Friday, July 17, 2009

Seth, Day 2

This is Seth. He's doing a lot of sleeping this morning. That rescue bidness is tiring! In a minute, we'll be heading up to Deer Creek Animal Hospital for Seth's medical check-up. Paul's handling the details by phone from British Columbia.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fetching Seth

The shelter at Casa Grande is down a lonely stretch of I-8, the interstate that connects Tucson to San Diego. The desert rises slightly, in a modest regime of foothills on the south side, to my left, and levels into a vast plane on the north. Either direction, saguaro cacti stand stark still in the noonday sun. It is hot as seven devils as I take the right turn onto the dirt road leading past a dusty corral and three pintos—one a young colt—to the Casa Grande Humane Society.

It is a white cinder block array, ugly and low to the ground, squatting inside a steel cattle fence. Dust rises from the red dirt parking lot as I pull up and park, facing a dreary shelter thrift store tucked into a small opening between the shelter door and the building's facade. Odds and ends: a 1970s metal TV tray stand, some computer cables, an assortment of small and very bad framed things, a few baseball caps, and a motorcycle helmet. Thin pickings.

The white wood door with its eight murky panes creaks open. Inside, to the right, a very heavy Native American woman leans on the laminate counter. In front of her, an Anglo thin as a copper wire paces back and forth, militantly waiting for the Mexican man and his daughter to wrap it up. I look around. A rack of yellowed business cards, a stack of those free real estate pamphlets, and a few dog leads and collars for sale. The Anglo, pale gray T-shirt dark with sweat, wheels in his jeans and cowboy boots and leaves.

Soon enough the Mexican family departs. Had they bought or sold? Not clear.

My turn.

“I’m here from Phoenix for Seth, the Doberman.” Lillian raises her moon-round, dark cafĂ© au lait face and beams. Unusual for a Native American out here to smile at an Anglo, I think to myself. But then there’s not a lot to smile about, I guess. Especially not if you work at the Casa Grande Animal Shelter and it’s 110 outside. The white plastic fan behind her ruffles the blue print mu-mu thing she’s wearing and, mercifully, turns my way for just long enough for me to miss it when it turns back again.

She must be pleased that Seth is finally going home. Her long, straight black hair is pulled hard back into a knot on the top of her head. She looks like the Buddha.

To my right, an officer of the Animal Control Department of Pinal County is standing hip propped against the counter, talking on the Shelter's one line about a German Shorthaired Pointer. Charlese Theron should have her part. She’s got some mileage. She's tough but still attractive in her khaki and green Animal Control uniform. I picture her line dancing in some Pachecho cantina, tequila on the rocks in one hand. Salt and lime.

The one small room fills up with our body heat. I can almost see it lying like a meringue on top of the thickly layered white gloss paint that suffocates the wooden counter in the back of the area where Lillian reigns.

Behind me,through several large panes of glass over tiers of cinder blocks, we can see steel cages full of cats lining a dreary wall.

The fan tries, wanly but to no real effect.

I do the paperwork. Lillian does the Xeroxing. The officer and I exchange business cards. Now she knows there’s a new Doberman rescue in the city. Now I have two contacts in Casa Grande: Lillian and Linda. I hope there won't be many calls. It's a 130-mile round trip.

Lillian passes through some kind of curtain to the kennels, and in a minute, returns with a small, red Dobey boy. I look into his upturned face and wonder what he thinks as she hands his red nylon kennel lead to me.

I say, softly, “Well you’re a little guy, aren’t you? And you know what? It’s OK now, Seth. It’s all good. You’re outta here, boy. You’re going home, Seth, you’re going to your Forever Home and your Daddy’s name is Paul.”

“That’s it?” I ask Lillian.

“That’s it.”

“Well, OK then. Thank you, and thank ya’ll for what you’re doing here.”

The door slams shut behind me. Seth and I blink into the glare. In a minute, he’s in the back of the 4Runner and we’re headed back to Phoenix. He's a free man. I've made a small installment for the space I take up.

Monday, July 13, 2009

So Much Bull, So Little Time

In addition to everything I said in the earlier post on Sotomayor, it occurs to me that the giant smear of regurgitation known as the Republican Party is also attempting a sleight of hand, a bait and switch. Whereas Sotomayor herself never said her empathy is limited only to other Puerto Ricans, or even other women, or even other Latinas or only Latino/as, the GOP baldly distorts the record to say that Sotomayor's empathy is prejudice.

