Friday, March 23, 2007

Faux What It’s Worth

By and large, conservative pundits spend a lot of time pretending to misinterpret things that anyone with common sense has already interpreted correctly. I understand that they have to do this try to fool the people who aren’t paying close attention (and to validate the don’t-confuse-me-with-facts mindset of the staunch Bush supporters), but it’s still dishonest, and they know it.

One of the dumbest examples is the flap last October over John Kerry’s poorly told joke about staying in school. Did these hacks really think Kerry was disparaging the intelligence of American troops? Of course they didn’t. But if they’d reported the story honestly, they couldn’t have stirred up the ignorant faithful.

I found a new example yesterday in a column by Kathleen Parker. In it she discusses John Edwards’ hair and a YouTube video that sets footage of Edwards being prepped for a TV appearance to the song “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story. Parker says this video could have a “potentially devastating effect” on Edwards and presumably his campaign, but that’s either an extreme overreaction or wishful thinking. It’s a two-minute video: Edwards brushes his hair for about a minute, then the makeup technician fixes him up with some spray, and then he examines himself in a mirror—which I interpret as wanting to look good for the appearance but which the person who added the music wants us to believe has some dark meaning about vanity and unmanliness.

Either way, it’s a goof. I suspect Edwards might think it’s pretty funny. Parker goes on to say that she has, in the past, defended Edwards “for being cute,” but then adds this:

…It’s not his fault that he’s rich. At least it’s not un-American, even if his populist “Two Americas” message rings a little faux as he builds a 28,000-square-foot monument to Ego. I mean, a house.

Could this be an example of someone pretending to misinterpret Edwards’ “Two Americas” concept? Golly whiz, it sure could.

Edwards’ populist message would only “ring faux” if he had never demonstrated any awareness of the growing gap between rich and poor, or empathy toward the latter. It would ring faux coming from the mouth of someone like Barbara Bush. It would ring faux if he purchased a company and then moved all the manufacturing jobs overseas, or if he reincorporated it in Bermuda to cheat the government out of some tax revenue and line the pockets of shareholders.

But here’s a man who’s campaigning for a position in which he could directly address the issue. The square footage of his home has no bearing on his ability to see a problem and try to fix it. I don’t think he has to pass out five-dollar bills on the street or invite the homeless to live with him to prove his sincerity.

You don’t forfeit your right to see the big picture just because you have money.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Starting the Morning Off Wrong

My clock-radio is set to the local NPR station, and I know I’ve mentioned this before but I can’t freakin stand to hear George Bush’s voice in the morning. It just starts my day off wrong and makes me angry because I know that whatever he says is either going to be a lie or some sort of jingoistic throw-up.

I suppose it’s unrealistic to think that the media might stop putting him on the air until he has something important or intelligent to say.

Anyway, this morning the radio came on and what did I hear but the poor dope blathering on about a “partisan fishing expedition,” which of course is his clever way of describing the Congressional investigation into the politically-based firings of eight federal prosecutors by the Bush flunky Alberto Gonzales. It’s not partisan to terminate qualified prosecutors based on their lack of loyalty to an incompetent president, but it is partisan to investigate those terminations. Got it.

The poor dope also said he’d fight any attempt to subpoena his staff members, but would allow his henchmen Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to be interviewed in private, without a transcript, and not under oath. In other words, you can talk to them, but they have license to lie through their teeth.

What else could we expect from an administration of such fine moral character?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bigotry That Stands the Test of Time

I’m a daily reader of a blog called Dispatches From the Culture Wars, by a guy named Ed Brayton up in Michigan. Good commentary, day after day. Ed is a common-sense guy and a staunch defender of freedom of speech, among other things. I heartily recommend this blog to all two of my regular readers.

One of Ed’s blog entries this morning directed my attention to some commentary by former presidential candidate and Angry White Man™ Pat Buchanan, who weighed in on General Peter Pace’s opinion equating homosexuality with such immoral behavior as adultery.

I’m going to keep my definition of immorality short and sweet, and say that for something to be truly immoral, someone has to get hurt. Murder, rape, assault, robbery, adultery, wars of aggression, etc and so on. I don’t believe there’s a victim when consenting adults commit homosexual acts.

And that brings us to Buchanan, who writes:

On Pace’s side, that homosexuality is immoral, we have the Bible and Quran, 2,000 years of Christianity, Orthodox Judaism and natural law, the moral beliefs of virtually every society to the present, and the laws of every state before the 1960s. Up to 1973, psychiatrists treated it as a disorder. Nations where homosexuality is rampant have been regarded as “decadent.”

