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I was a little surprised the other day to find a picture of Mother Teresa adorning The Nation's website, illustrating an interview in which Richard Rodriguez rehearses the very canards about the left and religion I discuss in my column this week. Christopher Hitchens may have gone overboard in his attack on Mother T (as Alexander Cockburn put it in the New Yorker's starstruck profile of Hitchens, "Between the two of them, my sympathies were with Mother Teresa. If you were sitting in rags in a gutter in Calcutta, who would be more likely to give you a bowl of soup?'"). But Rodriguez' view is simple hagiography: he doesn't even raise in a parenthesis Mother Teresa's deep political and theological conservatism, her hob-nobbing with dictators , her opposition not just to abortion rights but to birth control and to condoms for disease prevention, her lack of interest in getting rid of poverty or bringing modern medical care to the poor.
It's fascinating that, according to recently released letters , Mother Teresa almost never felt the presence of God and suffered terribly over this. In a way that made me like her more: this was one tough nun. But when Rodriguez says the revelation of her spiritual aridity will deepen "our sense of her mystery and possibly her sainthood" who is the "we" he has in mind? If you're not a Catholic, you probably don't believe in Catholic saints. He argues that public knowledge of her religious doubts may mitigate what he correctly identifies as a worldwide excess of murderous faith, but this seems most unlikely. Mother Teresa herself didn't let her lifelong dark night of the soul get in the way of her extreme religious orthodoxy. I think her example goes the other way: it says, if you have doubts, keep quiet, don't use them to question dogma, challenge authority, open yourself up to new ways of thinking. Just keep kissing the rod. If Mother Teresa wasn't such a big humanitarian icon, we might think there was something a bit masochistic in her devotion to a God who made her so miserable.
Rodriguez writes "The left, like spoiled children, having been accused of being sinful by the Church, they decide the Church is really sinful. That's not useful. More useful is to spend a life of service to a Church that is not easily yours." Tell it to Voltaire! Was he a spoiled child? Was his life not useful? Anyway, the people most ardently convinced of the "sinfulness" of the church these days aren't leftists but Catholics appalled by molesting priests and the failure of the hierarchy to deal with this scandal in an honest and open way-- Boston's Cardinal Law did more to hurt the church than all the atheists and anticlericals who ever set pen to paper. And why is it more "useful" for, say, a homosexual like Rodriguez to "serve" the Church than to leave it and join a denomination that respects his sexuality ? He could still believe in Jesus if he was an Episcopalian -- he could even be a priest.
So what is all this about serving and being useful? If gay men and women walked out of denominations that regard homosexuality as evil, sinful, "inherently disordered" (current official Catholic view) and the like, they would be making quite a powerful statement. So too if women , the backbone of most faiths, quit denominations that regard them as subordinate to men, bar them from ministry, and enforce medieval views of sexual and reproductive morality. If change is the aim, it is at least arguable that voting with your feet achieves more than staying and continuing to put your money in the collection plate every week.
I wish Rodriguez had discussed these issues in a more reflective way. I don't understand why a person remains loyal to a denomination that tells them they are inferior, ill, born wrong, when they could worship next door in a church that welcomes them as they are. As with Mother Teresa, masochism comes to mind: God is punishing you because he loves you, suffering is good, someday it will all make sense. Maybe, like Log Cabin Republicans, they think they can work from within;I suppose that is what Rodriguez is getting at. Maybe, though, perhaps also like Log Cabin Republicans, they've internalized the negative stereotype. Whatever, I don't think Rodriguez is in such a good position to deride more critical or impatient folk as "spoiled children." It's better to be a spoiled child than a child who thinks abuse is love.
NB: I realize that by the rules of engagement that govern debates between religious and secular, the religious are allowed to say whatever they like about the secular, but if the seculars respond equally frankly they're bigots. So before you write that e mail, just remember who started this.
