in industries that have been hard hit, we'll help make up part of the difference in wages between their old job and a temporary, lower-paid one while they receive retraining that will help them find secure new employment at a decent wage. [Is this a loan or a gift? Guarantee of work? Wage supports? What party does McCain belong to again?]

Education is the civil rights issue of this century. [Not the right to vote? The right to sit on any bench and drink from any water fountain? The right not to be imprisoned without due process of law or even habeas corpus? The right to be presumed innocent until found guilt in a court of law?]

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them. Some may choose a better public school [unless there is no room, which is certain to be the case in cities, or unless there are no other schools, in more rural areas]. Some may choose a private one [i.e. religious one or government-supported home-schooling, since non-religious private schools are too expensive to be funded by vouchers anyway]. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children will have that opportunity. [Unless of course, other societal causes of academic failure predominate, such as broken homes, indifferent parents, peer pressure, lack of a home reading culture, single parents, urban violence, hunger, poverty, language difficulties, migrant parents forced to move constantly in search of work or, in the case of undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children, to avoid being deported.]

Sen. Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched bureaucracies. I want schools to answer to parents and students. And when I'm president, they will. [What unions? Teachers have a much higher approval rating than politicians do. And the main bureaucracy in education is controlled at the local level by school boards (with the one major exception of special education, which has strong and expensive government mandates, but perhaps Gov. Palin wants to remove these?) Maybe schools should be run directly from Washington? Or maybe the control desired is not quality but content of instruction, with local freedom to teach creationism or religion with taxpayer dollars?]

My fellow Americans, when I'm president, we're going to embark on the most ambitious national project in decades. We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much. [No more bribing Egypt $1.3 billion per year to honor a peace treaty with Israel, incidently a lot less money than we would have to give to Israel to defend itself otherwise.] We will attack the problem on every front. We will produce more energy at home. [Goverment subsidies?] We will drill new wells offshore, and we'll drill them now [with the oil sold at world prices to China. After all, these are private oil companies, or does McCain plan to nationalize them?] We will build more nuclear power plants [although the economics of this are far from clear: according to Robert D. Glynn Jr., the chairman of Pacific Gas & Electric in San Francisco, "To order a new nuclear plant today, you'd have to be crazy."] We will develop clean coal technology [no such thing]. We will increase the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We will encourage the development and use of flex-fuel [water and crop-intensive], hybrid and electric automobiles [solutions for global warming perhaps, but not energy independence. Oh, did someone forget the most obvious and effective measures of all: conservation, higher fuel efficiency standards, investment in public transportation, and yes, inflating your tires?]

Sen. Obama thinks we can achieve energy independence without more drilling and without more nuclear power [no he doesn't, nor does anyone else. According to Gov. Palin herself, such a goal is not possible for a country as energy-hungry as the US: "Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America's energy problems — as if we all didn't know that already."]. But Americans know better than that. We must use all resources and develop all technologies necessary to rescue our economy from the damage caused by rising oil prices and to restore the health of our planet. [Maybe he should check with his Vice-Presidential nominee, who had just gotten done saying the night before (and rather snidely too, if I can say that without being accused of sexism or "media bias"): "what exactly is our opponent's plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he's done turning back the waters and healing the planet?"] It's an ambitious plan, but Americans are ambitious by nature, and we have faced greater challenges. It's time for us to show the world again how Americans lead. [Shouldn't we make sure the rest of the world wants to follow? Maybe we should take the log out of our own eye before leading the Europeans, who are way out in front of us on environmental policy.]

We have dealt a serious blow to al-Qaida in recent years [in Afghanistan, although they are regrouping while we fritter our money and troops away in Iraq, where al-Qaida never had a real presence]. But they are not defeated, and they'll strike us again if they can. Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism and on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons [aided by our loss of credibility over WMD in Iraq]. Russia's leaders, rich with oil wealth [a little Republican irony here] and corrupt with power, have rejected democratic ideals [yet enjoy strong popular backing after the kleptocracy we helped to create after the fall of the Soviet Union] and the obligations of a responsible power [i.e. they want to project their power as we do ours]. They invaded a small, democratic neighbor [which awkwardly has its own domestic ethnic division and oppression, reflected in the nationalist drive to keep "Georgia for the Georgians"] to gain more control over the world's oil supply [as opposed to say the Saudis?], intimidate other neighbors [as we do with sanctions], and further their ambitions of reassembling the Russian empire. And the brave people of Georgia need our solidarity and prayers [but not South Ossetians, Abkhazians, Kurds, Roma, or other stateless people?]. As President, I will work to establish good relations with Russia so we need not fear a return of the Cold War [which naturally would require that both sides' needs are satisfied]. But we can't turn a blind eye to aggression and international lawlessness that threatens the peace and stability of the world and the security of the American people.