I don’t want to accuse Pat Buchanan of talking out his ass, but that’s pretty much what he’s doing. He lazily hides behind “the moral beliefs of virtually every society” and the “laws of every state” without questioning whether those beliefs and laws might have originated from superstition and misunderstanding. He brings up the outdated psychiatric classification of homosexuality-as-mental-disorder, and even correctly notes that that line of thinking was abandoned more than 30 years ago—but won’t dare let himself think the next logical thought: The medical community no longer classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder because it isn’t one.

You don’t get to have grandfather laws for bigotry and intolerance, Pat Buchanan. Maybe people have been harassing, victimizing, and discriminating against homosexuals for 2000 years, or for 5000 years, or since the beginning of time. No matter how long it’s been, it’s the oppressors who are wrong, not the oppressed.

When your beliefs run counter to reality, the burden of change is on you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


This happened a month ago, but it took me that long to think up a good joke for it.

Is there anyone who hasn't heard of Eve Ensler's one-woman play, The Vagina Monologues? More to the point, is there anyone who hasn't heard the word “vagina”?

Last February a production of The Vagina Monologues was being staged at the Atlantic Theater in Atlantic Beach, Florida. In a shocking move, the theater actually put the name of the play on their marquee in a brazen attempt to attract the ticket-buying public.

But they failed to take into consideration that some people do not choose to acknowledge the existence of certain body parts. The theater received a phone call. Someone had taken offense.

The caller was a woman who said she was upset that her niece (three or four years old, depending on various online accounts) had seen the word and asked what it meant. And instead of taking the straightforward road and giving her a simple definition, instead of taking the safe road and clearing it with the girl’s parents first, instead of taking the comical road and saying “Well, sweetie, a monologue is a speech delivered by a single actor alone on stage,” this woman—apparently related to the Iowa dillrod* who got his panties in a knot about the “F NADER” license plate—decided it would be best to raise a ruckus.

As a result—and by the way, I’m getting very near the joke I promised in the first paragraph—the theater changed the marquee to read “The Hoohah Monologues.”

To their credit, they changed it back to the proper name of the play not long after. But it occurred to me just now that if I bought a ticket for The Hoohah Monologues, I’d have every right to expect to see a stage adaptation of the best of Mad magazine, starring Melvin Fonebone and Roger Kaputnik.

Thank you! Good night, everyone!

* * * *

*If you’re unfamiliar with the Iowa dillrod story, you can find it in the Runes archive, August 2006: Brought To You By the Letter F.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

An Exclusive Interview with Pope Benedict XVI

You don’t even want to know what kind of red tape I had to go through to get this interview, or, hell, maybe you do. Let’s just say that I had 24 visitors to this site last week, and for those two who weren’t me, I’ll go to any lengths to provide something you can’t get at any other blog. Something besides my little caricature up there.

Transcript of my interview with Pope Benedict XVI:

Runes: Thanks for meeting with me, Pope. Now, it was reported this week—
Pope: Please—call me Your Holiness.
Runes: (laughing) You’re kidding, right?
Pope: It’s customary.
Runes: Ennh. Tell you what. I’ll do what I used to do when I needed to talk to my old girlfriends’ parents and couldn’t bring myself to call them by their first names: I’ll look directly at you when I want to ask you a question.
Pope: Fair enough.
Runes: Of course, it’s a one-on-one interview, so who else would I be talking to? Now, it was reported last week that you were unhappy about your predecessor, Pope John Paul II, attending a 1997 concert at which Bob Dylan performed. You, in fact, tried to talk him out of it.
Pope: That is correct.
Runes: What were you afraid of? Did you think Bob was going to change some of his songs around to make them more appropriate for the Vatican? Did you think he was going to sing “Lay, Laity, Lay”?
Pope: No, of course not—
Runes: “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Pope Hat”?
Pope: No, no—
Runes: “Changing of the Swiss Guards”?
Pope: I don’t even know the song that’s based on.
Runes: Yeah, it’s from Street-Legal.
Pope: No wonder.
Runes: Did you think he was going to do “Desolation Rome”?
Pope: What?
Runes: How about “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Talk Out My Ass About Birth Control”?
Pope: Now you’re just being rude.
Runes: Well, that’s also all the parody song titles I can come up with off the top of my head. Back to the question. Why didn’t you like the idea of Dylan singing for John Paul II?
Pope: Because rock music is a tool of Satan.
Runes: A tool of Satan.
Pope: That’s what I said.
Runes: (calling to an assistant) Could you check a calendar and see what year this is? 2007? No, yes, that’s what I thought, but I had a moment of doubt there. (turning back to the Pope) In a way, I agree with you—you should see the way this Elvis Presley character gyrates his hips onstage. It’s obscene, I tell you.
Pope: I was under the impression he died.
Runes: (scoffs) OK, you just keep telling yourself that. But seriously. Rock is a tool of Satan? Cite your sources, please.
Pope: I’ve long held the belief that electric guitars have no place in a house of worship.
Runes: Because—?
Pope: Well, when you think of the word “sacred,” do you think of loud music? Do you think of “waka-ja-wow-wow-weeeeeoooooww-deedily-deedily-deedily-deedily-deedily-deedily-waa-waa-wampa-ka-wow”?
Runes: Honestly, no. But may I just say that was a very impressive air guitar riff.
Pope: That’s off the record.
Runes: Right, right. Anyway. I and other Dylan fans would contend that his music has a positive message, even if it isn’t necessarily sacred—
Pope: Doesn’t matter. Tool of Satan.
Runes: It doesn’t matter what the message is?
Pope: Nope.
Runes: Even if it’s “Love your neighbor”?
Pope: Even if it’s “Love your neighbor.”
Runes: Even if it’s “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”?
Pope: Even if it’s “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”
Runes: Even if it’s “Think for yourself”?
Pope: Even if it’s—especially not “Think for yourself”!
Runes: Yeah, I didn’t think you’d like that one. How about if the message is “Jesus is just all right with me”?
Pope: Was that Dylan?
Runes: No, it was the Doobie Brothers.
Pope: Tools of Satan. They’ve got “doobie” in their name.
Runes: So pretty much any rock or pop act of the last 50 years is a tool of Satan, according to you.
Pope: Try naming one that isn’t.
Runes: Elvis?
Pope: Tool of Satan.
Runes: Jimi Hendrix.
Pope: Tool of Satan.
Runes: Janis.
Pope: From “The Muppet Show”?
Runes: No, Janis Joplin.
Pope: Tool of Satan.
Runes: OK, how about Janis from “The Muppet Show”?
Pope: Tool of Satan.
Runes: The Who.
Pope: T-t-t-t-t-t-tool of Satan.
Runes: Cyndi Lauper.
Pope: Tools of Satan just wanna have fun.
Runes: Devo.
Pope: Are we not men? We’re tools of Satan.
Runes: You’re having fun with this, aren’t you?
Pope: I’m just callin’ ‘em like I see ‘em.
Runes: The Beatles.
Pope: Tools of Satan.
Runes: Queen.
Pope: Tools of Satan.
Runes: Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.
Pope: Pretentious neoclassical prog-rock with impenetrable lyrics and overblown production. And tools of Satan.
Runes: Is there any pop or rock artist or group I could mention who isn’t, in your mind, a tool of Satan?
Pope: Yes. There is one.
Runes: You’re kidding. Are you going to make me guess it?
Pope: No, I’ll come right out and tell you. I always enjoyed Musical Youth.
Runes: Musical Youth.
Pope: (tape runs out just as he begins singing “Pass the Duchy” and boogieing out of the room like the guy on the “Keep on Truckin’” t-shirt)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Random Thoughts on a Friday in Des Moines

I just caught a glimpse of this Yahoo News headline: “Bush hails biofuels pact in Brazil.”

Well, good for him. Hail away, dumbass. Take a tour of South America and pretend to give a damn about alternate fuels while the blood of Americans and Iraqis is still drying on your hands.

* * *

Wednesday’s Des Moines Register reported that a bill banning discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender people has made it out of committee and will proceed to the Iowa Senate.

The story quotes Republican state senator Jerry Behn of Boone, who said “I don't think it's necessary.”

Let’s see. There are a couple of ways to interpret that statement, Jerry. Do you mean “It’s not necessary because I’ll fight to the death to prevent discrimination against any human beings under the laws we already have!”?

Or do you mean “It’s not necessary because I think good Christian folks should be allowed to discriminate against anyone who offends their narrow little minds”?

I’m just asking. The good news is that both houses of the Iowa legislature are controlled by people with a little more on the ball than those who favor discrimination, so this bill should become law easily.

* * *

The Register website has a place for people to post comments anonymously, and while most of the comments on the above story were fairly supportive, there were some half-baked thoughts from a handful of homophobes, including this one:

Ain't it great that something that was classified as a mental illness is now gaining normal status? Funny what $$$, mainstream media, and pandering politicians can get you today.