Dept. of Shameless Self-Promotion: My collection of personal essays, Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories" is just out from Random House. These are not Nation pieces, but memoiristic (is that a word?) essays about love, sex, betrayal, and, um, so on, only two of which have appeared in print (in The New Yorker). Don't like the Amazon clickthrough? Ask for it at your local independent bookstore.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post saying Cindy Sheehan would probably not do very well against Nancy Pelosi, and therefore I was sorry she had decided to run. I said she was more valuable to the antiwar movement as an activist. I said leftists waste a lot of time on futile electoral contests, and cited examples of such contests. These remarks, which were couched in terms of deepest respect for Cindy Sheehan, have evoked much bile and wrath in this blog's comment section and elsewhere in the blogosphere. So much fun are commenters having discussing what a traitor and reactionary I am, few seem to have noticed that, in a followup, I wrote that my comments were actually as much about electoral protest politics in general as about this particular race and "if Cindy Sheehan wants to make an anti-war gesture, running against Nancy Pelosi is one way to do it, so good luck to her."
She's going to need it. Her outraged and self-righteous response to my mild and polite posts make me wonder how she will withstand the rigors of political campaigning. Because I express doubt that she will make much impression on the ballot box, and think that likelihood and its implications are worth discussing frankly, Sheehan accuses me of "stridently" (nice --does anyone EVER use that word for a man?) defending the Democratic Party's "complicity" in the war and of not caring about the sufferings of Iraqis the way she does.
I'm sorry, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Even if I was the reprehensible character she claims -- yellowdog Dem indifferent to the horrors of war, willing to say anything to keep Nancy Pelosi in power -- I could still be right about Sheehan's own electoral prospects and about whether such runs are the best use of the antiwar/progressive movements energies. Shouldn't a serious candidate be trying to show the hundreds of thousands of people who visit this website that I am wrong? Sheehan doesn't address any of the points I raise, or that Gary Younge raises in his excellent column on the same issues. All she does is malign my motives and my personality, attack The Nation for supposedly exploiting her fame, and accuse anyone who questions her judgment of supporting the war.
If a lot of people who cheered you last year think you're making a mistake this year, there may be something to it. I'm just saying.
I am so sad that Grace Paley has died. She was a great writer --every word as pungent as pumpernickel-- with a great subject, the daily lives of women in jewish-immigrant-bohemian-left New York. In her short stories yiddishkeit meets radicalism meets Greenwich Village meets Malamud/Roth/ Leonard Michaels/ maybe even the Isaac Bashevis Singer of "A Friend of Kafka" --except that none of those writers, Singer every once in a while excepted, was particularly interested in what was going on with women.
I knew Grace a bit and surely there was never a kinder, more self-effacing writer of her stature in the history of the world. Sometimes she reminded me of James Merrill's remark that Elizabeth Bishop engaged in an "instinctive, modest, life-long impersonation of an ordinary woman." In the early l990s Grace put me up in her house in Vermont when I was snowed in after giving a talk at Dartmouth. We sat at her dining table and talked about children -- my daughter, her grandson, the inner-city kids who'd spent summers at the house decades before. We also talked, rather improbably, about agriculture -- her husband, Bob Nichols, had taken up the cause of local dairy farmers who were being squeezed by big producers. For all her warmth and unpretension, Grace had her share of reserve, or perhaps I was too shy. And so I did not ask any of the questions that flitted through my mind-- about writing, politics, the left, feminism, her life, life. I spent my one evening in her house talking about children and cows.
Grace was a tireless activist. Sometimes, I thought, too tireless. I used to see her at small demonstrations around town in the l980s, and wish someone would chain her to her desk -- lots of people can march, I would think to myself ( not that lots of people were doing so) but only Grace can write like Grace. She would have been horrified by such an elitist thought, I know--to her, the movement was life. She often said she liked to be out in the streets. And maybe her writing was as original, compressed, fresh and energetic as it was because it had to fight for attention with stopping the war(s), liberating women, bringing creative writing into the public schools, working for that elusive future where it's the defense department, and not the daycare center, that has to hold a bake sale.