Where did Sotomayor ever say that her feelings of empathy and her life experience equip her only to hear one side of any given case? She didn't. The suggestion that she did is a lie intended to gin up a white male backlash--that is, to call out the base.

How can fellow-feeling for both the defendant and the plaintiff possibly be prejudice?

It can't be.

This is GOP bullshit, a phrase that I recognize comes dangerously close to redundancy.

The GOP is gambling that you and I won't stop and think, or pay attention, or even remember. Klan-loving SOBs like Sen. Jeff Sessions are trusting that it's impossible to underestimate the intelligence of the American people.

Unfortunately, too often they've been correct.

So if you're in an argument with one of those bottom feeders, what. you. need. to. do. is. listen. very. carefully. and. simultaneously. apply. common. sense. and. logic.

First, know the transcript. Don't ever take a Republican's word for it. Then you can contrast it with the GOP spin and Lord, what a revelation there'll be.

In other words, how do you know Orrin Hatch, Jon Kyl, Jeff Sessions, Mitch McConnell, and Chuck Grassley are lying? If their lips are moving. If they're breathing, they're about to lie.

Whites Only, Men Only

Listening to Southern Senator Jeff Sessions blast USSC nominee Sonia Sotomayor for applying empathy and personal life experience in her role as a judge is a first-rate immersion in GOP intellectual dishonesty.

I agree with the definition given at that link, which says in part:

Intellectual dishonesty is dishonesty in performing intellectual activities like thought or communication. Examples are:

the advocacy of a position which the advocate knows or believes to be false or misleading

the conscious omission of aspects of the truth known or believed to be relevant in the particular context.

Rhetoric is used to advance an agenda or to reinforce one's deeply held beliefs in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence

The conscious omission of relevant aspects of the truth, and the advocacy of a position the advocate knows to be misleading are mainstays of the rhetoric of the Right. I hear examples of these things all the time and in fact would argue that these are policies of Fox News.

In this case, Sessions's argument that no judge ought should employ his or her life experience or powers of empathy on the bench depends for its impact on the unspoken contention that white men never apply empathy or life experience in their judicial decisionmaking. Much of early American legal history is nothing but the result of white male experience applied in empathy to other white males. What else can we calk the arguments that only white male landowners should be entitled to vote, that African slaves were only 3/5ths human, and that women, like dogs and horse carriages, were chattel, the possessions of men?

All these positions have at one time or another been embedded in US law. Not coincidentally, those were times when neither people of color nor women were at the bar, let alone on the bench.

And so it is clear that the problem eating at Sessions isn't the application of empathy and experience to judicial decisionmaking. His problem, in intellectually honest terms, has to do only with whose empathy and experience will be applied.

I hope that American women and people of color are listening carefully to the senators debate Sotomayor's nomination and are noting that Senator Sessions is calling this the conservative, Republican perspective. Their message is that if they have their way, none but privileged white males--and those who annihilate their own life differences in order to be as much like privileged white males as possible--ever need apply.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Arizona Bites Again

I read today of a measure pending in AZ that would allow official inspection of a private kennel upon a written complaint. I sent the article around to a local dog list and received this bit of enlightened genius (in part) in response:

It is clear, though, that there is continuing pressure every year in every legislative session to tighten animal control regulations and there are legislators who are cheerfully carrying the water for the activists that want them. For this, we may thank our friends at HSUS and PETA for their political activism and we may also thank our population of Latin Americans (mostly the illegals) who share a third world view of domestic animal treatment and who provide a continuing stream of animal abuses for law enforcement and the media to fawn over. A near-perfect storm.
This is what passes for thought in Arizona.

OK, one, who knew Latin Americans have a monopoly on cruelty to animals! Dang! It wasn't Ernesto Vick who got busted for vicious cruelty to pit bulls.

Two, who knew that it's "mostly the illegals" who pressure our legislators to carry the water for PETA and HSUS! I guess that must be just after they crawl out of the arroyo into the voting booth, huh. Right in front of Shurf Joe, even! Shee-it, man, they've got 'nads, don't they?

Three, I personally rescued a Doberman a couple of months ago who had been shot in the testicles by some white-boy brain-dead bubbas up in Flagstaff. I call that "animal cruelty," don't you?

