Monday, August 27, 2012

The Politics of Babylon

I address this post, with substantial familiarity and more than a little affection, to the conservative Christian evangelicals who constitute a large part of the Republican base; who are enthusiasts for all things military and police; who listen to the usual talk-radio lineup and follow politics closely; and who are apt to be downcast and gloomy in the late summer of 2012.  Brothers and sisters: open your Bibles, please, to chapter 4 of the book of Daniel and follow along, starting at verse 28 ...
All of this happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king.  Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon.  The king reflected and said, "Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?"  While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, "King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field.  You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes."  Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair had grown like eagles' feathers and his nails like birds' claws.
Yes, I know the possibility of heavy weather combined with your native security mania to bring out the inner Keystone Kop in your party leadership. I know you started out hungry for red meat, in the form of a Santorum or a Huckabee or something similar, and now you're reduced to crossing your fingers for an exceedingly pale substitute who finds it very difficult to conceal his contempt for you.  And, yes, your candidate for the Senate from Missouri, Todd Akin, is proving to be ... an embarrassment?  A liability?  A nuclear meltdown?  Something like that.

This is something that I share with you, by the way; I also don't think abortion should be legally available for the "hard cases" of rape or incest.  I would think, though, that a principled opponent of legal abortion wouldn't be driven to inventing some kind of reproductive wack-biology as a reason; one could, after all, simply point out that rapists themselves do not face summary execution without due process; why should their children?  Having an unsavory father shouldn't be a capital crime, it seems to me.  Of course, not everyone will agree; most, I'm sure, will not.  But it's an opposition that can be coherently defended, if you oppose abortion because you think the weak, the helpless, the orphans should be defended, not slaughtered.  On the other hand, if your opposition to abortion is more an excuse for you to indulge your natural inclination toward slut-shaming, then maybe babbling about "legitimate rapes" is something that will come naturally to you.

Coherence, it seems to me, is prominent among the things that the Nebuchadnezzars of the GOP lack, as they eat grass out in the Fields of Foolishness, getting rained on and growing bird-claws.  Now, I do not claim to know that this is God's doing; for me to claim such knowledge would be blasphemous, and I think blasphemy is a pretty serious offense.  But I do have to wonder, from time to time.  Consider Romans chapter 1.  It's a favorite of evangelicals seeking to justify their rejection of homosexuality and other forms of sexual immorality, and yes, that really is there.  But Paul is rather more comprehensive, as we see starting in verse 28:
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
I do not mean to suggest that the GOP is more enthusiastic than the Democratic Party in its embrace of the catalog of unrighteousness against which Paul wrote.  The Two Major Brands are, in my estimation, identical twins with respect to such things.  The distinction that I see is that the GOP markets itself to gullible believers in a way that its opponents don't do so much.  And so it seems to me that if God is really picking primarily on the elephants, maybe it's because they've represented themselves more as the Party of God (sort of an American Hezbollah, maybe?), and perhaps God is indulging an ironic sense of humor.  Or maybe not -- as I've said, this is all speculation on my part, perhaps leaning more toward pure whimsy.

Back to my fellow believers: what, if anything, am I suggesting?  Should you flee from the elephants to join up with the donkeys; trade your red shirts for blue?  To quote the apostle once again, much more briefly: may it never be so.  Instead, may I suggest turning to the Old Testament for counsel in relating to the politics of this modern world.  From Isaiah chapter 52:
Depart, depart, go out from there,
Touch nothing unclean;
Go out from the midst of her, purify yourselves,
You who carry the vessels of the Lord.
But you will not go out in haste,
Nor will you go as fugitives;
For the Lord will go before you,
And the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
Your mind is a gift from God, and its proper use is to love Him; and He's been revealed perfectly in the person of Jesus.  Return to your first love.  Delight in His teaching.  Spit out that grass; come back from the fields, and back to your right mind.  And, by the way, even Nebuchadnezzar can serve as a model:
"But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever;
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, 'What hast Thou done?'
At that time my reason returned to me.  And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

Today's Laugh

Certainly hope the "American Israel Education Foundation" is satisfied that it got its money's worth:

A GOP freshman congressman from Kansas apologized last night for a nude swim in the Sea of Galilee last summer during an official trip to Israel.

 Rep. Kevin Yoder issued a statement after Politico reported the FBI investigated the incident, which included drinking and involved several lawmakers and top congressional aides.

The Sea of Galilee is a holy site to Christians. The Bible says it is where Jesus walked on water.
Well, to some Christians, no doubt.  Possibly to those believers who also consider Dollywood to be a holy site.  But anyway: 
The trip was paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation. The Kansas City Star said the organization spent $20,087 for Yoder and his wife's travel, lodging, meals and other expenses for the Aug. 13-21, 2011, trip, according to records kept by

Cantor's chief of staff, Doug Heye, said in a statement to Politico and CNN that the House majority leader "dealt with this immediately and effectively to ensure such activities would not take place in the future."