How far away that world seems now -- her Greenwich Village, a warren of walkups inhabited by troublemakers, poets and single mothers (sometimes all three in one person) has become a millionaire's paradise cum NYU dorm. The aunts and uncles who quarreled over Stalin and Trotsky are dead. As for politics, Nation asssociate editor Richard Kim reminded me that Grace signed a group letter attacking an article I wrote for the magazine way back in 1993, in which I challenged her friend Sara Ruddick's influential book, "Maternal Thinking," which argued that bringing up children , by its very nature, connected mothers with peace and progressive politics. I guess I won that argument. But if I'd lost it, we'd be living in a better world. My books are all boxed up at the moment, so I can't quote from her wonderful stories. But here's a poem I've had up for years on my bulletin board:
The Poet's Occasional Alternative
I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper
the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor
everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one
this does not happen with poems
because of unreportable
sadness I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along
Under the wit and humor and brio, the "unreportable sadness." Isn't that always the way?
Readers made some good points about my post questioning the wisdom of Cindy Sheehan's decision to run to Congress against Nancy Pelosi. Really, what's the harm? I think my problem wasn't so much with this particular race per se as with the general penchant of the left for the electoral politics of theatre: runs that have no hope of success by people who have no serious interest in being in government. I know that sounds terribly square. But beyond generating (maybe) a few headlines and offering likeminded voters a chance to raise a fist in the air, what is achieved? Is an organization built? is the ground prepared for a more powerful bid next time? Are ideas put into the political discourse that weren't there before? Is the winner pushed to the left? Too often, in fact almost always, the answer to these questions is no.
If Cindy Sheehan wants to make an anti-war gesture, running against Nancy Pelosi is one way to do it, so good luck to her. Still, to me, it would make more sense for Iraq war opponents to run where they have a chance to win, and against a more reprehensible congressperson, too. Chris Bowers at openleft.com has compiled a list of the 38 Democratic congresspeople -- he calls them Bush Dogs -- who voted with the Republicans both on funding the Iraq war and on warrantless wiretapping.
Some of these got significant Netroots support in 2006 ( I donated on line to Stephanie Herseth (SD) --one of only two women on the list, I'm happy to report). That's more than a little depressing in view of the large claims being made for the blogosphere as representing a whole new way of doing politics. Obviously the " just elect Democrats" philosophy has its limits, if it means putting in office Democrats who vote with the Bush Administration on these crucial foreign policy and civil liberties issues , and who will likely vote for God knows whatever awful legislation emanates from the White House next.
Some of these Bush Dogs come from heavily Republican districts, but Bowers identifies 16 on the list as vulnerable to pressure, including a threatened or real primary challenge . If antiwar activists want to take the fight to the ballot box, Bowers' list is a good place to start.
On July 25, Cindy Sheehan announced that since Nancy Pelosi failed tomove to impeach Bush and Cheney by Sheehan's deadline two days earlier,she will run as an independent for Pelosi's seat in Congress. I havea lot of respect for Sheehan, but I hope she'll reconsider.
First of all, should impeachment really be a litmus test? Sure, itwould be emotionally satisfying to haul the president before theSenate--look how much fun the Republicans had with Clinton. I understand why some of my Nation colleaguesare so keen on it. But it's not going to happen--the numbers in Congress and Senate aren'tthere , and I don't care how many people sign petitions and call theircongressperson, that is not going to change. Despise the Democrats for caving in -- on war funding, on FISA, on abstinence-only education. Pressure them, confront them, make them feel your wrath. But to insist that they work themselves into a lather for what is essentially a symbolic gesture with no chance of success? I don't see the point of that.
Second, Sheehan's run is futile. There's a place for outsidercandidates, even longshots. Ned Lamont lost hisSenate race, but first he won the primary and he ran to win. Moreover, even though he lost the race, he made his point: hiscandidacy put the Democrats -- and the media -- on notice that antiwarfeeling was far deeper, and antiwar opponents far better organized,than they had believed. Nancy Pelosi has been a cautious -- too cautious -- leader, and if a lefter candidate could take her seat, fine. But let me go out on a limb here: Sheehan has nochance of defeating her, and still less chance of moving into an open seat because the impeachment of Bush and Cheney has moved Speaker Pelosi, next in line, into the White House. Sheehan's candidacy is less likethat of Ned Lamont than it is like the barely visible symbolic third-party runs of JonathanTasini and Stanley Aronowitz for Governor of New York. She'll getmore media than those gentlemen, because she and Pelosi are national celebrities,but I doubt she'll come much closer to victory. Thus, instead of showingthe Democrats how strong is the threat from the left, it will showthem how weak it is.