I’m amazed that someone with that little going on upstairs has the wherewithal to use the serial comma, but that’s where my amazement ends. It’s been 30-odd years since homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder, and an infinite number of years since it actually was one, but here’s a guy who thinks that bribery—as opposed to common sense and empathy—is the reason for the growing acceptance of gay men and women.

Quite a reach you got there, Sport.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Living Together in North Dakota

As further proof that you don’t have to be all that bright to be elected to your state’s house of representatives, the North Dakota house has just tossed out a 116-year-old law that prohibited unmarried couples from living together—by a vote of 48-41.


The law had been in place since North Dakota became a state, and according to the AP story it made living together without being married a sex crime. And 41 North Dakota legislators looked deep in their hearts in the year 2007 and thought “Yes, that makes sense.”

Rumor has it that these 41 are desperately trying to drum up support for a new law that would prohibit the mixing of male and female clothing in any given load of laundry—along with open-mouthed kissing, foot massages, and the use of the word “moist.”

The North Dakota Family Alliance wanted the law left on the books because they’re vehemently opposed to the idea of people saving money by splitting the cost of rent and utilities. No, not really—I’m just messing with you. The words “family alliance” gave it away: They don’t want you to have sex unless you get it authorized by the county clerk and have the forms submitted to God. Then it’s okay.

Congratulations to the North Dakota legislators who realized that it’s none of the government’s business who lives where and with whom. To the other 41 and the constituents they represent, take heart: This won’t affect you in the least.

* * * *

This marks the second straight post that contains the phrase “won’t affect you in the least.” Seems to be a recurring theme here at the Runes--as well it should be. As Hank Williams put it, “Mind your own business and you won’t be minding mine.”

Friday, March 02, 2007

Who Would Jesus Fire?

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Steve Stanton had been city manager of Largo, Florida for 14 years, and his performance reviews were good. However, after he announced his intention to have a sex-change operation, all hell broke loose. A few hundred of the local yahoos descended on the next city commission meeting to express their outrage, and as a result, the commission voted 5-2 to terminate Stanton’s contract.

The loudmouths who felt compelled to protest did so on the usual grounds: Bible Bible Jesus Bible blabbidy blabbidy blah. Peggy Schaefer of the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks said “I don’t want that man in office…We don’t believe in sex changes or lesbianism. They have their rights, but we do, too.”

How was he doing as city manager, Peggy? Or were you even aware there was such a position before you decided to haul your self-righteous ass down to the city commission meeting?

And by the way, Pegster, I’m trying to figure out how the rights you allude to supersede the right of another human being to be employed.

Rather than devote this entry to every hateful example of bigotry that came out of that February meeting, I’m going to focus on one quote, this from Pastor Ron Sanders of the Lighthouse Baptist Church of Largo. Pastor Ron said “If Jesus was here tonight, I can guarantee you he’d want [Stanton] terminated. Make no mistake about it.”

Wow. Guess we don’t need to discuss it any further, now that we have a personal guarantee from—well, not exactly from Jesus, but from a guy who certainly considers himself authorized to speak for him. If it didn’t require getting inside the festering ooze of Pastor Ron’s mind, I’d be curious to know the thought-process a guy goes through before making a guarantee in the name of Jesus.

Think about what that means. Sanders wants us to believe that Jesus would agree with terminating Steve Stanton’s contract.

That’s Jesus “Love Your Neighbor” Christ.

The guy who kicked out the moneylenders.

The guy who stopped the crowd from stoning the prostitute.

Above all, the guy who said “Whatsoever you do unto the least of my brothers, this you do unto me.”

Pastor Ron might have balls the size of Pharisees, but unless the New Testament has changed from the time I was a churchgoin’ fellow, he’s wrong, wrong, wrong. I can’t guarantee it, but I’ve got a pretty good feeling—and I think people who aren’t blinded by irrational hate would agree with me, believers or not.

Imagine what a small sad life Pastor Ron must lead. Imagine getting all worked up about something that doesn’t affect you in the least, to the point where you believe it’s your place to send someone to the unemployment line. And imagine being deluded enough to think Jesus would back you up on it.

Whatsoever you do, Pastor Ron. Whatsoever you do.

* * * *

By the way, kudos to Largo mayor Pat Gerard and commissioner Rodney Woods for casting the votes to keep Stanton on board. Rock on. Also kudos to the bloggers at Pandagon and Alas, A Blog, where I first heard about this story. Their accounts are well worth reading and someday I'll figure out how to link there.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sky Valley Elegy

They’re closing down the golf course in my hometown.

