Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Prohibition in Alabama

As a result of a petition drive by Christians who oppose drinking on moral grounds, the people of Athens, Alabama will vote today on whether or not to prohibit the sale of alcohol within city limits.

It was only four years ago when they voted to allow alcohol sales. Apparently it took three and a half years for people to stop wailing and gnashing their teeth long enough to get up a petition.

If the measure passes, it will still be legal to possess and consume alcohol in Athens, which strikes me as hilarious because it means they’re essentially voting on the question “Do you want to keep $250,000 in extra tax revenue out of the hands of the city government, and another $250,000 out of the local schools?”*

Two other measures are up for referendum today: “Should Athens cut off its nose to spite its face?” and “Would you like the city to shoot itself in the foot?”

If the measure passes, those who drink will continue to do so, even if it means spending their money out of town. Those who signed the petition and led the charge for prohibition will congratulate themselves on their great moral victory against tax revenue. Ah, but their consciences will be clear: “At least I live in a town where it’s illegal to sell alcohol, and if that don’t get me some heavenly brownie points, I don’t know what will.”

The best quote in the story comes from the Reverend Eddie Gooch of the United Methodist Church, one of the petition-drive leaders who says he isn’t worried about the city losing business or tax revenue. Says Gooch: “Normal economic growth and God will make up any difference if residents dump the bottle.”

God could not be reached for comment, but he did issue this statement: “If Eddie Gooch thinks I’m shelling out half a million bucks to make up for a shortfall he’s largely responsible for, he’s dumber than a bag of hammers.”

*These figures come from Athens mayor Dan Williams in the Associated Press story.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ideology Trumps Humanity in Texas

One of my all-time favorite bumper stickers is “Jesus is coming—and he’s pissed.”

The people of High Point Church in Arlington, Texas undoubtedly believe the first part, and are doing their best to make sure the second part comes true, too. This is the church that agreed to hold a memorial service for a Gulf War veteran whose brother is a church custodian—then reneged, 24 hours before the service, when they learned the deceased was gay.

The veteran was Cecil Sinclair, who died at age 46 from a post-surgical infection. Church pastor Gary Simons said no one knew Sinclair was gay until members putting together a video tribute ran across pictures of men “engaging in clear affection, kissing and embracing.”

Sinclair’s sister, Kathleen Wright, denied that any of the pictures provided showed men kissing or hugging. Nevertheless, Simons pulled the plug on the memorial service, but noted that “Even though we could not condone that lifestyle, we went above and beyond for the family through many acts of love and kindness.”

Well, well, well. Thanks for being the lifestyle judge there, Gary. Seems to me that the family probably wanted the service held at the church because they thought it would be a comfort to family and friends in attendance. They were grieving, and thought a religious service would provide a balm to the weary, as the old hymn goes.

I doubt if they were asking for mandatory attendance from church members. Nobody who might have been offended was likely to show up, but if they had, they might have learned a nice lesson about gay people and the families who love them. They might have seen with their own eyes that Cecil Sinclair didn’t choose his orientation. They might have had to reconsider their beliefs.

Of course, I don’t think megachurch pastors really want church members reconsidering their beliefs, certainly not if the result means humanity trumps ideology.

Simons also said “We did decline to host the service—not based on hatred, not based on discrimination, but based on principle.”

Yeah, right. The decision wasn’t based on hatred, but on principle. It’s a little hard to tell the difference from where I sit.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Songs About Dumb People

You know, not every post here at the Runes has to shine the mini-flashlight of truth on the self-righteous, the self-important, the self-deluded, and the self-goofy. We don’t always have to pick on the warmongers, the Pharisees, the pretend-ignorants, or the Poor Dope and his poor dopey sycophants.

Sometimes it’s enough to look at a moment in America’s cultural past and say “What in the hell was that all about?”

I’m referring, as of course you know, to the song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” a number-one hit written by Bobby Russell and recorded by Vicki Lawrence back in 1973.

Nothing against Vicki Lawrence, mind you. In fact it’s fair to say that I had quite a crush on her back in the heyday of “The Carol Burnett Show,” and so when she hit the top of the record charts I was happy for her.

But I heard the song on the radio this week, and I thought: “Man. That’s one dumb song.”