Third, and most important, Sheehan already has a crucial role inour politics: as an activist. More than any other single person, she changed the discourse about the war. She put a middle American face on theantiwar movement at a time when it was widely caricatured as a ragtagcollection of hippies , Stalinists, and movie stars. She forcedthe media--and the country -- to acknowledge that antiwar feeling was widespread and growing and included even red staters, even militaryfamilies. By her simple demand that Bush meet with her and explainwhy her son died, she pointed up the president's evasions andbefuddlement and arrogance -- the ban on photographs of coffins,his seeming lack of concern for the deaths of soldiers, his basicrefusal to engage. No matter that she sometimes seemed to be conducting her political education in public. She was a mother wrenched out of her ordinary life by tragedy -- that is a very powerful and inspiring symbolic role.
Maybe Sheehan got tired of being a symbol, a catalyst. I didn'treally understand the somewhat murky blog post she wrote in May, announcing her resignation from the antiwar movement , buther frustration and impatience were clear enough.
Still, the placefor symbolic protest is in protest movements. Elections areabout something else and are played by different rules. There, symbolic figures are mostly wasting theirtime, and tend to emerge smaller than they went in.
CORRECTION: As is noted in the comments thread, Jonathan Tasini ran for Senate, not Governor of New York. He competed against Hillary Clinton in the 2006 Democratic primary, and did not run as a third party candidate. In the primary he received 115,943 votes (including mine), or 17% of the total. Sorry for the mistake!
One More Thing: As you can see, I'm giving the comments thread another chance. I value people's responses to what I write, so as long as the discussion is relevant and civil, I'll keep it open.
In The Nation's web-letters, Dave Zirin repliesto my post about his column on Michael Vick. In the nicest possibleway, he suggests that I'm out of my depth in tackling a sportssubject. He's certainly right that I'm no expert on sports or sportsmedia. How big an expert you need to be in this case is anotherquestion.
Zirin's big point is that Vick and other football stars do not havethe moral agency I attribute to them, because they come from poorbackgrounds and have few alternatives : "Vick and others are free notto play professional football. They are also free to work inMcDonalds, or go to a public school that treats them like prisoners."
That may be so. I wasn't condemning Vick for playing football, though,but for allegedly running a barbaric and illegal dogfighting business.What does dogfighting have to do with escaping from a life flippingburgers? Or -- Zirin's other distracting topic -- with the prevalenceof sports injuries? True, as Zirin notes, there are greater evils inthe world than animal torture, and animal torture does not exist in avacuum: "We are carrying out two military occupations, spend $500billion on "defense" and have over 300 million guns in circulation. Itshouldn't surprise us that violent sports, from the NFL to UltimateFighting, find a wide audience. It also shouldn't surprise us thatplayers in these sports engage in past times [sic] that one would deemanti-social."
Yes, yes: violence in, violence out. Not only am I not surprised thatour warlike and violence-loving society produces lots of, um,violence, I've made the same point myself. But every now and then, acrime is so gratuitously horrible it stands out. To blame Vick'salleged crimes on society and outrage against them on racism feelslike an evasion, like political boilerplate.
I do have trouble seeing sports stars -- zillionaires idolized bymillions and held up as role models to children (and how idiotic isthat?) --as mere victims of the system. To me they seem more likely tobe testosterone-poisoned narcissists who think they can get away withanything, and often do. The celebrity culture of entitlement -- that'sthe system they operate in, not the Old South. It may be true, asZirin says, that only poor kids become professional players, becausethe work is so hard and the struggle so great -- but whatever Vick'sorigins it's hard to see as a peon someone who is making $13 milliondollars a year. As for racism , that may be true of the radiofrothers-- maybe one day a white star will be accused of animaltorture and we can compare the public response. But it doesn'tdescribe me, or the many Nation readers who've written in to expresstheir outrage.
If charging racism doesn't play at The Nation, you probably need abetter argument.