We face many threats in this dangerous world, but I'm not afraid of them. [Then George W. Bush has not done his job!] I'm prepared for them. I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better [like give up its lust of multibillion dollar cold-war-era weapon systems?], and what it should not do [like nation building or regime change?]. I know how the world works. I know the good and the evil in it [I'm glad you're omniscient. Just please don't look into Putin's soul, ok?]. I know how to work with leaders who share our dreams of a freer, safer and more prosperous world, and how to stand up to those who don't. I know how to secure the peace. [Here's one way: strengthen our alliances instead of alienating them with "old Europe" talk.]

We need to change the way government does almost everything.... [Whoa! A little reality check is in order. You have a country sharply divided along religious, regional, political, and class faultlines, with an aging baby boomer majority population interested in investing in only two things (their own retirement and health care) and a crumbling infrastructure resulting from the lowest taxes by far in the developed Western World. Perhaps a little focus and less ambitious agenda might be more productive?]

The constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn't a cause, it's a symptom. It's what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not you. [If only! It's what happens when group A and group B have profoundly (and often legitimately) differing views on our social contract, and elect political representatives that attempt to accurately reflect the views of their constituents.]

Again and again, I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That's how I will govern as president. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and the scars to prove it. Sen. Obama does not. [Actually, we all have scars from eight years of an Administration catering to 51% of the population, with reckless contempt for the other 49%. It is a little unfair to expect bipartisanship to break out until we get our 8 years in office to undo the damage. To the barricades...]

I've been an imperfect servant....And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God. [Truly, John, you had me 8 paragraphs ago. Let me stipulate here and now unequivocally how much respect I have for your personal sacrifice in Vietnam. I know of no one who disagrees with this statement. I will not even quibble with your having made this the dominant justification of your candidacy (along with the Mr. Smith Goes To Washington fantasy). I certainly have neither the standing nor the desire to refute it, but hope you will understand that I do not consider it sufficient reason to vote for you.]

If you find faults with our country, make it a better one [I intend to with my vote on Election Day]. If you're disappointed with the mistakes of government, join its ranks and work to correct them. Enlist in our armed forces [or Peace Corps, as I did!]. Become a teacher [as my husband did!]. Run for public office [can't, people won't vote for a gay atheist]. Defend the rights of the oppressed [like gays and lesbians?]. Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier [though I doubt that Gov. Palin or her supporters will!].

I'm going to fight for my cause every day as your president. I'm going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank him: that I'm an American [also, God, thanks for making me a man, as the Arabs say, and decently well off and intelligent, and white, and having my education paid for by self-sacrificing parents, and all the other "privileges" I have You to thank for that make me better than lesser mortals in the hierarchy of divine favoritism], a proud citizen of the greatest country on Earth [surely everyone on Earth can agree on this!], and with hard work, strong faith [in a Christian God] and a little courage, great things are always within our reach. Fight with me. Fight with me.

Trust me, John McCain. I will fight with you. With this blog, with my vote, with my very soul. Your party platform is toxic to my being, its beliefs anathema to my own. Your affiliation with the GOP has already established my opposition to your cause.

Not to worry. Your inspired choice of Gov. Palin will more than compensate you with lots of passionate new friends you never knew you had. Enjoy them with God's blessings. And if you should win, please believe me...I wish you a long and healthy Presidency!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

1 out of 3 Evangelicals votes NO!

The Field Poll, a California-based independent and non-partisan survey of public opinion established in 1947, released its findings on July 18, 2008 regarding the California Proposition 8 which if passed would overturn the California Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. The question the Field Poll asked was:

(As you know) Proposition 8 is the “Limit on Marriage Constitutional Amendment.” It amends the California constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. If the election were being held today, would you vote YES or NO on Proposition 8, the Limit on Marriage Constitutional Amendment?