It's not surprising to get this kind of trash. What's surprising is that it has become commonplace. This is the face of backlash stoked by the Republican religious Right.

The thing is, a country can't stoke these flames without getting very badly burned.

No justice, no peace.

Church Outlaws?

Interesting discussion going on here. Seems that the Methodist Church of Great Britain is banning members of the British National Party (BNP), which is a whites-only political party, from joining the denomination.

So this raises again the question, what is the proper role of a Christian denomination when it is confronted with the fact of an officially racist or antisemitic party? (This one won two seats in Parliament.)

Warning: You are embarking on a stream-of-consciousness exploration of this headache. It ain't no place for sissies.

If it is proper for a denomination to ban racists and antisemites, what about pornographers? Homosexuals? Women who have abortions? Bank robbers? You see the problem.

On the other hand, if a denomination espouses certain values, shouldn't it stand up for them? If it has, say, ten commandments, shouldn't its members be made to abide by them? After all, they're not the ten suggestions.

We all know that some Catholic clergy have insinuated themselves into the voting booth on the matter of Democrats' support for a woman's right to abortion. Do we think that's kosher (you should pardon the expression)? Are we in favor of that?

And if not, shouldn't we dislike banning racists from our denomination just as much? What's the dif?

That's what I was wondering.

If there's a problem in the British Methodists' or the American archbishops' approach, where does it reside? Is it in the nature of the behavior that's indicted? Is there something inherently different between racism and having an abortion that makes banning adherents of one OK but not banning adherents of the other? And can we apply that difference--if any--axiomatically, to help us decide which behaviors to ban and which to ignore? For instance: Since everybody knows racism is terrible and so is adultery, therefore a denomination is right to ban racists and people who commit adultery. Right?

Not comfortable with that? Me, either.

So maybe the problem doesn't reside in the nature of the indicted behavior. Maybe the problem resides in the nature of the establishment--in this case, in the nature of a Christian denomination. In the nature of the Church.

By nature, I mean its authentic mission.

I haven't reached the end of my ruminations and I'm no expert on church order and discipline. I'm still thinking about this. but for now, I suspect it's not in the authentic mission, or role, of a Jesus church to attempt to impose morality by force--which is what punitive action comes down to.

Well, but what about excommunication. And defrocking.

Did you know that excommunication is construed to be the act of removing oneself from "communion with God," and not as the imposition by the church hierarchy of punishment for one's misbehavior? I didn't.

As for defrocking,, or laicization, this is a hierarchichal judgment of a priest or ordained minister's grave misbehavior. Laicization--returning the cleric to the status of lay person--can apply only to clery, by definition. Accordingly, it should be seen as a means of enforcing the church's authority over its priests--with whom it has a particular and special relationship.

OK, then, what about the fact that some established, mainline denominations do impose punishments on lay members for behaviors seen as grave sins?

Some do. But apparently not many do, and I don't think that's an accident. Cults, on the other hand, appear to do so fairly regularly. Maybe the reason cults do and most mainline denominations don't is because such punishment is a means of enforcing authority, not morality.

I don't think morality can be enforced. And that's why I don't think withholding membership in the denomination of British Methodism is an appropriate response to members of the BNP.

Who should deal with racism, then?

I think it's the role of religious denominations to teach and inculcate values, and the role of the criminal justice system is to enforce the law.

All the jaw-flapping on the Right about "Christian nations," Western laws just aren't exact embodiments of Christian values. I don't think I've seen a law against hating thy brother. If you want an exact correspondence, I give you Sharia. I don't think we want to go there, do we?

Given that law is secular and religious values are, well, religious, it follows that the role of political parties is to advocate for principles of law and government, not for religious do's and don'ts. Not for scriptural values per se, but for the good order of a society. It also follows that the role of religions is to advocate for religious principles, nearly always grounded in some holy writ.

I've seen what confounding church and state can do. That's why I recommend that we keep our churches well clear of the business of politics and government, and our political parties well clear of the business of churches.