There was great news in this morning's inbox from Elisabeth Friedman, wife of Jesse Friedman. After running into wall after brick wall in his attempt to have his conviction overturned, Jesse's finally caught a break: A federal judge has granted his habeas corpus petition.
Jesse was one of numerous innocent victims of the wave of mass-child-sex-abuse cases that swept the country in the l980s and l990s. Convicted as a teenager of molesting boys who took computer classes from his father, who was also convicted, he served 13 years in prison for a crime that looks more and more like one that never happened. ( See the celebrated documentary Capturing the Friedmans for more on the case.) The ingredients common to sex-panic cases were all present: an over-zealous police and prosecutor, a hostile community, frenzied media, dubious therapeutic practices like recovered memory and hypnosis, immense pressure put on kids to say what the prosecution wanted to hear, evidence withheld from the defense, and so on. In the light of what we now know about false confessions, which minors are particularly likely to make, Jesse's plea bargain stands as yet more evidence that too often innocent people can be made to look guilty.
Our system of justice runs on money -- shouldn't be so, but that's the way it is. After almost 20 years entangled in the case, the Friedman family is reaching out for help. If you can contribute even $5 to Jesse's defense fund, you can help him take his fight to prove his innocence to the next level. You can make a donation through Paypal at www.FriedmanDefenseFund.org. Or you can write a check to NCRJ with Jesse Friedman on the memo line and mail it to National Center for Reason and Justice P.O. Box 230414 Boston MA 02123-0414.
Please help get the word out -- forward this e mail to your friends, post it on your blog. This case is about one person railroaded by the justice system, but it's also about all of us. Our system. Our justice.
Elisabeth's letter is long, but I'm quoting it in full and hope you'll read the whole thing. It gives a clear account of what's at stake in the upcoming phase of the case, and is also quite moving.
Dear Friends and Supporters,
After 20 years of fighting for justice, we finally have our firstsignificant victory. Jesse has been granted a hearing in FederalCourt. Finally we have the opportunity to call witnesses, depose thoseinvolved in the prosecution, and possibly have Jesse's convictionoverturned. The legal issues are somewhat complicated, but I'll tryto explain:
In the Federal appeal we raised three issues each relating to thewithholding of information which should have been provided to Jesseprior to trial. These were Constitutional violations and had we knownof any of this information at the time, Jesse would have mostcertainly have taken his case to trial rather than pleading guilty.
The following are three issues raised.
1) More than 100 children were present during the computer classes (atthe same time as the alleged abuse was going on) who told the police,I was there and nothing happened. This was never disclosed to thedefense.
2) As our lawyers put it: "There was a crucible of suggestion,intimidation, and falsification on the part of the police. Theprosecution failed to disclose exculpatory evidence showing that thepolice utilized aggressive suggestive and coercive interrogationtechniques they knew, or should have known, would yield falseallegations."
3) The use of hypnosis during therapeutic sessions resulted in asituation of potential "implanted memory" or "repressed memorysyndrome" and should have been disclosed to the defense at the time.
In her decision the federal judge ruled on the first two issues thatthe statute of limitations had expired and denied our petition. It isworthy to note that she did NOT rule our issues were meritless, merelythat they were time-barred.
However, on the third issue, relating to hypnosis, Judge Seybertordered a hearing to determine to what extent hypnosis was used, andhow gross a constitutional violation this newly discovered evidenceproves itself to be.
Our lawyer told us the chance of being granted a hearing from a habeascorpus was about as probable as walking into the corner deli andwinning a million dollars on a scratch off lottery ticket.
In our hearts we never thought it would be possible for Jesse to havea fair day in court. Nonetheless, we did everything possible to proveJesse's innocence. He never hurt those children. The lie perpetratedon his life was also perpetrated on the lives of those children whowere "accusers." The relentless questioning by the police, and thetherapists who used hypnosis on children as a means of elicitingtestimony, destroyed the lives of the children involved. Jesse hasbeen fighting not only to prove his innocence, but also to try andbring healing to those who have grown up believing they were sexuallyabused, when indeed they never were.