If you don’t remember “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” it’s kind of a Southern Gothic murder ballad about a guy who’s executed for a murder committed by his sister. A person could write a pretty good song about a guy who’s executed for a murder committed by his sister, and by good I don’t mean sell-a-million-records good but sensible-lyrics-with-internal-logic good. The Vicki Lawrence version is the former.

The song starts out with a fellow named Seth, who’s back in his Georgia hometown after two weeks away. Instead of heading straight home to see his “young bride,” he stops at a bar and meets up with his best friend Andy, who regretfully informs him that his wife has been cheating with a boy named Amos. (I love the fact that Amos and Andy can make it into a song that takes place in Georgia in 1973.)

Seth gets upset at this news, but Andy isn’t smart enough to know when to quit. For some bizarre reason he goes on to say “To tell you the truth, I’ve been with her myself.” Short of actually describing the sex acts he performed with Seth’s wife, I’m not sure Andy could have said anything stupider to a man who has just learned his wife is cheating on him. How did he expect Seth to respond? “Thanks, Andy—I feel a lot better knowing my wife slept with more than one person while I was away. Here’s your medal for honesty.”

In the next verse, “Andy got scared and left the bar,” possibly because he realized no medal for honesty was forthcoming. Seth heads home to an empty house and finds the only thing his Papa had left him: a gun. Next thing you know he’s on his way to Andy’s house, located in the backwoods. There’s a-gonna be a shootin’—except that when Seth arrives and looks in the back door, he finds Andy already “lyin’ there in a puddle of blood.” Someone has already knocked off Andy.

Now here’s where it gets even farther off track. Here’s where Seth shows that Andy didn’t have the corner on stupidity in that neck of the woods: “Now the Georgia Patrol was makin’ the rounds, so he fired a shot just to flag ‘em down.”

He fired a shot? To attract state troopers to a crime scene?! Nice move there, Einstein.

But even after firing his misguided shot, Seth still should have had time to get the hell out of there. First off, imagine the Georgia Patrolmen, making the rounds in their state trooper car, undoubtedly with a pretty large region to cover. A shot is fired and they miraculously hear it over their George Jones 8-track and official state police radio. The only explanation for what happens next is that one of the troopers must be some sort of robotic cop with a prototype global positioning system implanted in his head: “That shot could only have come from Stupid Andy’s place in the backwoods!”

The police arrive at the scene and find Andy dead and Seth holding a gun. The next line is “A big-bellied sheriff grabbed his gun and said ‘Why’d you do it?’” (I think it would have been funny is the line had been “A big-bellied sheriff grabbed his gun and said ‘Damn, that’s still hot.’”) There’s a trial, but it’s a sham: The judge is in a hurry to get home to supper, so he finds Seth guilty and sets the execution date for the next day or the very near future. Only then do we find out that the narrator of the song is Seth’s little sister, and that she has killed not only Andy but her cheating sister-in-law. As she puts it, “Little sister don’t miss when she aims her gun.”

Now, I suppose it’s possible that the sister used the very gun Seth had inherited from their father, which would explain why Seth’s lawyer didn’t introduce any ballistics evidence in the trial. But there’s hardly any way to read or hear these lyrics without coming to the conclusion that the little sister is a freakin’ psychopath. First off, she had to know that when a man who’s been cheating with another man’s wife is found dead, there’s one obvious suspect the police would look for first, if, of course, he hadn’t been dumb enough to be standing around the murder scene holding a smoking gun. She set her brother up like a bottle of grape Nehi.

Second, she claims in the last verse that “They hung my brother before I could say the tracks he saw while on his way to Andy’s house and back that night were mine.” Oh, really? They hung him that quickly, did they? What were you doing, sleeping in? Were you going over sketch ideas with Harvey Korman? Did you get lost on the way to the courthouse? I’d say there was plenty of time for the little sister to confess if she wanted to.

But she didn’t want to. She had the taste for blood after she killed Seth’s wife and noted “That’s one body that’ll never be found.” It’s possible she hid the body in the backwoods, but I think she ate it.

By the way, while the title of the song is “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” and while the first line of the chorus is “That’s the night that the lights went out in Georgia,” at no time in any of the verses do any lights actually go out in Georgia.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

They Could Always Write In Jesus

OK, back to the Des Moines Register and their hard-hitting expose of evangelicals who can’t find a Republican presidential candidate whose views are as narrow-minded and provincial as theirs. Here at the Runes, our official position on this issue is “Tough bongos.”