Let the political parties denounce and abjure racism, homophobia, antisemitism, and the like. Let them advocate for and enact the laws that punish these behaviors. But let the churches preach against them, attempting to influence the values of the citizens who will select the ruling party and thus determine the nation's laws and penalties. Keep the churches out of intervention in the democratic process, and the parties out of the business of the churches.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Musings on The Family's Values

That pillar of conservative Christianity, Sen. John Ensign, had an affair. With a staff member. The wife of another staff member. And then his mommy and daddy paid the staffer and her husband $96,000. Only out of concern for their wellbeing.

It happens every day. Is it not a fact that wealthy families hand over checks to suffering underlings so often that we tire of hearing about it? It's just not news. Not like Clinton's penis.

You know, I don't know what makes me sicker: the sleazy affair, the pay-off, the hypocrisy, the rank, sexist exploitation, or mommy and daddy bailing out their little Johnny. Or maybe Ensign's membership in The Family.

Moral rigor, ethical office practice, respect for the sanctity of marriage(s), reverence for family values, and the highest level of personal responsibility are embodied in Sen. John Ensign as in no other leader we know.

That must be why he was chosen by God, personally, to lead us wastrels into the paths of neo-fascist righteousness. EnterThe Family.

What is it about Christianity that first attracts authoritarians and fascists and militant capitalists, and then lends itself to their profoundest, most egregious, most antithetical distortions? Hitler cloaked himself in Christian rhetoric. The Klan perceives itself as an agent of the Lord. Sun Myung Moon is just another of the type. Men like Moon and the senators and Congressmen of the C Street house, aka The Family -- which includes disciple Mark Sanborn and residents John Ensign and Tom Coburn, among others -- not only support an almost certainly antisemitic, racist, and misogynistic authoritarianism, but also practice an unusually venal, rapacious form of capitalism, all as expressions of Christianity, no less, and see wealth as an index of God's favor: The wealthier the greater God's regard, ostensibly. And of course if that's accepted, it only follows that any social program that alleviates poverty is impertinent, sinful interference in God's predestined order. Calvin as pure GOP.

But if I remember aright, Jesus taught that it is more difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to gain God's favor, and taught us The Beatitudes from his own lips.

Which brings me to another question. How is it that these same types craft and implement decades-long wars on homosexuality, about which Jesus said Zip, Nada, Nuffink, but yet dedicate themselves to doing the very opposite of what he did say, and then call themselves "Christian"?

Why don't we rise as one and do as Bart Simpson does so well: Just point and laugh?

But of course we can't stop there. Time was when a version of Christianity much more in line with the teachings of Jesus held sway over a considerable segment of public policy. I'm talking about the 'seventies and Liberation Theology and its sibling progressive tenets. Way past time to head back in that direction. Militantly.

PS: Fascinating, isn't it, that Liberation Theology and similar anti-poverty/pro-justice iterations like Dorothy Day's Catholic worker movement emerge out of the Roman Catholic Christian tradition and not from Calvin-dominated Protestantism.

Life is full of ironies, n'est-ce pas?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rhinestone Curtains

What to make of the nearly two-week media extravaganza since Michael Jackson's death on June 26? I'm looking for balance relative to other global events, proportion relative to their gravity, fidelity to the American public, and seemliness--quaint concept, I know--with respect to death, grief, sorrow, and loss.

I'm not finding them.

I don't begrudge the late entertainer the attention he's getting. What I resent is the blanket it has thrown over every other issue on the planet. The near 24/7 fixation on nuances of nuances to do with his childhood, family, career, mentors, tormentors, oddities, brilliance, influence, drug use, and death is just one of many instances in which CNN and MSNBC especially have abandoned the interests of the country in favor of making a quick and easy buck.

Unless you're of a certain age, you might not remember how it was back when there was news on TV and American media supported the quaint notion that a democracy depends on an informed public. But I do.

There's stuff going on out there. I want to hear about it without having to dig up the Jerusalem Post or the London Times. I want to know what Congress is up to, how the healthcare issue is coming along, what's doing on global warming, whether N. Korea is as dangerous as it seems, who's behind the attack on 35 federal websites, what's going on in post-Katrina New Orleans, what Obama is going to do about immigration, and whether the stimulus is expected to work or isn't. For starters. I don't want or need to know whether Catherine has control of Michael's estate, or that 7 was Michael's lucky number. Give me a break.

I want the information that I need in order to be an informed citizen and a competent voter. I want a diet that's 60% brain food, not 95% National Enquirer.

But I don't know how to get it. Do you?