As a result of Jesse's conviction we live under the oppression andrestrictions of Megan's Law. There is no way to explain howdehumanizing and difficult this is. One example is a fear of reprisalfrom law enforcement, as well as the community, if we were to become parents.We live our life, always with a cloud of fear. This new chance forjustice not only gives us an opportunity to shed a light on the truth,it also gives us the small and tender hope that we may someday livenormal, simple lives.
Before I married Jesse, I knew our lives would be difficult, but Imarried him anyway. Even though it meant giving up on some things Ihold so completely dear (like my hopes of being a mother). I love himthat much. I love him more than I ever thought I could love at all.
We are overjoyed with having won a hearing, but we are also in shock:happy, terrified, wonderful immense shock.
I think perhaps one of the largest concerns is money, and the lackthere of. Jesse and I keep thinking of Michael Moore's movie "Sicko"with the story of the guy who looses his fingers on a table saw. Thedoctors tell him, "We can save the middle finger for $60,000 or thering finger $12,000." That is how we feel. I don't know if peoplerealize that justice goes for a high price, and that indeed a lack ofmoney often means a lack of justice.
As of now, where we stand, there is pretty much nothing left to paythe lawyers. The money Jesse got from his father's life insuranceclaim has long since evaporated in legal bills. This appeal was onlypossible because of a generous team of people donating time, money,support, and effort, most specifically Andrew Jarecki (the director ofCapturing the Friedmans) without whom there would have been no movie,and no appeal. It would no longer be fair to expect so much more fromAndrew for he has already given so much and continues to be awonderful friend.
Our lawyer, Ron Kuby, knew of our meager funding. While Mr. Kuby neveragreed to working pro bono, he did agree to do what he could with whatwas available, and he has done some outstanding work. This past Marchwe got what we thought would be the last bill from Ron and there wasno money to pay him. Out of the goodness of his heart he agreed tokeep working on the case in good faith, agreeing to wait and see,knowing I would do what I could to eventually pay him for all hiswork.
Because of this wonderful turn of events this case now stands to besignificantly more expensive than we ever had funding for. It is nolonger Mr. Kuby working late into the night on his laptop with a pileof books. It's now about hiring private investigators; tracking downwitnesses; finding experts on hypnosis; and full days in courtdeposing witnesses.
The thought of having to ask for money to help fund continue fightingthis case makes us feel terrible. It's just not the kind of thing thatfeels good to anyone. Especially knowing there were those who havealready donated to the defense fund. At this point, we just don't knowwhat else to do. There is really not much that I can say, just that,if it falls on your heart to give then please help, even if it's only$5. If a thousand people could give $5 that can make a significantdifference. I also ask that if you can pray, please pray that we willbe able to go into this hearing with everything we need to see justiceprevail.
Donations made to the National Center for Reason and Justice, whosponsor Jesse's case, are tax-deductible (as they are a 501(c)(3)organization). The NCRJ is an advocacy and issue-awareness groupdedicated to helping those much like Jesse. Donations can be made tothe NCRJ, allocated for Jesse Friedman, and mailed to:
National Center for Reason and Justice P.O. Box 230414 Boston MA02123-0414
Donations may also be made on-line via the Friedman Defense Fund.There is information and a link for Pay-Pal athttp://www.FriedmanDefenseFund.org. All that money will go to pay legalbills directly.
My mother once told me that people bow down to God because the weightof the world crushes them, not because they are particularlysubmissive. That is how it has always been with me. When my world getstoo heavy I bow down, because I can't always carry my heart when itgets so heavy. Jesse on the other hand has always had a mind-bogglingreservoir of strength. He carries the immense weight of theseinjustices with his head up, heart strong, one foot in front of theother, and none of this has been able to bring him down. This pastweek I have seen him bow down, not because he was crushed, but becausehe was in awe. He is in awe of seeing even just a chance of justice inhis life, and that is significant because justice and freedom arethings most of us take for granted.
Keep your eyes on the media, and check-in with Jesse's website forupdates and breakthroughs in the case.
Thank you so much for your support. Your kind letters have been awonderful influence on our lives.
