Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Outrage Over Lockerbie

The DJ on my car radio was incensed. The Lockerbie bomber had been released. My first thoughts echoed his: it was indecent that this killer was not only released, but received a hero’s welcome back home in Libya. Yes, I admit it; I’m just not that forgiving a guy. I don’t think a terminally-ill mass murderer should be released on compassionate grounds so that he might spend his last days with friends and family. If he truly is guilty, he deserves to spend his last days, his last breath, rotting in jail.

But other thoughts arose as well. One was that many of the Lockerbie victim’s families doubted his guilt. Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was killed, said: "I went into that court in Holland thinking I was going to see the trial of those who were responsible for the murder of my daughter. I came out of it thinking he had been framed." A bereaved father’s statement of support for the alleged killer of his child carries a lot of weight with me, as do those of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which termed the conviction a possible miscarriage of justice. Where was the media coverage of these nuances? Surely they may even have played a part in his release, yet I heard nothing about them on CNN, ABC, NPR.

My next thought was even more troubling, and it brought me back to the outrage of the DJ, and to my own reflexive anger. How, I thought, can we all feel such outrage when the United States has been harboring a serial terrorist bomber for years?

Louis Posada Carilles is largely thought to be responsible for the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed all aboard, including the mostly teenage members of the Cuban National Fencing Team. He has been convicted in abstentia in several countries for bombings and bombing plots, and was thought by our own FBI to have been involved in literally hundreds of bombings of Cuban targets in Cuba, Honduras, Panama and Venezuela. Washington even denied an extradition request from the Venezuelan Supreme Court, and Carilles continues to live in the United States though he has actually admitted to several bombings. He said of one bombing in Cuba, that killed an Italian-Canadian national: “It is sad someone is dead, but we cannot stop.”

He also worked for Colonel Oliver North and General Richard Secord as they secretly and illegally armed Contra death squads in Nicaragua. Of course, North, a man who did everything he could to subvert our constitution by doing an end run around our laws and our congress, is now a well paid radio and TV personality and a darling ‘patriot’ of the right. It seems that no bad deed goes unrewarded for these murderous thugs, and the airwaves are strangely mute about their crimes and our government’s continuing complicity.

George Bush senior once said these telling words: “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” – and there, in one sentence, is all you need to know about the moral expediency of the United States. We will protect a bloodthirsty killer involved in literally scores of bombings of civilian targets because he is the enemy of our enemy. And while protecting him, we will respond with self-righteous outrage when another bomber, whose guilt is far less established, is set free.

How sad that the frothing right, and even the average American citizen has forgotten the wisdom of Thomas Paine, one of the pivotal figures of the American revolution, who said “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression.”. The American policy of covert wars against countries we do not like, wars that often kill innocent civilians, is immoral and reprehensible. America has no solid moral footing, and seems unlikely to develop one when the Obama administration is enthusiastically continuing Bush polices of rendition and holding people without trial at a sort of Guantanimo lite – the Bagram air force base.

Our government, our media, and most of our political commentators, appear to be rank hypocrites as they protest torture, terrorism and oppression in places like Libya and Iran while they refuse to acknowledge, or sometimes even actively cover up, their own country’s equivalent crimes.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Crush Rambo's History of the Liberal (A Ken Burns style mockumentary)

Audio only, folks. Someday, I'll add the Burns-like pan and scan of historical photos, maybe for next April Fools Day, but for now... enjoy wit yer ears!

And... if you listen past the end. there are 2 bonus tracks, including the game show 'You Can't Prove a Negative'!

Country Gone Mad (Bye Bye Democracy...)

Suddenly, the tea parties are old news. The freak-out de jour is healthcare, and people are so profoundly ignorant about the issue that one woman begged the President not to let the government take over Medicare. ‘Scuse me mam, but just who do you think administers Medicare, the tooth fairy?

This is, of course, not the organically-grown ‘grassroots’ movement the conservative commentators are crowing as a fine example of democracy. It’s funded by special interests, and carried to the people on multitudes of conservative talkshows. And these fine examples of democracy are in fact screaming, shouting people down, and threatening God’s retribution. They resemble a feral mob of brown shirts from Hitler’s Germany, not concerned citizens looking for dialogue and compromise. The Right isn’t interested in dialogue; they’re interested in winning at all costs, even if the cost is the end of the grand democratic experiment that is America.

I think we’re approaching the greatest threat to our democracy since at least the Great Depression. Day by day, my hopes for a post-racial America, and an America that really stands for liberty and justice are crumbling under an onslaught of disgusting, thinly-veiled racist vitriol and lynch mob mentality.

We’ve had people with assault rifles coming to our president’s speeches. One man, with a pistol strapped to his leg carried a sign saying ‘It’s time to water the tree of liberty’. When questioned by the media, he played dumb – oh no, I’m not advocating violence. There was no reference to blood on my sign. Of course, his sign implicitly references bloodshed, since the famous Jefferson quote it paraphrases is: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” This quote, a former favorite of mine, was sullied forever by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. His favorite tee shirt was emblazoned with it. Apparently Mr. McVeigh convinced himself that the women and children he blew up were either patriots or tyrants, rather than victims of a sick, twisted little man.