They found that among likely voters, 51% would vote no, with only 42% voting yes. If anything, this result understates the opposition, as it was conducted before the Attorney General reworded the official ballot proposition title from “Limit on Marriage Constitutional Amendment” to “Eliminates Right of Same-sex Couples to Marry”, a change that makes explicit that voting yes implicates the yes-voter in being party to forcibly divorcing currently legally married couples, a position that may put moderate voters off. I take this as a good omen, despite the grotesquely large sum of money recently contributed by carpetbaggers from Ohio in support of the anti-gay Yes on 8 campaign.

Once the fear subsided of being forcibly divorced from my husband (yes, we do use that word), I took a closer look at the fine print and found something even more remarkable: 1 in 3 California Evangelical Christians opposes Proposition 8. Assuming that the vast majority of Evangelicals personally oppose homosexuality, this is a remarkably live-and-let-live approach to a large minority among them. Perhaps they are honoring (what they consider to be) the words of Jesus himself to “remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:5). Given how much dead wood has accumulated in the Evangelical centers of power that have aligned themselves to an unseemly extent with the Republican party, this is wise advice.

Advice that I too will try to heed when questions arise about their right not to be personally coerced into actively participating in activities they hold to be wrong (as here). I think that at least in California, we have sufficient support now that we can afford to leave Christians in peace on this issue. I for one find no grace (or victory) in insisting on a coup de grâce. After all, as it is written, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Maybe one day they will decide to stop persecuting us of their own volition.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Do it for me, Lord!

Here (thanks to the Huffinton Post) is a very revealing video of how scarily God-oriented Sarah Palin is (or rather, how strangely Palin-oriented she thinks God is). It is a video recording of her (while and as Governor) speaking at her church. She clearly believes that God is on her side and that of the natural gas industry:

I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get the gas line built, so pray for that.

While you do, pay particular attention to the follow-on words of her pastor (Ed Kalnins, senior paster of Wasilla Assembly of God since 1999, with Gov. Palin on stage and seemingly fully onboard with the message), putting into context her Joan-of-Arc mission to bring the natural gas pipeline to the good (and rich!) State of Alaska, and to America itself, casting it in eschatological terms (who knew natural gas was such a life-and-death issue?)

Please pray for Sarah...there were some things about the natural resources, about the State, there were some things that God wants to tap into to be a refuge for the lower 48, and I believe Alaska is one of the refuge States, come on you guys, in the last days, and hundreds and thousands of people are going to come to the State to seek refuge, and the Church has to be ready to minister to them, Amen?

It is a comfort that when, out of almost 300 million Americans, the few hundred or thousand that survive Armageddon take refuge in Alaska, there will be a natural gas pipeline to provide for their needs.

At the end of the video, the pastor emeritus who comes on stage to pray for Ms. Palin broke down crying (with joy?), presumably because God has placed a True Christian at the head of Alaska's government.

Only at this moment did it finally (!) sink in for me that this is not (at some deep level) a game, act, or con. Even devout once-a-week Christians are going to have to put aside their compartmentalized religious sensibilities long enough to be able to appreciate how literal and immediate this End-of-days mentality and sense of favored-by-God entitlement to Gov. Palin's most ardent supporters (and presumably to her as well). Catholics used to praying for World Peace and strong families are going to have difficulty understanding how God's personal intervention can (apparently) be summoned to complete something as petty and partisan as a gas pipeline, and why this would not be an immorally selfish act even if true.

There seems to be no moral or ethical concerns among these people about God intervening on Earth on their personal behalf. Not in a "God, please let me win the lottery" sort of way, but in a "God, I actually believe that you can make me win the lottery, and with full knowledge that my winning means that others equally worthy will not win, please favor me (over them) with this."

Forget that this self-directed intercessionary praying is (to my Catholic-raised ears) a profoundly childish and selfish motivation. After all, I fully trust that any god worthy of the name would know better than I how best to allocate lottery funds (or natural gas) to work divine will, and trying to steer that will towards me (or my state or country) is nothing short of perverse. And even though I don't believe that people can turn invisible and walk through walls and rob banks undetected, still I can still form a moral judgment on anyone expressing such a desire.

And yet numerous Catholics will still vote for her, because they just really truly deep-down cannot actually believe that it is just this simple, that she really believes this, that what you see is what you get. That God really is on her side, and that she is absolutely convinced that this is so. And if by some stroke of luck McCain/Palin should win, she (and they) will believe that it was God, and not the voters, that put her into power.

I will not sink to her level by "praying that God keep her out of the White House", but if others have more pull than I with the Godhead, feel free to work your magic. After all, why should Gov. Palin have all the fun?

Can I get an Amen, someone?