Michael Vick has a 10-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons for $130 million. His skill at running, kicking and throwing a football has won him the admiration of millions -- until now. As you probably know, Vick has been charged with involvement in the cruel and illegal "sport" of dog fighting. Americans may not care if an athlete beats his wife, but we love our pets. Breeding and training dogs to fight and kill, disposing of the losers by hanging, electrocution, slamming them repeatedly onto the floor -- this is definitely taking machismo too far.
In his recent piece for The Nation's website, Dave Zirin makes some valid points. Yes, Vick deserves some semblance of the presumption of innocence in the media. (Vick claims others ran the dog fight business from his Virginia house without his knowledge when he wasn't present.) And yes, there's racism in some of the virulent attacks on him on sports and news websites. References to lynching, the n-word and OJ do suggest something besides love of animals.
But I was appalled by Zirin's attempt to shift focus away from Vick to "the self-righteousness of the media" and the hypocrisy of "American culture" which "celebrates violent sports -- especially football -- and is insensitive to the consequences that the weekly scrum has on the bodies and minds of its players" like Earl Campbell and Andre Waters and other middle-aged ex-footballers who suffered long-term damage from old injuries. Like the accusations of racism, this sounds like a rather desperate bid to change the subject. Why should one concern displace the other? Can't one both feel revulsion at animal torture and want the game to be safer? At least the the players were volunteers, richly rewarded for the risks they took. Nobody asked the dogs if they wanted to have their throats ripped out.
There's probably a sense in which Michael Vick is a victim. But it's the same sense in which everyone , from Alberto Gonzales to Paris Hilton, is shaped by social forces outside their control. If you take that view, though, everyone should get amnesty: the racist cop, the Enron executive, the porn-loving tormenters of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, and all the other people we love to attack at The Nation. Why do I think we are not going to recommend our readers lighten up on, say, Scooter Libby, on the grounds that working for Dick Cheney would warp anyone's moral fibre? We only deploy the blame-society argument on behalf of people we already sympathize with.
As human beings go, Michael Vick had more freedom of action than most. Nobody claims he electrocuted dogs to put food on the table. If -- note I said if -- he's found guilty, he should get the same sentence other people get who are convicted of the same crimes. Increased sensitivity to animal welfare may have its annoying pieties and hypocrisies but it marks a true contemporary moral advance and it's not as if we humans have so many of those to show for ourselves. It's good that dog fighting is banned. And if football is really as morally destructive as Zirin claims -- if it really turns ordinary men into sadists through a culture of "trickle-down violence" -- then maybe we should ban it too.
ADDENDUM: I thought I would enjoy having a comments section on this blog, but as you can see I've turned it off. For some reason, the website's comment sections have been colonized by a small group of trolls--mostly men, mostly conservative -- who post obsessively, rudely, inanely and irrelevantly. I just got tired of hosting their sandbox.
I'm way late on this, so I hope you've already squawked to your congressperson about a particularly nasty bit of gristle buried in the big fat bratwurst that is the 125-page Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. Passed by the House on July 19 by a comfy 276-140 vote, HR 3043 increases federal funding for abstinence-only education by $27.8 million -- $4 million more than Bush asked for. That brings to a whopping $141 million the amount of your taxes the feds will spend annually on religion-ridden error-strewn information-denying propagandistic-boondogglish school programs that--as a Congressionally mandated 10-year evaluation by Mathematica Policy Research showed back in April -- do not even work.
These are the same programs that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) blasted in a report last December for spreading such falsehoods as : condoms don't protect against pregnancy, half of gay male teens are HIV positive, a 43-day old embryo is a "thinking person," 10% of women who have abortions become sterile, and the HIV virus can be transmitted through sweat and tears. My personal favorite, as described by The Washington Post:
"Some course materials cited in Waxman's report present as scientific fact notions about a man's need for ‘admiration' and ‘sexual fulfillment' compared with a woman's need for ‘financial support.' One book in the ‘Choosing Best' series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. ‘Moral of the story,' notes the popular text: ‘Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man's confidence or even turn him away from his princess.' "
So who voted to keep filling young people's minds with sexist fairy tales and potentially fatal falsehoods? Henry Waxman! Along with Nation favorites Maxine Waters, Jan Schakowsky, Dennis Kucinich, and indeed every other House Dem present (Nancy Pelosi, although present, by tradition as Speaker, didn't vote). Practical explanation: throwing Republicans this trivial bone would build a veto-proof majority for a bill Bush has promised to reject-- a $152 billion bill crammed with good things, from more funding for Pell grants and for math and science education to $27.8 million more for Title X, the family planning program for low-income people. $27.8 million for claptrap, $27.8 million for reproductive health care. That's only fair.