 Tiffany Quayle, the wife of Arizona GOP Rep. Ben Quayle, told CNN in a statement that she and her husband were on the trip but they "were neither party nor witness to any of the inappropriate behavior" described in the Politico article.

The Politico story also named Republican Reps. Steve Southerland of Florida, Tom Reed of New York, Jeff Denham of California and Michael Grimm of New York as taking part in the swimming, although Yoder was the only one who was said to be naked.
 Well, as long as none of these guys casts a vote in the future which could throw doubt on his status as a fully-loyal vassal of the nation* to which they owe their first and unconditional allegiance, no problem.  I mean, boys will be boys.  If any ever stray from the reservation, though ... hangin's too good for 'em, and it has nothing to do with their swimwear.  Somehow, I'm sure there's no danger of that.

*Hint: name of nation spelled without the letter "U."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Total Fantasy -- No Links

A question occurred to me today, as I was headed back from the dentist's office to the day job.

Someone on the radio had been explaining that the Republican Party is toast ... how it is that their opposition is a poor black guy, presiding over a dead economy, but the GOPpers are so brain-dead and bereft of first-rank political talent that they're about to lose -- again -- to O'Patches.  The Republican braintrust: Angry-Pants McCain, last time, and Mittens the Plastic Mormon this time.  Probably true, I thought, and ... yeah, that's okay.  Good thing about this election is that one of these clowns assuredly loses it.  Bad thing ... the other one wins.  But, you take the bad with the good: what's your alternative?

But then I thought about the poor, stupid, hopeless GOP, and I thought: what if the Republican Party simply went out of business?  No more RNC, no more fundraisers, no more conventions, no more candidates.  Just: "You win.  We're done."

Seriously: I wonder what would happen.  Anyone have a theory?

I doubt it would be nearly as good for the Democratic political machine as one might, at first, think.

Nope, it won't happen.  I don't think the death of either caucus of the War Party is anything our supervisors would ever permit.  Kind of a fun thing to think about, though.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

I Guess I'd Kill For a Friend Like That

The Washington Post -- truly, a company paper in a company town -- serves again as an ongoing illustration of the prophetic genius of George Orwell:
America, once regarded by the Syrian opposition as a natural friend in its struggle for greater freedoms against a regime long at odds with the West, increasingly is being viewed with suspicion and resentment for its failure to offer little more than verbal encouragement to the revolutionaries.
I interrupt this excerpt for a moment so I can call your attention to this opening sentence.  To you or me, words are ways to convey an idea to a reader.  But to a propagandist, words are more like weapons or drugs; they are used purely to produce a desired effect in the reader.  The Washington Post is a great big grown-up prestigious newspaper, is it not?  When it tells us that the West is being upbraided "for its failure to offer little more than verbal encouragement," we have to think that the writer and his editor are propagandists, and that the dictionary looks to them like an ammunition box.

But, to go on:
In the nearly 17 months since Syrians joined the clamor for change that swept the Middle East last year, Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans have voted in elections, chosen new leaders and embarked, however messily, on democratic transitions.

Syria, by contrast, is hurtling ever deeper into an all-out conflict with no end in sight, “and all we get is words,” said Yasser Abu Ali, a spokesman for one of the Free Syrian Army battalions in the town of al-Bab, which lies 30 miles northeast of Aleppo.

The rebels say they don’t want direct military intervention in the form of troops on the ground. But they have repeatedly appealed for a no-fly zone similar to the effort that helped Libyan rebels topple Moammar Gaddafi last year and for supplies of heavy weapons to counter the regime’s vastly superior firepower, say rebels and opposition figures.

When the regime falls, as the rebel battalion spokesman assumes it eventually will, Syrians will not forget that their pleas for help went unanswered, he said.

“America will pay a price for this,” he said. “America is going to lose the friendship of Syrians, and no one will trust them anymore. Already we don’t trust them at all.”
Well ... I guess that doesn't sound like propaganda, does it? The clamor for change that swept the Middle East.  Oh, my.  And how delicate we are: however messily.  Well, here's how messily "however messily" was.

As Orwell said, in his essay "Politics and the English Language:"
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
 "While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement." 
The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.
 Anyway, let's see if I've got this straight. Free Syrian Army "spokesman" Yasser Abu Ali tells us that he and his confreres are mightily ticked that our supervisors have not yet begun murdering his Syrian opponents as wholeheartedly as he'd like.  He says that if our supervisors don't start killing soon, he and his associates won't like us.  But then, he says, they already don't like us.  So, here's an idea: since we've already paid the price by forfeiting the bloody-handed esteem of the Free Syrian Army, how about we just, you know, kind of ... sit this one out?  Let's just call in and say we're not coming to the war today, because we're feeling too well.

Yes, I know.  Not happening.  But I can still dream, can't I?