Why? Because in their hurry to elect one of their own kind, the evangelicals failed to notice their candidate was a man of no character and less intelligence, a man beholden to no one but the super-rich. In the past six years, how many man-on-the-street interviews have included some variation of the line “All I know is Bush is a Christian, and that’s good enough for me”?

That’s pathetic. That’s the rapture mentality for you: Earthly things don’t matter to me cause I’m a-gonna be lifted up to heaven.

There’s a running theme through that Register article, and it should give a good dose of the willies to anyone who’s serious about the political process and making the country stronger. Let’s see if we can detect that theme:

[Members of the Central Assembly of God Church] are turned off by poll-driven and single-issue candidates who are ignoring their top priorities—abortion and same-sex marriage.

[The senior pastor of First Federated Church of Des Moines said] “The war with Iraq is on everybody’s mind. Right to life and gay marriage, which are important to Christian conservatives, aren’t as big with the general public.”

“We seem to be losing traction,” said [a Central Assembly of God member]. “The pendulum seems to be swinging in the other direction.”

Everyone who said the theme was “Our obsession with other people’s lives is far more important than the interests of the country at large,” give yourself ten points.

Ignoring the fact that we can’t technically be at war with Iraq because for all practical purposes we are Iraq, let’s try to figure out why the deaths of 3000 American soldiers and the continued health and well-being of a hundred thousand live ones just might be a tad more important to the general public than the nuptials of Chuck and Larry in Massachusetts.

The question answers itself. The general public (as defined by the senior pastor above) understands the human cost of war, grieves for the families of the dead, and is mature enough to realize that with every death our national defense grows weaker by a power of one. The evangelicals can’t be bothered with that. They’re too busy freaking out over two men kissing.

It takes a sanctimonious soul and a callous heart to claim that preventing same-sex marriage is a higher priority than ending the fiasco in Iraq. Most human beings recognize those qualities as character flaws.

Maybe that’s why the evangelicals are losing traction.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Pity The Poor Evangelicals

In its never-ending quest to keep Iowans informed of the events that shape our lives, the Des Moines Register recently blew the lid off a story so big that if there had been a page before the front page, that’s where they would have put it.

Don’t read on if you’re faint of heart. But thank your lucky stars the Register had the integrity and fortitude to report on this shocking development:

Iowa evangelicals are having trouble finding a Republican candidate to back.

Yeah. Right there on the front page: “GOP presidential candidates fail to appeal to a key constituency.”

Well, in the immortal words of Emily Dickinson, boo-freakin-hoo. Forgive me if I don’t feel sorry for a group of people who in 2004 shuffled into the voting booths like good little sheep and reelected the immoral, corrupt, bloodthirsty sonofabitch whose godly pandering was an obvious sham to any of us who didn’t have our thumbs up our Bibles.

In terms of knowing the difference between right and wrong, these evangelicals have no credibility. And now they’re crying because the GOP front-runners haven’t bowed down and kissed the feet of their two pet issues: abortion and same-sex marriage.

American men and women are dying in the Iraq quagmire. Insurance companies are making obscene profits while denying coverage to sick people. Manufacturing jobs are drifting overseas. The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. And these people are looking for a candidate who will make them feel better about sticking their noses where they don’t belong.

If you consider abortion wrong, don’t have one. If you don’t want to marry a person of your own sex, don’t fall in love with one. But godDAMN, how short-sighted, superstitious, and stupid do you have to be to base your entire political belief system on things that don’t affect you in the slightest?

A guy named Ken from Altoona says “If a person can’t live by the Ten Commandments, how can he lead the nation?”

Easy, Ken. He swears to uphold the Constitution. That’s what we require in a leader. He protects the rights of every citizen and he doesn’t send them off to die to protect his oil investments. Your boy George thinks the swearing-in part of the inauguration ceremony was a mere formality, and he’s not doing too well in the Commandments department, either. Bearing false witness. Killing thousands of Iraqis. Coveting oil and money and power and whatever else he’s coveting these days.

This is what the evangelicals have wrought. Their stubborn insistence that the Poor Dope is a godly man shows them to be incredibly poor judges of character. And their insistence on blathering on about abortion and same-sex marriage shows them to be blind to the real problems facing this country today.

* * *

I’m not done with this topic, but I’m out of time today. Next week I want to take a closer look at the Register story.