Well, okay, that's how it goes in the sausage business ( For background on the politicking, read Lindsay Beyerstein's excellent report at www.inthesetimes.com. ) Still, I expect a little more backbone from the men and women who claim to represent the reality-based community. The Dems spent the last six and half years bashing the Republicans for supporting abstinence-only. They raised a ton of money and extracted hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours from people--feminists, gays, seculars, ordinary normal middle-of-the-roaders--who have just had it with the Christian right and their craziness. The Bush Administration's flagrant politicization of science--especially reproductive science -- was one of the Democrats' strongest cards. They might be dazed and confused about Iraq, but at least they know the government shouldn't tell young people condoms don't prevent pregnancy and STDs when, in fact, most of the time they do.
Did the strategy at least succeed? Apparently not. Republicans did not provide that veto-proof majority. Instead, the reality-based community has been demoralized, while the Purity Ballers whirl happily round the dance floor. And just to put the cherry of masochism atop the sundae of cynicism (yes, I know, what happened to that sausage?) federal abstinence dollars, as Michael Reynolds reported in The Nation , have a way of morphing into huge slush funds for Republican candidates. Even if David Obey, Nita Lowey and the other members of the HHS Appropriations committee who ground this sausage don't care about young people, you'd think they'd balk at funding their own opposition.
After all, they're doing such a good job of discouraging their supporters on their own.
Of all the silly, breathless, overthinky pieces about Hillary Clinton's appearance, I mean campaign, this labored bit of style-section psychobabble by Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan has to be the most inane. It seems that on Wednesday Senator Clinton was shown on C-Span giving a speech on the Senate floor about oh, whatever, and under her rose-colored jacket she wore a black top that's a millimeter lower than the ones she usually wears. OMIGOD! The Senator has breasts! Two of them! "The cleavage registered after only a quick glance," Givhan, um, reports. "No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn't an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable."
Cue mini-essay about the semiotic significance of various ballgowns worn by the Senator as First Lady, her subsequent move as Senator into a "desexualized uniform" of black pantsuits, and more gasping OMIGOD! about Wednesday's venture into something a bit less staid. "It's tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!" Tops like the one Clinton wore offer a "teasing display," they're "unnerving," a "provocation." Why? "To show cleavage requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her appearance, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of style, Clinton is as noncommittal as ever."
The Senator's blouse is like an unzipped fly? That's the sort of brutal vulgarity I'd expect from Don Imus and other misogynistic Hillary-haters. I don't have Givhan's mind-reading abilities, so I can't say whether Clinton felt ambivalent or noncomittal about her neckline or how that would reveal itself ("Um, Dianne, Barbara, do you think this blouse is too, um, you know?"). But I spent some moments in "scrunch-faced scrutiny" of the C-Span video (thoughtfully provided by the Post) and I just don't get what Givhan is so worked up about. Granted I'm using dialup and the picture is kind of blurry, but I don't even see anything I would call cleavage.
I see a good-looking energetic middle-aged woman in a stylish summery outfit such that thousands of professional women would be thrilled to wear to an important meeting -- say, an edit meeting at the Washington Post to discuss further ways of trivializing women in politics. Like, maybe the Post can follow up with an article about Senator Clinton's choice of bathing suits (OMIGOD ! Is that a bellybutton? Gross! ). Or perhaps a two-page pictorial spread: Hillary's fashion do's and don'ts. Only, make that don'ts and don'ts. As in, Don't wear pantsuits -- too desexualizing! Don't wear a rose-colored jacket and a v-neck top -- too sexy!
Message to women: You can't win. You can't win. You can't win.