A nascent threat to the president is evident at every speaking engagement, along with a veritable flood of racial caricature. We’ve had a seemingly endless parade of Republican party figures outed for emailing or mailing unbelievably racist caricatures of our president, from Obama in a witch doctor’s outfit, to the white house garden filled with watermelon. A Boston cop email blasted out a letter comparing professor Louis Gates to a “banana-eating jungle monkey’. His lawyer said the comments were “taken out of context” – how in God’s name can you take something like that out of context?

We’ve had two Fox News personalities inadvertently voicing their innermost thoughts this way: Brian Kilmeade said “we [Americans] keep marrying other species and other ethnicities . . . Swedes have pure genes . . . in America we marry everybody..." Glenn Beck said: “Obama is a racist who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” I’m not sure what white culture is. Is it personified by the transcontinental railroad, built largely with the toil and blood of Chinese immigrants? Or theAmerican cowboy, who was very often black? Or perhaps our constitution, large parts of which were lifted from the Iroquois? The fantasy that white people alone made this great country persists in the minds of these troglodytes, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Many whites still look back to the 1950’s as a golden time. Funny, I see it as a time of shame, when large parts of America practiced apartheid and lynching, and people were blacklisted for their beliefs. It was a time of paranoia, censorship, and lockstep conformity – none of which are the hallmarks of a great democracy.

So how do we defend our democracy? Surely joining the shouting match isn’t the way. I don’t want to be a bully, but I don’t want to sit idly by while my country is highjacked by a bunch of crazy, ignorant racists either.

Well, money talks, and Glenn Beck’s show has lost a slew of advertisers who felt he went too far – but not until they received tons of mail from outraged Americans. Perhaps a boycott of every Fox advertiser is a start. If you’ve got a better idea, I’m all ears.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dalai Lama - Fundamentalist

The Dalai Lama – revered by many as a highly-enlightened being, a paragon of virtue, someone for us all to emulate.

But is he really so enlightened, or is his vision of humankind prejudiced? In his ironically-entitled book "Beyond Dogma," he wrote that "homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact." His form of Tibetan Buddhism, though not all forms of Buddhism, prohibits oral, anal and manual sex for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. It has decided which of our body parts are acceptable for giving and receiving pleasure, and which aren’t. According to its… dogma, there will be a karmic debt to pay if we disobey.

The fact that I can find no reference that the Buddha himself ever addressed the issues of homosexuality, anal or oral sex is apparently immaterial; In yet another example of the supreme arrogance that only religion and politics can engender, some Tibetan ancient decided to define what the Buddha really meant by what he’d termed 'sexual misconduct'.

The Dalai Lama is a fundamentalist, not some new-age modernist, and fundamentalists are consummate dogmatists. Fundamentalist Christians are just as illogical: as far as I can see, the bible never states that lesbianism is a sin, yet they call it one, vociferously.

I believe that if there is a god he, she, it, or they created our bodies to be magnificently sensitive to pleasure. In my book, and I don’t think I’m alone here; sex is too joyous and profound to be reserved for procreation alone. Sex can be dangerous, of course. I am acutely aware of this as my own brother died of AIDS. But so can almost any human endeavor, from rock climbing to the consumption of ice cream sundaes.

William Butler Yeats said that love has pitched his tent in the place of excrement – meaning that humanity’s deranged hang-ups about sex arise from the fact that our primary sexual organs are also organs of elimination. This long-standing neurosis is quite evident in most religions – Eastern and Western alike..

The Dalai Lama is revered by new-agey folks the world over as enlightened and tolerant, yet he continues to parrot the backward, medieval prejudices of a religion that is in dire need of a Reformation. His books and photos adorn seemingly everyone’s home, but we pick and choose from his message, indulging in the parts that make us feel good, and delicately averting our gaze from the parts that make us uncomfortable.

Unlike Paganism and Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism are manifestly human-centric religions. All of their cosmologies involve the earth being just about the first thing to arise from the cosmos after the cosmos itself. Yet we now know from astronomy that our young planet is two thirds of the way out on the spiral arm of an ordinary galaxy that is one of at least 100 billion. We aren’t the center of anything.

Though these religions are obviously wrong in their most basic assumptions about the origin of the universe and the primacy of humanity, billions still follow their other, equally outmoded notions – except when it proves inconvenient – witness the millions of Catholics who practice birth control and get divorced. .

And if the religion in question represents some new and exotic import, we merely partake of its sweet, feel-good exterior, and politely ignore the integral parts that require disciplined work or make us uneasy. We are cultural dilettantes, essentially strip-mining every philosophy for its easy ore of ‘spirituality’.

The West is so thirsty for spirituality that we often assume that the ancients were wise and compassionate. I beg to differ. I believe that most religious texts, from the Bible and Quran to the Bhagavad Gita enshrine some aspects of the bloodthirsty, cruel, or bigoted failings of humankind. I do love parts of these books – as lyrically-written allegory. But I don’t rely on them to tell me right from wrong, or how to use my own body.

Nor do I rely on the Dalai Lama, who may be a decent, peace-loving man, but whose consciousness, from what I can see, is still somewhat limited by ancient prejudices.