It was a little nine-hole course built on one cow pasture and bordered by another, a course with some rolling hills and a ball-eating drainage ditch and a couple of birdieable par-fives. The #2 and #6 holes shared entirely too much fairway for my taste: One went north, one went south, and in my high school days I lived in constant fear of taking a ball in the face on my way to the second hole.

The little course had a couple of tempting par-threes, too, and one early morning before the dew burned off I emptied my bag and hit a good two dozen balls off the #3 tee, hoping for a hole-in-one. Fruitlessly, it turned out. My dad and brother scored their holes-in-one the legitimate way—in the middle of a round—and Dad even managed to do it twice.

My dad was a hell of a golfer: consistent, patient, and a good straight hitter. He taught me to play and hoped I’d love it as much as he did—though that, I believe, was impossible. He was our high school golf coach, too, and each spring from 1975 through 1978 I was out on our little hometown course every afternoon after school, trying to lower my average score enough to qualify for the varsity matches and succeeding only rarely. Dad would send us out in random foursomes and we’d walk the former pasture carrying our clubs, shooting the breeze, discussing girls and school and life, praising each other’s best shots, occasionally bending Dad’s rules and awarding a gimme if the situation called for it. While the baseball players were doing conditioning drills and the track team were running their lungs out, we were enjoying a stroll on a sweet cool spring afternoon, pausing occasionally to hit a ball a little closer to the hole.

The name of the course was Sky Valley back then, and it was generally the smallest and scrubbiest of all the courses the golf team played on. The fairways were far from lush and the greens sometimes got rubbed down to dirt in places, but that never bothered me. I liked the fact that it was ours. There were only two places in the county with courses, and my little hometown was one of them. We traveled to some much nicer facilities over the course of each season, but the bigger and better cared-for they were, the more they intimidated me. Sky Valley felt like home.

I stopped playing regularly after I moved away in 1985. Seven years after that, the entire Sky Valley complex—golf course, campground, lodge, and restaurant—was purchased by the Indiana Regular Baptist Youth Camp, which changed the name of the place to Twin Lakes Camp and Conference Center, closed the restaurant, and converted everything but the golf course into a church camp. After reversing their original decision to close the course on Sundays, the Baptists bravely entered the world of golf course management.

The change of ownership didn’t affect my dad’s love of the game. By the time the Baptists took over, he’d turned my mom into an avid golfer, and ever since then the course has been the hub of their social life. When they were both retired, they were free to go out in the middle of a weekday and play a round or two—and since they had a family membership they could tack on an extra four holes before going home. They golfed with couples their own age and couples who were younger, and if none of their friends were around they golfed by themselves.

One of the younger couples ostensibly adopted Mom and Dad and soon the four of them were going out for pizza after their Friday-night rounds. On Saturday afternoons it was common to see 20 or more of these regulars lining up on the first tee and dividing into foursomes, and then at the end the round switching into new teams and playing again. Whenever I was home for Mother’s Day weekend, I’d join this motley crew and experience firsthand the camaraderie and competition of people who truly enjoyed each other’s company.

My dad has been in declining health for the last few years. He’s on oxygen full-time now, and last year he only felt well enough to play golf four times, a number exponentially lower than his average. Most days, though, he went out anyway and rode in the cart with Mom, taking pleasure in the warm weather and the warm presence of his friends.

This past winter, when they were looking into course membership for 2007, Mom and Dad decided it made sense to buy only a single membership for her.

I can hardly imagine a summer without my dad golfing. Until last summer, I’m sure he couldn’t either. I’m sure it hurt for him to see Mom mail that check for just one membership, and to know he’d be limited to a summer of being the golf cart chauffeur.

But even that was taken from him—from both of them—when Mom opened the mail one day last month and found a refund check for her membership. According to their website, Twin Lakes has decided to use the golf course land for “sports fields, bike trails, disc golf, a hydra course, and a nature/welcome center in the former pro shop.”

I don’t think the Baptists were ever all that gung-ho about managing a golf course, and I don’t know why they couldn’t have sold it to investors who would have been. But it’s not important now. What’s important is that something unique to my little hometown is gone. Something good, something fun, something that was important to quite a few people.

Sure, there are other golf courses within a 20-minute drive, and maybe the younger golfers will gravitate to one of them. Maybe the older golfers will head there too when they feel like a round, and maybe they’ll invite Mom and maybe Dad will go along for the ride.

But it’ll never feel like it used to. It’ll never feel like home.